Transportation Services Index

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Freight by Mode since the Recession

Release Number: 
BTS 39-17
Date: 
Monday, August 7, 2017

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) has shown that all but one of the major freight modes grew since the recession that ended in June 2009 with rail intermodal growing the fastest, rising 50.6 percent from June 2009 (the end of the economic recession) to December 2016.

DateAir FreightRail CarloadsRail IntermodalPipelineTruckingWaterborneRecession
Jan-000.9601.0160.9980.9591.0721.1200
Feb-000.9821.0151.0031.0001.0650.9850
Mar-000.9691.0080.9990.9440.9881.0620
Apr-000.9971.0011.0020.9860.9711.0290
May-000.9851.0051.0011.0220.9731.0630
Jun-000.9830.9970.9900.9960.9970.9820
Jul-000.9751.0010.9930.9540.9711.0040
Aug-001.0051.0020.9900.9950.9960.9780
Sep-001.0751.0131.0040.9980.9880.9820
Oct-001.0320.9971.0251.0180.9910.9680
Nov-001.0190.9750.9991.0380.9980.9790
Dec-001.0180.9690.9961.0910.9910.8480
Jan-010.9950.9990.9911.0190.9980.9320
Feb-010.9921.0020.9750.9981.0050.9640
Mar-010.9651.0120.9871.0130.9910.9521
Apr-010.9401.0030.9601.0070.9800.9701
May-010.9421.0010.9510.9921.0040.9441
Jun-010.9650.9920.9660.9570.9920.9931
Jul-010.8760.9680.9590.9860.9900.9631
Aug-010.9030.9820.9770.9981.0020.9981
Sep-010.7970.9850.9891.0040.9940.9921
Oct-010.8730.9980.9881.0310.9940.9491
Nov-010.8520.9970.9820.9600.9950.9511
Dec-010.8770.9870.9620.9520.9920.9460
Jan-020.8870.9890.9650.9651.0050.9640
Feb-020.8860.9891.0070.9671.0250.9570
Mar-020.9220.9510.9990.9971.0060.9250
Apr-020.9250.9781.0181.0101.0120.9210
May-020.9410.9791.0341.0031.0280.9350
Jun-020.9720.9991.0471.0161.0270.9490
Jul-020.9840.9891.0451.0261.0430.9580
Aug-020.9731.0001.0580.9951.0440.9400
Sep-020.9450.9911.0381.0001.0560.9500
Oct-021.2070.9800.9461.0041.0550.9610
Nov-021.1300.9861.0391.0191.0581.0000
Dec-021.0770.9901.0411.0261.0690.9540
Jan-031.1110.9801.0601.0131.0580.9190
Feb-031.0790.9771.0681.0221.0570.8660
Mar-031.0640.9701.0750.9801.0590.9150
Apr-031.0650.9771.0830.9801.0610.9250
May-031.0790.9731.0790.9861.0490.8890
Jun-031.0450.9821.0810.9491.0510.9030
Jul-031.0900.9841.0940.9751.0630.8990
Aug-031.0990.9881.0660.9911.0550.9120
Sep-031.0781.0011.1010.9851.0680.9400
Oct-031.1211.0031.1121.0011.0860.9510
Nov-031.1191.0021.1210.9811.0830.9480
Dec-031.1161.0061.1260.9901.1091.0370
Jan-041.1341.0131.1361.0151.0950.9860
Feb-041.2171.0041.1371.0301.1040.9640
Mar-041.1761.0121.1840.9841.1340.9400
Apr-041.2041.0171.1931.0001.1330.9560
May-041.2081.0231.2001.0131.1270.9570
Jun-041.2151.0101.2060.9861.1400.9470
Jul-041.2531.0181.2110.9701.1390.9700
Aug-041.2071.0101.1900.9631.1280.9850
Sep-041.2670.9981.2051.0021.1310.9470
Oct-041.2871.0181.2341.0101.1281.0300
