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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Federal Freight Policy: An Overview

John Frittelli
Specialist in Transportation Policy

The U.S. freight system is a complex network including four principal modes of transportation:

  • The National Truck Network comprises 209,000 miles of highways that can accommodate large trucks, including the 47,000-mile Interstate Highway System. • Railroads, largely in private ownership, carry freight on 140,000 miles of track. 
  • Barge and ship lines utilize 12,000 miles of shallow-draft inland waterways and about 3,500 inland and coastal port terminal facilities. 
  • Air carriers provide cargo service to more than 5,000 public use airports, including more than 100 airports that handle all-cargo aircraft. 

About two-fifths of freight within the United States, measured in ton-miles, moves by truck, and another two-fifths moves by rail (Figure 1). About 11% moves by multiple modes. Measured in ton-miles, air transportation is a minor mode because it is expensive to ship goods this way. Goods moving by air tend to be of high value compared to their weight. About three-quarters of U.S. imports and exports, measured by weight, arrive or depart by ship. Most of the rest goes by truck (10%), rail (8%), or pipeline (5%). International air shipments account for less than 1% of U.S. foreign trade by weight, but 37% by value.1

Date of Report: December 27, 2012
Number of Pages: 9
Order Number: R42764
Price: $19.95

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