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Freight Facts & Figures 2017 - Front Matter and Chapter 1: A Nation Served By Freight


U.S. Department of Transportation

Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Transportation

Jeffrey Rosen, Deputy Secretary

Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Patricia Hu, Director

Rolf Schmitt, Deputy Director

This report was prepared under the direction of Michael J. Sprung, Director of the Office of Transportation Analysis. Data compilation and analysis was managed by Long X. Nguyen, Project Manager. Matthew Chambers and Justyna Goworowska, and Chris Rick and Joanne Sedor of Spatial Front were major contributors. Other Contributors included John Berg, Chester Ford, Mindy Liu, Arup Mallik, Dominic Menegus, Birat Pandey, and David Smallen. William H. Moore edited this report and Alpha Wingfield was the visual information specialist. Photos were courtesy of the BTS Stock Photo Library.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) provides high quality information to serve government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes broad understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. BTS reviews quality issues on a regular basis and adjusts its programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvements.


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof.


This 12th edition of Freight Facts and Figures was developed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It provides a snapshot of the volume and value of freight flows in the United States; the extent and condition of the physical network over which freight moves; the economic conditions that generate freight movements; the characteristics of the industry that carries freight; and the safety, energy, and environmental implications of freight transportation. This snapshot helps decision makers, planners, and the public understand the magnitude and importance of freight transportation to the economy. An electronic version of this publication is available at

Chapter 1 summarizes the basic demographic and economic characteristics of the United States that contribute to the demand for raw materials, intermediate goods, and finished products. Chapter 2 identifies the freight that is moved and highlights international trade. Chapter 3 describes the extent and condition of the freight transportation system; volumes of freight moving over the system; and the amount of highway, air, rail, port, and pipeline activities required to move the freight. Chapter 4 presents information on transportation system performance and its effect on freight movement. Chapter 5 focuses on the economic characteristics of the transportation industry that provides transportation services to move freight. Chapter 6 covers the safety aspects, energy consumption, and environmental implications of freight transportation.

Many of the tables and figures are based on the Freight Analysis Framework (FAF), version 4, which builds on the 2012 Commodity Flow Survey to estimate 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.

The FAF covers all modes of transportation. The truck, rail, water, and pipeline categories include shipments transported by only one mode. Air includes shipments weighing more than 100 pounds moved by air or by air and truck. The multiple modes and mail category includes all other shipments transported by more than one mode, such as bulk products moved by rail and water and mixed cargo hauled by truck and rail. The multiple modes and mail category also includes small shipments sent via postal and courier services. The other and unknown category primarily comprises unidentified modes but includes miscellaneous categories, such as aircraft delivered to customers and shipments through foreign trade zones. Please visit for FAF data and documentation.

I. A Nation Served By Freight

The Nation’s 125.8 million households, nearly 7.7 million business establishments, and 90,000 governmental units are all part of an economy that demands the efficient movement of freight. While the U.S. economy was affected by an economic recession from December 2007 to June 2009, it has since returned to prerecession levels.

Table 1-1

Freight transportation has grown over time with the expansion of population and economic activity within the United States and with the increasing interdependence of economies across the globe. The U.S. population grew by 14.5 percent between 2000 and 2016, climbing to 323 million in 2016. The U.S. economy, measured by gross domestic product (GDP), increased by 32.7 percent in real terms (inflation adjusted) over the same period (see table 1-1). Median household income, another indicator of economic growth, declined by 5.5 percent between 2000 and 2015. Foreign trade grew faster than the overall economy, reflecting unprecedented global interconnectivity.

Although freight moves throughout the United States, the demand for freight transportation is driven primarily by the geographic distribution of population and economic activity. Both population and economic activity have grown faster in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest, but the Northeast has the highest economic activity per capita.

Table 1-2

Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017