Overall rail traffic declined from a week earlier at North American short lines tracked in the RMI RailConnect index, but small railroads recorded some of the strongest loadings in months for several freight categories linked to the factory sector.
RMI said 339 carriers reported hauling 91,208 combined units of bulk and intermodal cargoes in the week ending Aug. 8. While down about 1,400 units from the week before and trailing the same 2008 week by 28 percent, that total was the second-highest since March 21.
Short lines reporting to RMI said chemical tank car loads, their largest shipment category, were at the highest level since Feb. 28 at 15,640 units.
Chemicals are needed for all sorts of manufacturing, agricultural and construction uses – from plastics to fertilizers to polymers that go into highway asphalt – so that cargo group is a sensitive indicator for a broad range of economic activity.
As auto assembly lines have been coming back online after extended summer retooling shutdowns to clear out inventory, and in the wake of fast bankruptcies for automakers General Motors and Chrysler, short lines and major railroads have seen stronger shipments of motor vehicles and equipment in recent weeks.
The small carriers had 1,157 railcars loaded with vehicles or equipment, the most since March 21. Their 3,625 carloads of petroleum and coke – a fuel used by metal furnaces – were the most since April 18. A category of construction materials listed as stone, clay and aggregates reached 11,924 carloads, the highest total since May 23.
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