A positive economic indicator

By Tim Raetzloff | Apr 26, 2012

During the evening of April 22, I saw one of the most positive economic indicators that I have seen in years. A Burlington Northern Santa Fe train rumbled through Edmonds and Mukilteo northbound.

The train consisted of more than 100 (I think I counted 106) empty intermodal railcars. Every car looked brand new from the factory.  Intermodal cars are the ones that carrying containers for transport to and from ocean-going freighters.

For five years, there have been intermodal railcars parked on sidings all over the country. There wasn’t enough freight traffic to use all the intermodal cars that already existed.

Now somebody has seen enough freight growth to justify building new cars. An excellent sign of an improving economy.

We in Edmonds and Mukilteo often grump about the railroad. I do too when I am waiting at Dayton, late for a reservation at Anthony’s or Arnie’s.  But, realistically, the railroad has been here for 120 years and has been the source of much of the economic growth of the region.

The railroad also provides us with a chance to observe the world economy up close. When the size of garbage trains dropped dramatically in 2008, it was easy to observe that all of us were throwing away less and keeping things longer.

Bad economic sign. Now new intermodal cars are a sign of economic improvement.

The railroad provides clues about how Boeing is doing in Renton. Most 737 fuselages that are built in Wichita travel via rail through Mukilteo and Edmonds southbound.

Every one of those fuselages has a line number on it. Line 4000 passed through Edmonds on the evening of March 6. That fuselage was completed and delivered with much pomp and circumstance to China Southern Airline on April 13.

In little over five weeks, it went from being a wingless fuselage that could ride on a railroad to a completed airplane ready to travel on its own.

Trains of auto carriers seem to be growing in numbers. Daily there are container trains going to and from the Heartland. These all pass through our area.  On other occasions I have seen entire trains of wind turbine components, going somewhere to a new, or growing, windfarm.

The message is that you don’t need to read statistics about how the economy is doing. Spend a little time watching the railroad through our cities and you will soon know firsthand.

Tim Raetzloff, who operates Abarim Business Computers at Five Corners in Edmonds, evaluates Puget Sound business activity in his regular column in the Beacon. In the interests of full disclosure he says, “Neither I nor Abarim have any interest in or conflict with any company mentioned in this column.”

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