THIS would appear to be a good time to be in the tank cleaning business. At the risk of repeating an over-used cliché, one could even say that wash rack operators are really cleaning up right now.

The reasons are simple: The US economy is strong, and tank truck carriers seem to be outperforming the economy. All indications are that the strong economic growth should continue through this year and at least into 2006. This means plenty of tank trailers and tank containers for the cleaning industry to wash.

Freight shipments in general grew by about 9% last year in the United States, according to statistics from a variety of sources. The Department of Transportation's Transportation Services Index for Freight indicates that the growth was at least 5.1%. Many US tank truck haulers reported shipment levels in 2004 that surged by more than 10% over the previous year.

Trucking was strong throughout North America. More than $633 billion worth of goods crossed the border by surface transportation between the United States and its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners Canada and Mexico in 2004, 12% more than 2003, according to the DOT's Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Exports hauled by truck were up 10.5%.

Surface transportation consists largely of freight movements by truck, rail, and pipeline. About 90% of US trade by value with Canada and Mexico moves on land.

The brisk freight transport activity extended well beyond North America. ISO container shipments rose by 10.7% in 2004, according to the Intermodal Association of North America. Bulk shipments in tanks and boxes accounted for about six percent of the container traffic between the United States and the rest of the world.

All of this kept the tank cleaning racks running at nearly full capacity over the past year. It's easy to find proof that the wash racks have been busy. The parking lots are full, and the workers are moving tanks through just as quickly as they can.

Tank fleet managers say the wash racks have done an admirable job of keeping up with demand. Cleaning quality has remained high and delays are minimal. That's quite an accomplishment.

A couple of key factors seem to be contributing to the ability of the cleaning industry to cope with the strong economy. First, many of the wash racks across much of North America have made significant investments in facility improvements over the past couple of years. In addition, new cleaning capacity is coming on line.

Some of the new and improved cleaning capacity is highlighted in this issue of Modern Bulk Transporter. On the foodgrade side: Cover story GKA Enterprises Inc recently opened a new three-bay facility in Stockton, California, and Sani-Kleen Tank Wash Inc now has two cleaning facilities in southwest Missouri. On the chemical cleaning side, GalCo Environmental Specialists opened a four-bay rack in a 47-acre complex at the Bayport industrial park south of Houston, Texas. Tampa Bay Truck Center, Tampa, Florida, recently installed a new wash system to boost efficiency and productivity.

Cleaning is a vital part of the tank truck industry today, and it's important to both carriers and their customers. Wash racks must to be able to generate the sort of return that will enable them to continue investing in new technology and new facilities.