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Posts tagged with: "RAILPMD11"

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Staying put during the pandemic: Fewer miles in trains, planes, and automobiles

An earlier FRED Blog post covered the trends and cycles in the average number of miles per person traveled on the road. More recently, we’ve seen changes in all kinds of travel as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The graph above uses data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics on the number of miles traveled each month by people riding trains, planes, and automobiles.

  • A rail passenger-mile is 1 passenger carried 1 mile.
  • An air revenue passenger-mile is 1 paying passenger carried 1 mile.
  • And vehicle miles traveled is the sum of the number of roadway miles traveled by each vehicle and (barring unoccupied self-driving cars) amounts to at least 1 person per vehicle per mile.

Before the pandemic, in February 2020, for each mile traveled by rail there were 167 miles traveled by air and 511 miles traveled by road vehicle. But as professional sport games and cultural and recreational venues closed, personal travel plans were scrapped; and the need for social distancing replaced business travel with teleconferencing.

Between February and April

  • Travel by rail declined 92%.
  • Travel by air declined 96%.
  • Travel on roads declined 41%.

All types of miles rebounded between April and May. Travel by rail and air improved some but the difference is almost imperceptible. Travel on roads rebounded the most, which may reflect a partial substitution from trains and planes to automobiles, where social distancing is much easier to accomplish. But as of May, road miles still remained 27% below their February value.

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How this graph was created: Search for and select “Rail Passenger Miles.”
From the “Edit Graph” panel, use the “Add Line” tab to search for and select “Air Revenue Passenger Miles” and “Vehicle Miles Traveled.” Next, customize Line 1 by typing the formula a/10 and clicking “Apply.” Last, from the “Edit Graph” panel, click on the “Format” tab. Under Line 3, select “Y-Axis position: right” and select colors to taste. Note: Because the order of magnitude of each series is dramatically different, we customized the data units and graph format to allow us to see the three series at once.

Suggested by Diego Mendez-Carbajo.

View on FRED, series used in this post: AIRRPMTSID11, RAILPMD11, VMTD11

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


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