Freight numbers too low, BTS says

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Much more freight moves on the nation’s transportation system than previously reported, and almost one out of 10 tons of freight shipments is related to international trade, according to “Freight in America,” a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

BTS estimates that more than 19 billion tons of freight, valued at $13 trillion, was carried over 4.4 trillion ton-miles in 2002. This means that on a typical day in 2002, approximately 53 million tons of goods valued at an estimated $36 billion moved on the nation’s multimodal transportation network.

BTS estimates that 25 percent more value measured by dollars and 23 percent more weight measured by tons moves on the transportation system than it previously estimated. These new estimates include previously uncovered sectors such as construction, retail, services and municipal solid waste. Freight ton-miles, a measure that combines weight and distance, now are estimated to be 2 percent less than previously estimated.

The BTS report notes that some long-standing freight trends persist, and new ones are emerging. Trucking remains the single most-used mode of shipping, totaling 70 percent by value, 60 percent by weight and 34 percent by ton-miles. In general, trucking dominates shipment distances of less than 500 miles, while rail dominates the longer distance shipments.

Air freight and express delivery are growing the most rapidly, although air cargo remains a small and specialized part of freight activity in terms of tonnage. Intermodal freight and use of containers for multimodal shipments both are increasing.

In other trends, the BTS report finds that growing demand for more efficient and faster delivery of high-value, low-weight products is changing the structure of the freight industry, creating new alliances among shippers, carriers and logistics providers. At the same time, enormous volumes of bulk commodities – whether grains, lumber, ores, coal or oil – continue to move into, out of, and within the United States.