Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

The Freight Story 2008

The U.S. economy depends on freight transportation to link businesses with suppliers and markets throughout the nation and the world. American farms and mines reach out to customers across and beyond the continent, using inexpensive transportation to compete against farms and mines in other countries. Domestic manufacturers increasingly use distant sources of raw materials and other inputs to produce goods for local and distant customers, all of which require efficient and reliable transportation to maintain a competitive advantage in a global marketplace. Wholesalers and retailers depend on fast and reliable transportation to obtain inexpensive or specialized goods through extensive supply chains. In the expanding world of e-commerce, households increasingly rely on freight transportation to deliver purchases directly to their door. Even service providers, public utilities, construction companies, and government agencies depend on freight transportation to get needed equipment and supplies from sources scattered throughout the world.

The U.S. economy requires effective freight transportation to operate at minimal cost and respond quickly to demand for goods. As the economy grows, the demand for goods and related freight transportation activity will increase. Current volumes of freight are straining the capacity of the transportation system to deliver goods quickly, reliably, and cheaply. Anticipated long-term growth of freight could overwhelm the system's ability to meet the needs of the American economy unless public agencies and private industry work together to improve system performance.

This report provides an overview of freight movement on the U.S. transportation system today and in the future. It discusses where the largest freight flows are concentrated and the pressures that existing and anticipated freight volumes place on the system. Special attention is given to freight congestion and its effects on highways, railroads, and waterways. The economic costs to shippers, carriers, and the overall economy also are examined. In addition, the report describes government and private sector efforts to improve freight transportation and mitigate the safety and environmental effects of growing volumes of freight. Finally, the report outlines a policy framework to help further discussion on ways to improve the freight system.

Notes on Statistics

The Freight Analysis Framework (FAF), version 2.2, is the source of all statistics in this report unless otherwise noted. FAF covers all freight flows to, from, and within the United States except shipments between foreign countries that are transported through the United States. Shipments to and from Puerto Rico are counted with Latin America. For more information, see

FAF covers all modes of transportation. The truck, rail, and water categories include shipments transported by only one mode. Air includes shipments weighing more than 100 pounds moved by air or by air and truck. Intermodal includes all other shipments transported by more than one mode, such as bulk products moved by water and pipeline and mixed cargo hauled by truck and rail. Intermodal also includes courier and postal shipments weighing less than 100 pounds transported by any mode. Pipeline includes a small quantity of shipments moved by unknown modes.

The total value of commodities in FAF is greater than the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because many products counted once for GDP may move multiple times during the year. For example, grain may move initially from farm to grain elevator, then from grain elevator to processing plant, and finally as cereal or bread from processing plant to market. These movements are counted three times in freight statistics but only once in GDP as food purchased by households.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, publishes FAF and other statistics in the annual Freight Facts and Figures publication. The 2007 edition is available at Many statistics are based on the Economic Census, which is conducted once every five years. The 2002 Economic Census is the most recently published data.

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