Railinc Senior Data Scientist David Humphrey provides additional insight into the status of the railcar fleet for Q1 2023. Refer to the complete Q1 2023 Umler Index for more information or scroll down to view a comprehensive graphic.

The first quarter of 2023 has ended. A quick look at newly installed equipment in Umler shows a few interesting facts. The industry continues to replenish the North American railcar fleet with large covered hopper cars, 60-foot boxcars, general service or non-pressurized tank cars, and automotive flatcars. These additions generally represent a continuation of building trends that have been playing out the past several quarters and years.

Large covered hopper cars are regularly added in a continuing effort to replenish the fleet to transport grain, fertilizer, plastic pellets, and similar commodities. For similar reasons, new large box cars have been added to the box car fleet the past several years; older, smaller cars falling out of the fleet are being replaced by new, larger cars. The demand for general service tank cars of various sizes continues to grow, with some 440,000 tank cars in service in North America. Additionally, after a brief slow down in finished automobile business related to the pandemic, significant quantities of new automotive flatcars are being added. Some forecasts indicate that the pandemic-induced slow down will eventually produce significant increases in production of cars and light trucks in North America for the next three to five years.

There may be surprises for some readers. The industry continues to add mill gondolas and coil gondolas at a steady pace. Equipment of this type is critical to the steel industry in North America. It’s unclear if these additions are more related to an aging fleet or an expansion in business—or some of both.

Two other areas of interest are mid-sized covered hoppers (C113s) and smaller box cars. The additional covered hoppers cars may be in support of the fertilizer business while those boxcars are probably a continuation of support for the paper industry. New covered hopper cars built these days are generally very large (C114s) and are related to the revitalization of the grain car fleet; the C113s appear to be for some other service.

 David Humphrey, Ph.D, Senior Data Scientist

Q123 Umler