Nov-041.2711.0241.2601.0161.1391.0020
Dec-041.2891.0191.2601.0281.1320.9920
Jan-051.2951.0181.2580.9981.1790.9200
Feb-051.2601.0581.2880.9921.1530.9820
Mar-051.2641.0361.2481.0191.1421.0020
Apr-051.2671.0411.2460.9911.1550.9960
May-051.2661.0151.2600.9871.1441.0530
Jun-051.2901.0121.2490.9881.1430.9550
Jul-051.2791.0151.2711.0181.1400.9620
Aug-051.2621.0141.2790.9951.1580.9200
Sep-051.2871.0201.2870.9481.1530.8200
Oct-051.2840.9931.3150.9221.1500.8620
Nov-051.2811.0131.3170.9471.1810.8920
Dec-051.2841.0261.3380.9921.1530.8930
Jan-061.2611.0681.3440.8941.1530.9150
Feb-061.2421.0361.3040.9421.1410.9510
Mar-061.3101.0371.3330.9601.1340.9790
Apr-061.2891.0301.3670.9581.1340.9230
May-061.2681.0541.3500.9791.1630.9280
Jun-061.3031.0511.3520.9941.1500.9290
Jul-061.2751.0291.3491.0231.1400.9090
Aug-061.3121.0241.3611.0101.1030.8900
Sep-061.3211.0241.3560.9841.1401.0270
Oct-061.2821.0121.3421.0031.1300.8880
Nov-061.3151.0011.3250.9701.0970.8860
Dec-061.3071.0431.3470.9241.1250.9140
Jan-071.2981.0011.3290.9461.1160.9230
Feb-071.3140.9941.3391.0531.1220.8730
Mar-071.3121.0011.3340.9891.1400.9410
Apr-071.2761.0061.3160.9971.1170.9530
May-071.2941.0031.3180.9871.1180.9480
Jun-071.2741.0301.3350.9881.1060.9330
Jul-071.2830.9991.3100.9761.1060.8760
Aug-071.3081.0101.3011.0451.1150.8080
Sep-071.3031.0141.3171.0111.1030.9050
Oct-071.2941.0101.2930.9981.1290.9090
Nov-071.2961.0241.3100.9931.1270.8820
Dec-071.2871.0151.3000.9971.1300.9051
Jan-081.3131.0131.2911.0111.1650.9211
Feb-081.2811.0141.3021.0041.1450.8881
Mar-081.2651.0031.2771.0071.1460.7481
Apr-081.3031.0131.2731.0001.1530.8231
May-081.2811.0111.2911.0001.1520.8451
Jun-081.2040.9931.2790.9921.1600.7451
Jul-081.2191.0211.2930.9721.1510.8541
Aug-081.1971.0011.2720.9501.1260.8671
Sep-081.1570.9711.2660.8931.1260.8241
Oct-081.1420.9811.2540.9901.1060.8471
Nov-081.0170.9231.2070.9901.0900.8281
Dec-080.9780.8681.1010.9871.0590.7671
Jan-090.9700.8491.1280.9911.0310.7661
Feb-090.9920.8821.0590.9651.0590.8311
Mar-090.9120.8241.0650.9701.0100.7421
Apr-090.9660.7791.0580.9630.9960.7421
May-090.9590.7671.0470.9451.0210.7001
Jun-091.0070.8051.0440.9361.0040.7891
Jul-091.0260.8431.0570.9421.0250.7910
Aug-091.0310.8321.0680.9391.0420.8080
Sep-091.0740.8331.0790.9771.0470.7530
Oct-091.1150.8211.1080.9591.0400.6860
Nov-091.1290.8461.1300.9451.0590.8070
Dec-091.1460.8231.1370.9831.0690.7800
Jan-101.1290.8451.1750.9961.0710.8470
Feb-101.1590.8691.1701.0111.0860.9180
Mar-101.1090.8861.2070.9761.0910.9430
Apr-101.1700.9011.1830.9721.0940.9770
May-101.2080.8911.2170.9941.0900.9510
Jun-101.2100.8861.2430.9881.0890.9740
Jul-101.2070.8921.2641.0131.0940.9450
Aug-101.2020.8851.2791.0371.0870.9400
Sep-101.2120.8961.2711.0131.0950.9630
Oct-101.2210.8961.2670.9961.1110.9400
Nov-101.2010.8841.2631.0061.1060.9460
