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OFFICE OF OPERATIONS: Freight Management and Operations

Innovative Supply Chain Analysis

Freight Fluidity Research

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Office of Freight Management and Operations is conducting ongoing research on freight fluidity. Freight fluidity research examines multimodal supply chains to assess freight transportation performance. This research is intended to help transportation agencies make more strategic decisions benefitting freight mobility, performance, and economic development.

Through this research, FHWA seeks to analyze and deploy freight data and analysis innovations. These efforts aim to support transportation professionals in State, regional, and local agencies to improve and enhance:

  • Freight planning and decision making.
  • Cross-sector, multidisciplinary dialogue and coordination.
  • Assessments of freight investment needs and opportunities.

FHWA supports development of innovative transportation planning and analysis tools.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act required DOT to begin developing new tools (and improving existing tools) to support an outcome-oriented, performance-based approach to the evaluation of proposed freight-related and other transportation projects. [49 U.S.C. 70203] The FHWA’s freight fluidity research addresses this requirement through advancing freight analysis innovations.

Supply Chain Performance Research

As part of the agency’s freight fluidity research efforts, FHWA developed a white paper assessing the feasibility of using multimodal supply chain performance metrics (travel time, travel-time reliability, cost, safety, and risk) to support public sector freight analysis. The white paper specifically examined five representative supply chains serving major industries (retail, automobile manufacturing, food products, agriculture, and electronics).

The white paper concluded that it is feasible and practical for the public sector to map representative supply chains and measure their high-level performance. The white paper also provided recommendations to broadly apply these findings at the Federal, State, and regional levels.

Click here to access the Supply Chain Performance White Paper

Freight Fluidity Proof of Concept (BETA) Tool

FHWA developed a proof-of-concept national data and visualization tool (beta tool) to analyze multimodal supply chain performance. This beta tool, which is not currently publicly available, uses Tableau© to “read” a variety of supply chain performance-related data (in geospatial and other formats). The beta tool provides a dashboard that allows a user to query, analyze, filter, and display the underlying data.

To build the beta tool, FHWA obtained proof of concept data from publicly and commercially available sources, summarized in the chart below. The table below lists the data sources used in the beta tool. State DOTs, MPOs, and others have explored these and other data options to support their own fluidity and supply chain analyses.

FHWA Freight Fluidity Beta Tool Data Sources and Uses*
Beta Tool Data Source Information Obtained for Fluidity Beta Tool
24 leading U.S. companies reflecting major freight dependent industry sectors Descriptions of representative supply chains—goods, modes, origin-destination pairs—not confidential
National Performance Management Research Data Set Highway link speeds
Chainalytics Commercial data on truck and rail intermodal shipment prices
TransCore Commercial data on rail travel times, including rail intermodal and carload data
Surface Transportation Board Waybill / Federal Railroad Administration Confidential rail carload costs
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterborne shipping costs and navigation system time/delay

*The FHWA Freight Fluidity Beta Tool includes these data sources for demonstration and testing purposes only. The Federal government does not endorse any specific data providers or products.

FHWA also held workshops to explore the beta tool with two metropolitan areas: Chicago and New York. Workshop materials are available here:

The FHWA is not currently pursuing the continued update and maintenance of the fluidity beta tool; however, the agency is exploring possible future pilot studies with State, regional, or local agencies to test the tool and its applications for freight analysis. Additional information will be posted on this page as available.

Federal Highway Administration

Staff Contact

Tiffany Julien, Transportation Specialist
FHWA Office of Freight Management and Operations
(202) 366-9241