Updated April 21 at 3:21pm

Freight railroads see traffic boost

'They look at Boston and New Jersey when they should be looking at places that could be cheaper.'

Steel wheels are rumbling across southern New England in greater numbers again. More

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FOCUS: GLOBAL TRADE

Freight railroads see traffic boost

'They look at Boston and New Jersey when they should be looking at places that could be cheaper.'

Posted:

Steel wheels are rumbling across southern New England in greater numbers again.

With gas prices high and both domestic and international trade picking up, freight railroads like the Providence and Worcester are seeing increased traffic and pushing into the black for the first time since the recession.

“Freight traffic is taking off,” said Frank Rogers, vice president of marketing for Providence and Worcester Railroad Co., which serves the Port of Providence and Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown. “You are seeing more activity in the medium to short haul – the 300- to 700-mile range – that used to be truck-intensive. There is more interest in moving rail shorter distances.”

If the current patterns hold, Quonset could soon be sending cargo by rail, as well as receiving it. And in Providence, boxcars could even start rumbling down Allens Avenue again to serve scrap metal and other exporters.

After losing $1.8 million in 2009 and $264,000 in 2010, Providence and Worcester made $935,000 in 2011, its first profit in three years, according to the public company’s annual federal filings.

The greatest increases in traffic came from automobiles, where the Providence and Worcester saw revenue rise 40 percent from 2010 to 2011. Auto shipments now represent 10 percent of the company’s freight revenue.

The Providence and Worcester still derives 43 percent of its freight revenue from moving chemicals and plastics (which include ethanol) and that revenue increased 5 percent from 2010 to 2011. Those increases helped to offset the steep, 53 percent decline in coal shipments caused by the continued move toward natural gas for energy.

In addition to the railroad, the resurgent automobile industry has been good for the Quonset Development Corporation’s Port of Davisville, which saw a record 5,691 total rail shipments in 2011, largely on the strength of the 3,881 car-carriers that arrived, more than three times the number that arrived in 2009.

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