CRAIG, Mont. — BNSF Railway Co., the nation's top hauler of container rail freight, is parking miles of railcars in Montana and elsewhere because there isn't enough freight to keep them rolling.

CRAIG, Mont. — BNSF Railway Co., the nation's top hauler of container rail freight, is parking miles of railcars in Montana and elsewhere because there isn't enough freight to keep them rolling.

Cars that often carry 40-foot containers of goods shipped from Asia stand like an iron fence between the Missouri River and this Montana burg known for world-class fly-fishing. They stretch as far as Sandee Cardinal can see when she stands outside her home on the river's west bank between Helena and Great Falls.

"What is that but a symbol of how America is down in the dumps right now?" Cardinal asked as she gazed at the cars that haven't moved for about three months.

The cars parked are the type that haul cargo from ships on the coast to points inland, mainly imported goods — an area that's starting to slow down due to the weak economy. Analysts say transportation usually is among the first sectors to show signs of a downturn in the economy and with Americans feeling pinched — employers eliminated 63,000 jobs last month amid declining consumer confidence — it could be a while before the idle cars move.

"If you take a look at transportation, both trucking and rail, you will see that things started softening last summer," said Arnold Maltz, associate professor of supply-chain management at Arizona State University. "The reason you are seeing all those cars parked is that the consumer economy translates into slower imports."