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Rail Intermodal was Top Growing Mode since Recession

Release Number: 
BTS 56-18

Date: Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Rail intermodal grew the fastest since the end of the economic recession among the freight transportation modes included in the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS) Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), according to Transportation Economic Trends 2018, a new BTS report.

Rail intermodal rose 51.9 percent from June 2009 to August 2018. Competitive pricing, track upgrades, and investment in rail intermodal terminals and other infrastructure contributed to the rapid growth of rail intermodal traffic.

Trucking grew the second fastest at 51.7 percent, followed by air freight, 43.6 percent; pipeline, 37.1 percent; waterborne, 29.0 percent; and rail carloads, 1.2 percent. Rail intermodal, trucking, and pipeline have grown steadily since June 2009, but waterborne has shown little growth after initial recovery.

More recently, air freight grew the fastest, rising 31.9 percent from February 2014 to May 2018 to reach a seasonally-adjusted all-time high in May 2018. For monthly numbers, see seasonally-adjusted data.

Note: Pipeline is a weighted average of petroleum pipeline and natural gas movement.     

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, seasonally adjusted transportation data, available at as of November 2018.

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.

BTS today released the first two chapters of Transportation Economic Trends 2018, an annual report on transportation and the economy. The report highlights important trends in transportation and the economy, and explains related economic concepts and data sources for a general audience.

Starting with the 2018 edition, BTS will release TET chapters on a rolling basis to give readers timely access to transportation data and content. The first two chapters released cover the TSI, a monthly summary of freight and passenger movement, and government transportation spending and revenue.

The remaining six chapters, which BTS will release through November and December, will cover transportation’s contribution to the American economy; household and business transportation costs; transportation-related employment; transportation productivity; household spending on transportation goods and services; and transportation assets and infrastructure.

Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2018