Skip to main content

The FRED® Blog

Where is rail heading? Tracking freight and passengers on U.S. railroads


What’s the story with trains? It turns out that U.S. railroad transportation has some nuances. The graph above shows that the amount of freight transported by train dropped during the Great Recession, as expected. But freight transport doesn’t appear to have gotten back on track since then. Passenger transport, however, rebounded in a big way after the Great Recession and has sustained levels well above those in the early-to-mid 2000s. What’s behind the disparity here? Passenger traffic in the U.S. is essentially driven by the Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington. This is where Amtrak introduced the Acela Express, a train that successfully competes with other modes of transportation. The gradual success of this train alone may explain the rise in passenger rail. Freight traffic appears to be less successful in matching its competition—mainly, trucking and waterway transportation. The graph below follows trucking and waterway, which seem to do better after the Great Recession than before.

How this graph was created: Search for “rail,” check the two series, and click on “Add to Graph.” From the “Edit Graph” menu, open the “Format” tab and place one of the series on the right axis. For the second graph, search for “tonnage,” check the two series, and click on “Add to Graph.”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.

View on FRED, series used in this post: RAILFRTCARLOADSD11, RAILPMD11, TRUCKD11, WATERBORNED11


Subscribe to the FRED newsletter


Follow us

Twitter logo Google Plus logo Facebook logo YouTube logo LinkedIn logo
Back to Top