Short Lines Gain on Factory Demand

Small railroads saw their traffic strengthen steadily in recent weeks, as manufacturers used them to bring in metal ores and haul away factory products.

RMI's RailConnect index for the week ending Jan. 30 showed 337 reporting short lines hauling 93,614 units, up from 93,057 a week earlier and under 90,000 in each of the first two weeks of the month.

Grain carloadings increased as elevators and other agricultural shippers tried to market some of last fall's bumper corn crop. Short lines loaded 14,340 grain hopper cars in the Jan. 30 week, second only to 15,795 carloads of chemicals. Both those categories have been consistently strong for weeks.

The RMI reporting carriers, which comprise more than half of North American small and regional railroads, are also benefiting from a rebound this year in the goods-producing factory sector.

Short line originations of ore-laden railcars in the first week of January totaled 2,629 loads, but by the Jan. 30 week were up to 3,418. Factories that use the ore to produce metals or that make metal products handed the RailConnect short lines under 6,000 carloads in the first week of the month; in the month's final week they loaded 7,135 railcars.

A similar pattern shows up in small railroad originations of scrap materials, which is mostly waste metals headed for recyclers who blend the cheap input with ores to produce new metals. Short line scrap loadings reached 5,296 cars in the latest week, up from 3,552 in the month's first week.

- John Boyd, The Journal of Commerce.