Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

When boxcars come to stay

| February 24, 2009

Railroads were advertising a lot during last year’s period of rising fuel prices, touting their good cost-per-mile for moving a ton of commodities. Lest you think the super-heavy-duty engines are stealing your livelihood, consider this anecdotal evidence from the Wall Street Journal:

Boxcars used to be a “fleeting sight” in the town of New Castle, Ind. For the past year, though, 100-plus yellow boxcars have been parked in the middle of town. The line stretches for a mile. “Now an elementary-school playground sits only feet from a line of rail cars covered with curse words,” writes The Journal.

It isn’t just New Castle. “The nation’s five largest railroads have put more than 30% of their boxcars – 206,000 in all – into storage, according to the Association of American Railroads. Placed end-to-end, the cars would stretch from New York to Salt Lake City,” says the article.

Of course, there are many more parked trailers and out-of-service ships, too, but as far as the truck-rail balance of freight, I don’t think it’s changed even a full percentage point in the 10-plus years I’ve worked in this industry. Trucks still haul almost 70 percent of the nation’s freight, says the American Trucking Associations.

— Max Heine

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