My study overlooks the tracks running through Ashland. A subjective observation is that the number of intermodal/container freight trains is declining. Moreover, the trains seem to be shorter, on average, and we see very few of the double-stacked containers that were introduced a couple of years ago.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (it is behind a paywall) shows how the freight carriers, including CSX, have introduced Just in Time (JIT) techniques for minimizing the amount of time that freight cars spend in switching yards. The railroads are moving toward a passenger-style system in which it is the responsibility of the customer to get his goods to the train depot to meet a schedule rather than have the railroad assemble trains based on what the customer sends to them.
Such a system such as this could create shorter trains — the railroad managers may create such trains just to get cars out of the switching yards and to “declutter” the system. But JIT would not change the overall amount of traffic. If anything, it may increase the number of cars as customers respond to the more efficient service.
Data to do with traffic is available from the Surface Transportation Board. As time permits, it would be good to dig into this information to determine if the subjective impression to do with reduced traffic is borne out by hard numbers.