One more prediction for 2015

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Friday, January 9, 2015

I left this out of my earlier piece (see A LOT Is Going On in 2015) because the numbers I was looking for weren’t easy to find. But thanks to Ed Greenberg and others at the Association of American Railroads, it’s time for ready-fire-aim:

This year will be a business record-setter for American railroads.

The previous peak was 2006, when 29,589,782 cars, containers, and trailers were handled. Last year’s tally was 28,440,592 units. Needed to top the 2006 traffic level would be a 3.5 percent bump in 2015. Business levels rose 4.5 percent in 2014, versus 2013..

To get an idea how traffic levels are trending, I compared November and December of 2014 with those same months in 2006. November 2014 trailed November 2006 by 1.9 percent. But December of 2014 was a barnburner, eclipsing December 2006 by some 48,000 units, or 2.2 percent. So we’re off to a good start.

But these are just numbers. The bigger question is how the railroads digest this business, if it arrives. After all, the year just ended was an operational train wreck (oops, I’d better not say that) . . . an operational disaster that sullied the industry’s reputation and put off some of the biggest customers. The only good thing going for the rails was that trucking companies were in about as big a mess, unable to attract and keep drivers and turning loads away.

I’m not in a position to predict how 2015 will go at trackside. Already this winter is looking like a repeat of last winter, with one paralyzing polar vortex after another sweeping down from Canada. Will the Class I roads put aside their petty animosities and get serious about unplugging Chicago? Will capacity expansion budgets reflect the crying needs? For that matter, will the business level I predict actually be there? This will be a very busy year for scribes like me; I cannot wait to see how 2015 evolves. — Fred W. Frailey

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