After about 17 months on furlough, Heather Herbst this year returned to her full-time job working on the railroad.
"Business is up, and I'm glad to be back," said Herbst, an Olathe resident and conductor for BNSF Railway, the biggest rail operator in Kansas City.
"The economy's helping a lot. We've got some new hires joining us in December, and I read that BNSF had a $700 million profit for the quarter. That's always good."
Indeed, railroads and truckers are picking up steam as the economy recovers. That's important for Kansas City, the nation's second-busiest rail hub and crossroads of the nation's highways.
Economists often look at railcar loadings as a harbinger of things to come for the bigger economy.
This October compared with October 2009, U.S. railroads each week moved 11 percent more carloads — including intermodal containers that ship on rail and trucks. Such double-digit percentage increases have been common in 2010, with the year's high of 17 percent coming in May.
Trucking, too, is rising. Tonnage hauled this September was 5.1 percent higher than in September 2009. It was the 10th consecutive month of gains in year-over-year comparisons.
FedEx Corp. said it expected to have its busiest day ever on Dec. 13, when it anticipates moving nearly 16 million shipments around the world.
When asked by a CNBC reporter last year what set of economic numbers he'd want if he were stranded on a deserted island, investor Warren Buffett replied, "freight-car loadings" and "truck-tonnage moved."
Rising demand for rail services reflects growth in other sectors of the economy, said Dan Keen, economist with the Association of American Railroads.
"No one puts a load of lumber or scrap steel or chemicals on a railroad for fun," he said. "Rather, they put these things on a railroad so they can be turned into houses or rolled steel or fertilizer or whatever."
Read more of this story at KansasCity.com