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Posts tagged with: "WATERBORNED11"

View this series on FRED

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

Cargo is cloudy for planes, ships slip and trains don’t gain, but trucks are in luck and pipelines are fine

A few simple observations: The United States is large. Americans buy things often. So, all kinds of goods get hauled over great distances all the time. And, once again, FRED has some relevant data.

The graph tracks various modes of transportation for freight. And even though these indicators have different units (tons, short tons, ton-miles, and barrels), FRED’s graphing flexibility lets us compare them in a logical way. Once we change the units to an index, setting all values at 100 starting in the year 2000, we can compare the evolution of these indicators over time. It looks like freight hauled by rail is slowly but surely losing its market share, while freight hauled by trucks has fared better. Freight on U.S. waterways has partially recovered from earlier losses, and pipeline transport has recently increased. Airborne freight is more difficult to judge: The jump in 2002 reflects a change in the indicator itself, when more carriers were included in the calculation; but it looks stable since then, except for the big dip during the recent recession.

How this graph was created: These series can be found in the U.S. transportation data release. Select the relevant series and click “Add to Graph.” Because so many different units are used for these series, unify them by scaling the units to 100 for the date 2000-01-01: Open the “Edit Graph” tab, look in the “Units” menu, and choose “Index (scale value to 100 for chosen date).”

Suggested by Christian Zimmermann.


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