Every time carloads decline in the year-over-year measurements, doom is spelled for the rail freight industry as a whole, casting doubt on its reliability and efficiency of rail as a means of freight transport. As rail freight volumes recover from the decline in 2016, it’s time for the rail industry to tackle their vulnerability to supply and demand. Just 8 months ago, Business Insider was reporting on the “collapse” of freight rail, and the numbers they were using made a good case:

Total US freight rail traffic from carloads and intermodal was down 6.1% the first week of October when compared to the first week in 2017. (This was seen as part of a larger recessive trend created by similar declines in September of the same year.) Carloads were down 10.4%; Intermodal was down 3.3%[1]

Such statistics should worry analysts and investors, and yet the same article said that investors are continuing to purchase rail stocks. What is this really telling us? While fluctuating economies seem to shake shippers’ trust in freight rail to meet their business needs, economists hold strong in their faith in rail as robust, profitable business. The industry needs to relay the same strength and adaptability to its main customers. It needs to make shippers aware that shipping freight by rail can be efficient and reliable in any kind of economy.

Because it turns out, in the long-term, the analysts were right. More recent numbers show that freight rail has seen significant growth in 2017. Total traffic from carloads and intermodal was up 4.6% in the week of May 6 when compared to the same week in 2016. The very worrisome coal shipments are now up 17.7%. [2]

This flip-flop of rail freight is nothing new to industry veterans, but it’s time to get ahead of the curve. The rail industry must launch a new image of itself that proves to reporters, commentators, and ultimately customers that rail remains a strong, safe, and efficient way of transporting goods.

Other industries have achieved this with tremendous success is by accessing information on their assets and operations  to provide customers the ability to make informed decisions. The airline industry for example makes connecting flight information available across airlines. This helps customers meet their connections even with delays, as flights wait for incoming passengers that have a known delay within reason. This information increases satisfaction across the airline industry even as they cut costs on baggage fees and in-flight concessions.

Rail can achieve the same loyalty and retention by providing shippers with similar information that can help them meet their deadlines and targets – even while the trucking industry provides cheaper options and spot rates.

To find out more about accessing data from your assets and where to use that information to build a loyal customer base, just download our white paper: Connecting Rail Customers and Assets.


[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/us-freight-rail-traffic-is-collapsing-2016-10
[2] http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/freight/class-i/us-rail-freight-growth-continues-aar.html?channel=50

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