Dec-101.2040.8901.2701.0681.1200.9390
Jan-111.2260.9101.2771.0221.1350.9510
Feb-111.2020.9071.2961.0101.1300.9600
Mar-111.2370.9181.2861.0011.1590.9030
Apr-111.2540.9081.3050.9931.1490.9310
May-111.2030.8961.3121.0101.1320.8590
Jun-111.1880.8951.2921.0091.1530.9580
Jul-111.2070.8821.2831.0271.1440.9870
Aug-111.1980.8871.2891.0171.1550.9890
Sep-111.1880.9031.2981.0171.1640.9800
Oct-111.1710.9141.3151.0151.1690.9610
Nov-111.1740.9061.3181.0161.1780.9530
Dec-111.1900.9361.3601.0121.2240.9540
Jan-121.1250.9181.3271.0001.1660.9730
Feb-121.2210.8871.3070.9961.1830.9630
Mar-121.2060.8681.3370.9601.1900.9430
Apr-121.1810.8601.3401.0371.1820.9530
May-121.2120.8711.3431.0821.1790.9750
Jun-121.2040.8851.3681.0901.1950.9230
Jul-121.1740.8751.3551.0841.1960.9270
Aug-121.1800.8751.3481.0801.1870.9220
Sep-121.1880.8681.3551.0521.1840.9160
Oct-121.0980.8541.3461.0731.1600.9470
Nov-121.1650.8671.3311.0581.1830.9560
Dec-121.1200.8831.3511.0291.1940.9680
Jan-131.1760.8651.4231.0201.2220.9540
Feb-131.1560.8831.4361.0501.2350.9610
Mar-131.1440.8711.3711.0921.2360.9580
Apr-131.1270.8631.3351.0651.2400.9170
May-131.1070.8781.3741.0481.2620.9250
Jun-131.1300.8801.3821.0461.2600.9530
Jul-131.1130.8671.3951.0471.2590.9570
Aug-131.1380.8771.4131.0481.2650.9470
Sep-131.1080.8701.4221.0581.2740.9250
Oct-131.1280.8661.4311.0621.2650.9380
Nov-131.1080.8831.4451.0991.3020.9400
Dec-131.1380.8671.4461.1321.2790.9280
Jan-141.1270.8731.4241.1131.2390.9370
Feb-141.0930.8761.4441.1331.2690.9440
Mar-141.1240.9091.4741.1201.2780.9740
Apr-141.1480.9231.4761.0851.2880.9890
May-141.1810.9341.4771.0821.2980.9850
Jun-141.1520.9131.4751.0541.2950.9850
Jul-141.1970.9201.4811.0451.3001.0060
Aug-141.1750.9001.4731.0671.3171.0210
Sep-141.1450.8951.4971.0951.3211.0220
Oct-141.1690.9031.5061.1031.3281.0270
Nov-141.1780.8961.4911.1451.3421.0310
Dec-141.1740.9401.5121.1251.3321.0410
Jan-151.1750.9261.4491.1401.3221.0290
Feb-151.2270.8721.3471.2001.3090.9850
Mar-151.1440.8801.5641.1781.3390.8860
Apr-151.1760.8771.5431.1501.3091.0160
May-151.1580.8511.5341.1591.3271.0500
Jun-151.1450.8431.5341.1741.3261.0030
Jul-151.1550.8571.5341.1781.3390.9900
Aug-151.1230.8541.5311.1741.3510.9880
Sep-151.1610.8451.5131.1831.3450.9670
Oct-151.1540.8391.4941.1981.3510.9960
Nov-151.1430.8031.4821.1591.3390.9680
Dec-151.1580.7921.4691.1351.3550.9570
Jan-161.1590.7761.5151.1621.3700.9500
Feb-161.0920.7851.5161.1321.3530.9510
Mar-161.1410.7551.4491.1211.3420.9550
Apr-161.1520.7421.4201.1951.3690.9570
May-161.1520.7591.4591.2071.3600.9710
Jun-161.1800.7851.4511.2221.3630.9590
Jul-161.1760.7921.4481.2291.4050.9410
Aug-161.1950.7891.4611.2401.3560.9460
Sep-161.2180.7951.4521.1931.3350.9670
Oct-161.2130.7901.4741.1861.3690.9640
Nov-161.2410.8061.5111.1471.3780.9610
Dec-161.2260.7991.5711.2131.3840.9720
Notes: 

