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Rail Equipment Reports Detail Growth of Fleets

Railinc's Umler® system contains data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment used in interline service, from railcar type to manufacture date to locomotive fuel capacity and horsepower. With a simple query of the system, you can learn a lot about an individual railcar or locomotive. But considered together, these data can provide powerful insights into the size and makeup of the railcar and locomotive fleets in North America.

Each year, Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey, right, uses the data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets and presents the information at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif. Railinc representatives have appeared at the conference since 1999, and Humphrey has presented on the data since 2010. This year, he delivered his presentations via videoconference from Railinc’s Cary headquarters because he was recovering from surgery to repair a broken leg suffered while running.

"Conference attendees look forward to David’s presentations, which have become an integral part of our event each year,” said David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. "They know the quality of Railinc’s data, and they get a great deal of value out of the information he provides. In a break with tradition and in evidence of the importance of David's and Railinc's contributions to the program, we had David on live feed to make his presentation this year. His presentation is an asset that we hold in the highest regard."

About 400 people attended the conference in March, including representatives from railcar lessors and lessees, banks, shippers, Class I railroads, short line railroads and finance companies.

In the Q&A below, David Humphrey discusses the railcar and locomotive fleets, how people use the research, and overall trends for railcars and locomotives. More detailed information about the fleets is available in the 2016 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2016 North American Locomotive Review, both of which are free to download. You can also download the slides from David's conference presentations on the railcar and locomotive fleets.

The railcar report looks at the revenue-earning fleet in detail. What is the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet, a subset of the North American rail fleet, consists of six sub-fleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. These cars can be used in interchange service and can be associated with a waybill. The revenue-earning fleet of freight cars excludes locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

How do people use the data you present?
Railinc and its Umler Equipment Index are known as a definitive source of quality data on the status of the North American railcar fleet. The information presented is a great introduction to all of the freight car-related topics that are covered in the first two days of the conference. The conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives. The age demographic data we present on the sub-fleets are of great interest to companies as a snapshot of where they stand. The information helps them as they make decisions that affect their businesses in the short and long term.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet?
Driven by increases in the tank car and covered hopper populations, the revenue-earning fleet grew by 3.3 percent in 2015. The flat car sub-fleet grew slightly, while the box car, gondola and hopper sub-fleets contracted. The fleet is getting younger. Both the average and median age of the fleet were down. And the fleet continues its shift to large cars. Cars with a gross rail load of 286,000 pounds make up 83 percent of new additions to the fleet in the last six years.

And for locomotives?
The locomotive fleet grew by about 1,100 units—or about 3 percent—from the previous year. The age of the fleet increased, though locomotives have long service lives. Also, high-horsepower, AC locomotives with six axles and high fuel capacity make up the majority of new additions to the fleet.

The 2016 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2016 North American Locomotive Review are available to download for free, as are slides from Humphrey's presentations on the railcar and locomotive fleets and past years' reports. Railinc provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications