Freight railroads, shippers and railcar leasing firms across North America pulled 1,539 freight cars out of storage in December, as they prepped more equipment for cargo service in the months ahead.
That's more than triple the number of parked railcars equipment owners pulled out of sidings and rail yards in November, when the 465 railcars they activated or scrapped was the fewest in any month of 2010. But December was still the third-slowest month of the year for shrinking the stored car fleet.
The Association of American Railroads, which compiles the monthly report, said the December drawdowns out of storage left 316,271 units or 20.8 percent of the total North American car fleet inactive. That rate has been steady since September, amid some recent production of high-demand types of freight cars.
For all of 2010, owners pulled 132,284 idled cars out of sidings and unused yards, amid a rail freight recovery that saw intermodal traffic rebound 14.7 percent from recession year 2009 and heavy carload volume climb 9.4 percent. The AAR does not report how many cars coming out of storage may be headed for the scrap heap instead of freight hauls, but industry sources say a high percentage of equipment returns to revenue service.
The AAR counts a railcar as idled when it has not been used for revenue-generating service at least 60 days. Before economic recovery in 2009 allowed equipment owners to start reactivating parked units to haul freight again, the AAR said over 500,000 units were parked, or 31.9 percent of all railcars across the continent.
The monthly drawdown of stored cars does not perfectly match rail freight activity in the same period, since some cars that are reactivated must first go through some inspections or repairs that take weeks.
For instance, manufacturers who are getting their first new railcar orders since the recession began say they also are renovating some equipment for new uses, such as stretching intermodal well cars built for 48-foot domestic containers so they can now carry the popular high-capacity 53-foot boxes.
For all of 2010, the AAR has reported the following monthly drawdowns out of the idled railcar fleet:
-- Contact John D. Boyd at email@example.com.