Rail transportation is a main conduit in fostering economic activity throughout the world and particularly in North America. Peering back through history will lead you to understand that many of the largest cities/centers for economic activity developed around main rail road junctions. While rail roads are not a revolutionary force today, as they were in the 1800’s, they still serve as a key part of the world’s economic infrastructure. Data pertaining to freight carried on vial rail cars is a valuable data point in gauging the health of the economy.
The Association of American Railroads releases data regularly that measures rail activity in both the U.S. and Canada. Below I am including two charts recently updated by the association. The 2016 trend is certainly downward compared to the prior three years. The 2014 year, in terms of car loads is the post-recession high water mark. Prior to that period, transportation topped out in 2006.
Historically, the levels we are seeing so far in 2016 look more like 2010 and 2011.