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North American Freight Railcar Review

Replacement needs are keeping carbuilders busy in a tough traffic By David Humphrey, Ph.D., Senior Analyst, Railinc Corp., for Railway Age environment

28 Railway Age May 2016

Railinc’s annual analysis of the North American revenue-earning fleet shows the total fleet increased for the fifth consecutive year. In 2015, the increase was driven by the growth of two key subfleets—tank cars and covered hoppers. The average age of cars declined for the fourth year in a row, suggesting more new cars are joining the fleet as older cars exit. And, larger cars—those with gross rail loads of 286,000 pounds (GRL 286)—continue to predominate among new additions.

Key Findings

The growth rate of the revenue-earning fleet increased to its highest level since Railinc began compiling this report in 2011. The total fleet size is up 3.3% from year-end 2014 to year-end 2015, compared with a 2.6% increase the previous year. Increases in tank car and covered hopper populations drove growth. Tank cars grew the most of all the sub-fleets, to 404,000 units, but at

Bruce Kelly


he revenue-earning fleet is a subset of the North American rail fleet largely composed of freight cars used in interchange service and against which an interline waybill can be placed. It is made up of six sub-fleets: hoppers; covered hoppers; gondolas; flats; tank cars; and boxcars. It excludes locomotives, intermodal trailers and containers, maintenance-of-way equipment and end-of-train devices.

May 2016 Railway Age  
May 2016 Railway Age