Data are seasonally adjusted and indexed. Economic recessions as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research

Source: 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, seasonally adjusted transportation data, available at www.bts.gov 

Transportation services lead the economy

BTS has reviewed recent movement of freight and determined that transportation services, as measured by the freight TSI, continue to lead the economy. The freight TSI tends to turn in advance of slowdowns and accelerations in economic growth.

The seasonally-adjusted indexed modal data that comprises BTS’ Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) shows that rail intermodal was followed by trucking at 37.8 percent, pipeline at 29.6 percent, water­borne at 23.2 percent, and air freight at 21.7 percent. During this period the freight TSI rose 29.7 percent.

The sole exception was rail carloads which declined 0.8 percent. 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 tons, dropped to 787.6 in 2009, and continued to fall to 638.1 million tons in 2015.

DateRail IntermodalTruckingPipelineWaterborneAir FreightRail Carloads
June 2009 through December 2016 change50.6%37.8%29.6%23.2%21.7%-0.8%
Source: 

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, seasonally adjusted transportation data, available at www.bts.gov 

All modes had declined during the recession as the freight TSI fell 16.3 percent from January 2008 to its low point in April 2009. The biggest decline was in the air freight index, down 26.5 percent, followed by rail carloads, -23.0 percent; waterborne, -18.6 percent; rail intermodal -18.1 percent; trucking, -14.5 percent; and pipeline, -4.7 percent.

The freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-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.

Transportation services and the economy

BTS has reviewed recent movement of freight and determined that transportation services, as measured by the freight TSI, continue to lead the economy. The freight TSI tends to turn in advance of slowdowns and accelerations in economic growth. The most recent data show two economic accel­erations following the recession; the first from June 2009 to December 2012 and the second from July 2013 to December 2014. The freight TSI led both ac­celerations.

Notes: 

Shaded areas indicate decelerations in the economy (growth cycles). Detrending and smoothing refer to a statistical procedure that makes it easier to observe changes in upturns and downturns of the data. Detrending removes the long term growth trend and smoothing eliminates month to month volatility.

Source: 

Calculated by U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) from USDOT BTS, Transportation Services Index, available at www.bts.gov

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, making the TSI a useful economic indicator. This relationship is particularly strong for freight traffic as measured by the freight TSI, which BTS research shows leads economic accelera­tions and decelerations in the economy (known as growth cycles).

Growth cycles highlight accelerations and decelerations in the economy that take place within the larger business cycles (periods of expansion and contraction in the economy). Like business cycles, growth cycles have turning points. Turning points signal the end points of the expansions and recessions of business cycles, and in the case of growth cycles, they signal the endpoints of accelerations and decelerations within the growth cycles.

While the newly identified turns in the freight TSI continue to lead growth cycles, the relationship between the freight TSI and growth cycles changed in 2012. The freight TSI reached a peak in December 2011 and turned downwards – 12 months in advance of an economic deceleration that began in December 2012. The freight TSI turned again, hitting a trough in October 2012, before the growth cycle peaked in December 2012 and turned downwards (decelerated). Historically, the freight TSI has not hit a trough and turned upwards before the onset of an economic deceleration. The economic deceleration began in December 2012 and ended in July 2013. The freight TSI peaked in December 2014 and turned downwards at the same time as the growth cycle (Figure 3).

For additional historical data, go to TSI data. See Seasonally-Adjusted Transportation Data for numbers for individual modes. TSI includes data from 2000 to the present.