Owners Bring 18,000 Railcars Back to Service

Owners Bring 18,000 Railcars Back to Service

Railroads, shippers and leasing firms activated about 18,000 idled railcars of various cargo types during April, a slowdown from the pace of recent months.

The Association of American Railroads said that left an estimated 369,090 freight cars in storage, meaning they have been out of revenue service for at least 60 days.

That means 23.8 percent of the total available fleet from all owners was sitting unused for lack of demand on May 1, down from 25 percent a month earlier.

The April activation level of 18,000 stored railcars compared with 31,000 brought out of storage during March and 21,000 in February, the trade group said. The year began with 28.2 percent of the continent’s car fleet parked, or 439,631 units.

Railroads and other equipment owners idled so many railcars during the two-year recession that many are still sitting on rail sidings, at train yards and other locations throughout North America.

Peak car storage was 31.9 percent of the car fleet in June and July 2009, when total parked units topped 500,000. But nearly 134,000 have come out of storage over the past 10 months, the AAR said.

Industry equipment consultant FTR Associates also tracks the number of cars that are activated but operating at low capacity. By that measure, it says the total “surplus” number of idled plus underutilized freight cars was still about 500,000 at the end of the first quarter.

For a chart of recent railcar storage trends, see By the Numbers.

-- Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.