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Railinc Reports Detail Growth of Fleets

Railinc’s Umler system is a rich industry resource that contains data on more than 2 million pieces of rail equipment and includes details such as railcar dimensions, capacities and weight, and locomotive horsepower and fuel capacity. Analysis of these data can provide powerful insights into the size and makeup of the North American railcar and locomotive fleets.

Since 2010, Railinc Senior Analyst Dr. David Humphrey, right, has used Umler data to create demographic profiles of the railcar and locomotive fleets for an annual presentation at the Rail Equipment Finance Conference in La Quinta, Calif. Railinc representatives have appeared at the conference since 1999.

“This year, as always, attendees of the Rail Equipment Finance Conference appreciated David Humphrey’s presentations on the state of the railcar and locomotive fleets,” said David Nahass, president of Railroad Financial Corporation, which holds the conference. “At REF, senior executives from companies throughout the rail finance industry are joined by numerous financial and rail industry analysts to hear David speak. They know that Railinc is a trusted data source. David’s presentations help set the tone for thoughtful discussions and a great conference.”

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, Humphrey discusses the railcar and locomotive fleets, what’s new in this year’s railcar review, and overall trends for railcars and locomotives. Detailed information about the fleets, including full-color charts, is included in the 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review, both available via free download here.

What types of railcars are in the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet, a subset of the North American rail fleet, is made up of six subfleets: hoppers, covered hoppers, gondolas, flat cars, tank cars and box cars. These cars can be used in interchange service and can be associated with an interline waybill. The revenue-earning fleet doesn’t include locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

What’s new in this year’s railcar review?
In past years, the railcar review presented data on car types grouped by their gross rail load (GRL) capacity. This year’s report presents car types by the kinds of commodities they carry, which provides a more nuanced view. This lets us focus on the most commonly shipped commodities for the most popular car types. For example, while covered hoppers—which grew the most of all the car types in 2016—carry grain, sand, plastic pellets, and other commodities, the types of covered hoppers that transport those commodities have different characteristics. The covered hopper that typically carries sand is going to be smaller than the covered hopper that carries corn or soybeans.

How do people use the data you present?
My presentation is one of the first on the Rail Equipment Finance Conference agenda, and the information serves as an overview for all of the freight car-related topics covered in the first two days. 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 conference has a focus on the financial aspects of buying, selling, leasing and building freight cars and locomotives, which means the data we present are particularly relevant to the attendees and the companies they represent.

What were the major trends for the revenue-earning fleet?
The revenue-earning fleet grew by 1.4 percent in 2016, driven by increases in the covered hopper and tank car populations. The hopper car type contracted for the seventh year in a row, and the gondola population decreased for the fourth straight year. For the first time in years, the number of box cars held steady from the previous year. The fleet continues to grow younger, with the average age of the fleet declining again in 2016. The trend of GRL 286 cars leading among additions to the revenue-earning fleet continued in 2016.

What were the trends for locomotives?
Locomotives continue to join the fleet at a steady rate: 2016 was the seventh consecutive year of growth for the fleet. The average and median ages for locomotives both increased in 2016. Also, high-horsepower, AC locomotives with six axles and high fuel capacity continue to make up the majority of new additions to the fleet.

The 2017 North American Freight Railcar Review and the 2017 North American Locomotive Review are available to download for free, as are past reports. Railinc also provides quarterly updates on the revenue-earning fleet in its Umler Equipment Index.

—Railinc Corporate Communications