On the cusp of beating last year...

This is a graph of the 4 week moving average of total rail traffic from ASI Transmatch. The data is through December 5, 2009, or 48 W 2009.
The  4 week moving average for 2009 appears to be ready to cross the 2008 total shipments.
Rail shipments are an excellent proxy for economic activity in the broader economy,  as they reflect the  real demand for the raw materials and finished products for a broad spectrum of commodities and merchandise. Both the slope of the 2009 moving average and the imminent approach to 2008 are positive signs of improvement, in our opinion.
Rail Traffic Data  is Warren Buffett’s “Desert Island Indicator“- the one indicator that he would choose if he were on a desert island and had only one indicator to use.
The use of rail data as a proxy for the health of the economy was also an important plot element in Ayn Rand’s influential novel Atlas Shrugged.  (If you don’t have time to read the 1088 pages /1.3 pounds of this book, then read the review here -just scroll down to the first review towards the bottom of the page. Or you can wait til the movie starring Charlise Theron is released in 2011.)
You can sign up for the rail shipment data here, in the Yellow box.
Thanks to John Griner of PMPA member company Griner Engineering  whose conversation inspired this post.