Strong Short Line Traffic Beats Weather

North American short line railroads carried some of the strongest traffic levels in months even during storm-tossed February, as cargo loadings were consistent with a spreading recovery in the broader industrial sector.

Nearly 340 railroads in the United States, Canada and Mexico that report activity to RMI's RailConnect index originated 96,962 loads in the week ending Feb. 6, which was the strongest reading in nearly a year even though it included the first day of a massive winter storm across much of the eastern United States.

A week later, RMI-reporting lines picked up 91,947 new loads during the hard-hit winter storm period that ended Feb. 13. That total, though down for the week and from a year earlier, was still stronger than any week from early October to mid-January.

A big factor driving the short line business is consistent strength in chemical traffic - its largest cargo category - which has been generating more than 15,500 new loads for weeks on end and sometimes topping 16,000. Chemicals are not only a raw material for plastics and fertilizers but are used in almost every type of manufacturing, and in production of packaging materials for finished goods.

Recent RailConnect figures also show solid loadings of other industrial cargoes including metal ores, scrap, metals and metal products, paper, and even lumber and forest products that are associated with a mild pickup in housing construction.

- John D. Boyd, The Journal of Commerce.