All fields are required.
by Angela Cotey, Associate Editor
In first-quarter 2011, rail-car orders totaled 36,903 units, surpassing the total number of cars (29,992) ordered in all of 2010, according to the Railway Supply Institute's American Railway Car Institute Committee. Deliveries have been climbing, too, and backlogs soared to 51,913 units as of April 1 vs. 22,658 on Dec. 31, 2010.
And as the economy slowly claws its way back from the Great Recession, rail traffic continues to tick upwards, prompting railroads to take more cars out of storage. As of mid-April, Union Pacific Railroad had 26,000 rail cars in storage compared with 38,000 in April 2010. As of mid-June, CN had 10,826 cars in storage vs. June 2010's 17,261; CSX Transportation had 6,000 cars sitting idle vs. 14,600 a year ago; Norfolk Southern had 4,810 cars in storage compared with 9,611 last June; and Kansas City Southern had 372 idle cars vs. June 2010's 900. Meanwhile, during the first quarter, Canadian Pacific reported it had 55,100 daily active rail cars on line vs. 53,600 during first-quarter 2010.
"There are still a lot of surplus cars, but with every passing year, the surplus tends to have the older cars that are less desirable by shippers," says Rail Theory Forecasts L.L.C. President Toby Kolstad. "It looks like this year, the surplus for all car types is probably down well below 100,000 — maybe even the 80,000 level — compared to our calculation in the worst of times of a few hundred thousand surplus cars."
The latest order, delivery and backlog information is promising, but there's still plenty of room for recovery.
"We anticipated that it would take a few years to climb back to pre-recession levels," says Kolstad. "It's still a down market."
And despite a recent surge in intermodal and small cube covered hoppers (see page 40), Kolstad says the orders could be "one-offs," and orders for those car types could fall back to normal levels in the coming years.
"Next year's build rate will be the same as this year's build rate with a slightly different mix of cars," predicts Kolstad, who's estimating 35,000 deliveries in 2011. "I think next year will be pretty much like this year."
Meanwhile, passenger-car builders are keeping busy filling some hefty orders for large transit agencies, as well as a stream of orders from smaller agencies that are upgrading fleets or opening new lines. For more information on the passenger-car market, see page 42.
Peruse the other pages for a run-down of the U.S. rail-car market make-up — how many cars railroads and private firms own, how the market has changed over the years, which car types make up the freight-car fleet, how the fleet is aging and how many locomotives Class Is have in service.