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Who Moved My Cheese (and everything else for that matter)?

By Roger Whitton – VP of Marketing

The 2012 Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) published recently by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Labor Statistics gives us some answers. Here are a few interesting details from the report:

  • More than 70 percent of all domestic freight in 2012, moved via truck.

  • Rail was the second most-used mode by weight, carrying 1.8 billion tons of freight for a 16% share, but only $455 billion, or 3% of goods by value.

  • Based on ton-miles, a measure derived by multiplying weight by distance shipped, rail accounted for 44.5% and trucking accounted for 38.1% of freight reported in the 2012 CFS.

 “The Commodity Flow Survey showed once again that trucks move the vast, vast majority of freight in the United States,” noted Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. Of the $13.6 trillion worth of goods moved last year, trucks carried $10 trillion of it (73.7 percent). The for-hire trucking industry carried 48.5 percent ($6.6 trillion), while private trucks moved 25.2 percent of the total ($3.4 trillion). Tonnage wise, 11.7 billion tons of goods were shipped in 2012, with trucks carrying 8 billion of them (70.0 percent).

Intermodal or “multiple mode” shipments using more than one type of transportation, including parcel shipments, were second to trucking in shipment value, at $1.8 trillion for a share of more than 13% of total freight value and 347 million tons or 3% of total freight weight. Of all multiple-mode shipments, parcel represented the most by value ($1.6 trillion or 11.6% of total freight value) while truck-rail combination carried the most weight (224 million tons or 1.9% of total freight weight).

Trucking, Rail, and Intermodal CFS trends…

The CFS is published every five years, so it is possible to look at modal shipment trends over time, and there have been some interesting shifts in the last ten years.

In 2002, the Truck mode moved 67.2% of all tonnage, increasing to 70.0% by 2012. But perhaps the most interesting change within the Truck mode has been a shift of 5.0% of all freight tonnage from Private Truck to For-hire Truck between 2007 and 2012. The 2012 data had For-hire Truck moving 37.5% of tonnage to Private Truck’s 32.5%. The numbers were exactly reversed in 2007. The change may be explained by private fleet conversions and the corresponding growth of for-hire carrier dedicated fleets.Moving Cheese

Over the same ten year period, Rail’s percentage of total tonnage changed only slightly from 16.1% to 15.8%. 

The biggest change was in the Truck-Rail combination, where the percentage of tonnage moved increased from 0.4% in 2002, to 1.9% of total tons moved in 2012. Although a big percentage gain, it is still a relatively small slice of the total freight pie.

The Long and Short of it…

Another interesting trend has been in the change in average length of haul by mode. As Truck-Rail increased in share, and moved down into intermediate mileage lanes, the average miles for a Truck-Rail move fell significantly from 1413 to 1004 miles. For-hire Truck length of haul decreased from 523 to 489 miles, while Rail remained relatively constant moving from 807 to 811 average miles. 

“The length of haul data is crucial, particularly when talking about rail and truck competition,” Costello added. “While feasible under certain conditions, the potential for rail intermodal to gain a significant amount of truck market share is limited. Now more than ever, the two modes are more likely to complement each other than compete for business."

Some final surprising facts on the make up of freight movements from the 2012 CFS report include:

  • More than half of the total tonnage moved in 2012 went less than 50 miles, and shipments traveling fewer than 250 miles accounted for more than 60 percent.

  • Only 15.1% of all freight shipments were longer than 500 miles and only 9.7% traveled more than 750 miles.
  • The average length of haul for all trucks was 212 miles, with For-hire trucks averaging 489 miles and Private truck 46 miles.

The CFS is a shipper-based survey and has been conducted every five years since 1993 as part of the Economic Census. It provides a modal picture of national freight flows, and represents the only publicly available source of commodity flow data for the highway mode. The CFS is the primary source of national and state-level data on domestic freight shipments by American establishments. Imported products are included in the CFS at the point that they leave the importer’s initial domestic location for shipment to another location. Final data from the survey will be released in December 2014.

Click here for access the preliminary CFS report tables.

Topics: Transportation Transportation in NE Wisconsin third party logistics