Bring on the dancing girls! Business is booming!

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Thursday, March 4, 2010
Have you noticed your sleep being disturbed more often these last few days by the dulcet sounds of locomotive whistles in the night? I thought so. Now comes proof: The railroad business is finally showing signs of life again. It’s worth a celebration if the latest big up-tick continues.
Data made available today by ASI/Transmatch reveals that last week (ending Feb. 27) saw the second-highest level of carloadings since the recession began in late 2008: 631,867 carloads and intermodal units, to be exact. That compares to between 583,663 and 605,058 the previous three weeks. Since 2008, only the week of last Nov. 21 showed a bigger number, 634,328, reports ASI/Transmatch, whose numbers are obtained from the Association of American Railroads.
What’s going on? Obviously, weather is the major difference. February was a killer. In the East, both Norfolk Southern and CSX suffered mightily from weather-induced delays. But last week was comparatively mild most places. Comparing the latest week to two weeks earlier, CSX carloadings are up 12,500 units and those of NS almost 12,000. Those two railroads account for the lion’s share of the gains from the week of Feb. 13 to that of Feb. 27.
The other Class 1 rails for that same two-week period:
BNSF Railway, up 1,500 units.
Canadian National, even.
Canadian Pacific, up 1,500 units.
Kansas City Southern (U.S. and Mexico), up 400 units.
Union Pacific, up 5,500 units.
When you look at commodity groups, increases from two weeks ago are across the board, not just in coal loadings. Examples:
Coal, up 15,500 cars.
Intermodal, up 14,500 units.
Chemicals, up 4,000 cars.
Motor vehicles, up 1,500 cars.
Forest products, up 1,500 cars.
Last August saw the first sustained pickup in carloadings. We’ll find out in a week whether this is just catch-up from the eastern coal mines (maybe) or the start of another nice business up-tick. And, oh, by the way, CSX chief executive Michael Ward popped the news on James Cramer’s Mad Money show the other day that the Chinese steel mills have bought 5 million tons of U.S. metallurgical coal that his railroad will be hauling to the docks this year. That’s not a bad way to start the month. — Fred W. Frailey
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