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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

August TSI, Fitch report show rail still a key cog in nation's freight transportation mix

The Transportation Services Index (TSI) in August climbed to 120.6, up 0.4 percent from July's level and 3.2 percent from August 2013's mark, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

The Freight TSI — which is based on the amount of freight carried by railroads, trucking firms, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight carriers — rose 0.6 percent month over month to 120.9. On a year-over-year basis, the index increased 3.8 percent.

August was the third month in which the Freight TSI exceeded levels that had been attained prior to the weather-related downturn in the early part of the year, BTS officials said in a press release.

"The increase in freight in August was driven by continued gains in trucking and water, and by pipelines, which rebounded from a July decline. Rail and air gave back some July gains," they said. "The rise in freight took place despite a decline in industrial production, but accompanied growth in personal income and in inventories of manufactured goods."

There wasn't any rise in August's Passenger TSI, which was virtually unchanged from July's 119.7 mark. But the index — a measure of month-to-month changes in travel provided by air carriers, local transit agencies and intercity rail providers — did increase 1.7 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings recently released a report stating that Bakken Shale crude oil producers will continue to tap significant rail capacity to transport oil to most economic markets until significant new pipeline capacity becomes available in 2016. Rail provides about 60 percent of regional takeaway capacity in the region, according to Fitch's latest "Bakken Shale Report."

Bakken oil production has remained above 1 million barrels per day since March and now accounts for 13 percent of domestic oil production, the report states.

"As regional gathering and takeaway infrastructure is relatively undeveloped, the primary challenge for upstream companies has been to balance gains from increasing production and drilling efficiencies with strained takeaway capacity," Fitch officials said in the report. "While pipeline investment has been slowed by a lack of firm commitments from producers, announcements this summer by Energy Transfer Partners L.P., Enterprise Products Partners L.P. and Enbridge Energy Partners L.P. to develop new pipelines to source Bakken supplies signal an increased emphasis on pipeline development."

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More News from 10/14/2014