09 August 2017

Latest US Analysis of Freight by Mode Statistics Published  

Multimodal Growth Since Recession Revealed

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Shipping News Feature US – The US Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) has shown that all but one of the major freight modes grew in volume since the recession that ended in June 2009 with rail intermodal growing the fastest, rising 50.6% from the end of that month to December 2016 in a comprehensive seven and a half year study of North American multimodal freight.

BTS has reviewed recent freight movements and determined that transportation services, as measured by the BTS’ Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), continue to lead the economy. The freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tonnes and tonne-miles, which are combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. The TSI is seasonally-adjusted to remove regular seasons from month-to-month comparisons.

The DoT says that freight TSI tends to turn in advance of slowdowns and accelerations in economic growth. The seasonally-adjusted indexed modal data that comprises TSI, shows that rail intermodal was followed by trucking at 37.8%, pipeline at 29.6%, water­borne at 23.2%, and air freight at 21.7%. During this period the freight TSI rose 29.7%.

The sole exception was rail carloads which declined 0.8%. The drop in rail carload shipments took place at the same time as a decline in coal shipments. Total coal shipped by Class I railroads peaked in 2008 at 878.6 million tonnes, dropped to 787.6 in 2009, and continued to fall to 638.1 million tonnes in 2015.

All modes had declined during the recession as the freight TSI fell 16.3% from January 2008 to its low point in April 2009. The biggest decline was in the air freight index, down 26.5%, followed by rail carloads, -23%; waterborne, -18.6%; rail intermodal -18.1%; trucking, -14.5%; and pipeline, -4.7%.

First published in 2004, TSI measures the volume of freight and passenger transportation services provided monthly by the for-hire transportation sector. BTS research shows that changes in the TSI take place before changes in the economy. This relationship is particularly strong for freight traffic which, according to BTS research, shows leads economic accelerations and decelerations in the economy (known as growth cycles).

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