Moving Goods in the United States

Freight Movement  |  Commodities  |  Shipments by State

Freight Movement

The American economy stretches across a continent with links to the world, drawing on natural resources and manufactured products from many locations to serve markets at home and abroad. More freight is moving greater distances as part of far-flung supply chains among distant trading partners.
In 2018 the U.S. transportation system moved a daily average of about 51.0 million tons of freight valued at more than $51.8 billion.

Weight of shipments by transportation mode

The Freight Analysis Framework estimates tonnage will increase at about 1.2 percent per year between 2018 and 2045.

Value of shipments by transportation mode

The value of freight is forecast to increase faster than tonnage, rising from $1,016 per ton in 2018 to $1,455 per ton in 2045, when controlling for inflation.  This increase is due to high-value, low weight commodities growing at a faster rate than low-value, high-weight commodities.  Exports at $1,599 per ton and imports at $2,185 per ton were higher than domestic shipments of $901 per ton in 2018. Exports and imports accounted for 11.5 percent of the tons and 21.5 percent of the value of freight shipments in 2018 and are forecast to make up an even greater share of freight moving throughout the United States, reaching 17.8 percent of the tonnage and 39.4 percent of the value by 2045.

Total freight moved by distance

The largest percentage of goods, by weight and value, more relatively short distances (less than 250 miles).  Approximately 67.1 percent of the weight and 51.8 percent of the value of goods moved less than 250 miles between origin and destination in 2018.  In contrast, about 7.5 percent of the weight and 16.8 percent of the value of goods moved 1,000 miles or more.

Value of freight by mode and distance

Modal shares of freight vary by distance.  Trucks carry the largest shares by value, tons, and ton-miles for shipments moved less than 1,000 miles, while rail is the dominant mode by tons and ton-miles for shipments moved 1,000 to 2,000 miles.  Air, multiple modes and mail, and other unknown modes accounted for 50.9 percent of the value of shipments moved more than 2,000 miles.

Weight of freight by mode and distance

Ton-miles of freight by mode and distance

Freight Movement  |  Commodities  |  Shipments by State


Top commodities by weight and value

The top 10 commodities by weight accounted for 68.0 percent of total tonnage, but only 26.2 percent of the value of goods moved in 2018. In contrast, the top 10 commodities by value accounted for 36.2 percent of total tonnage, but 57.9 percent of total value of goods moved that year. The leading commodities by weight are bulk goods, including natural gas, coke, and asphalt; gravel; gasoline, kerosene, and ethanol; cereal grains; and crude petroleum.  The leading commodities by value are high value-per-ton goods, such as electronics; motorized and other vehicles; mixed freight (principally food); gasoline, kerosene, and ethanol; and machinery.

Top commodities moved by mode

Trucks are involved in the supply chain of all top 10 commodities by tonnage and value.  Trucks carry all types of goods, ranging from high-value commodities, such as mixed freight and electronics, to bulk commodities, such as gravel, grains, and gasoline.  Mixed freight includes grocery and convenience store goods, office supplies, and hardware and plumbing items.  In comparison, rail and water modes primarily move bulk products, while air (including truck-air-transport) moves high-value items, such as electronics and pharmaceuticals.  However, trucks moved more high-value, time-sensitive commodities than any other mode in 2018.

U.S. crude oil production by state

Four states are responsible for nearly 75 percent of domestic oil production.  Texas was the largest oil producing state at 1.6 billion barrels in 2018, accounting for 47.8 percent of total U.S. oil production, while North Dakota was a distance second at 461.5 million barrels (13.7 percent), followed by New Mexico’s 249.0 million barrels (7.4 percent) and Oklahoma’s 200.7 million barrels (6.0 percent).

Shipments of U.S. crude oil moved by pipeline, tanker and barge, and rail

Regional oil shipments by rail increased, on average, from less than 1 percent of all regional shipments in 2010 to over 7 percent in 2019, after peaking at 25.8 percent in 2014. Oil production in the Bakken formation, located in North Dakota, accounted for the majority of new rail shipments, while tankers and barges continued to move crude oil on U.S. inland waterways from port to port along the coast and on the Great Lakes.
map of PADD regions
Establishment of Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts 
During World War II, the United States was divided into five districts to organize the rationing of gasoline and other petroleum products. Today those same regions, called Petroleum Administration for Defense Districts (PADDs), are used to analyze patterns of crude oil and petroleum product movements throughout the U.S.

Hazardous materials shipments by transportation mode

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Commodity Flow Survey indicates that 2.6 billion tons of hazardous materials valued at $2.3 trillion was shipped in the U.S. in 2012, generating a total of 307.5 trillion ton-miles. Trucks moved 59.4 percent of the tonnage and 62.8 percent of the value of these shipments. The average shipment by truck was 56 miles compared to an average of 808 miles by rail.

Hazardous materials shipments by hazard class

Flammable liquids are the predominant hazardous materials transported in the United States, accounting for 86.4 percent by value, 85.4 percent by weight, and 66.5 percent of the ton-miles of all hazardous material shipments. Flammable liquid shipments traveled 93 miles on average.

Moving Goods in the United States  |  Commodities  |  Shipments by State

Shipments by State

Percent of shipments within a state

Eight states shipped 50 percent or more of their goods (by value) within their own orders.  States with the highest shares of in-state shipments tended to be either relatively large or geographically isolated from other states.  Hawaii had the highest share of intrastate shipments by value (92.5 percent), followed by Texas (70.9 percent), and Florida (67.4 percent).  Trucks accounted for 79.7 percent of intrastate shipments.  Only three states shipped less than half of their total intrastate value by truck: Wyoming (44.4 percent), Alaska (41.1 percent), and Louisiana (38.6 percent). These states have substantial bulk movements of energy commodities.

Ratio of outbound to inbound domestic shipments by value

An interconnected freight transportation network contributes to state economic growth by supporting resource development and expanding interstate commerce.  A ratio of outbound to inbound shipments greater than 1.0 indicates that a state ships more goods to markets in other states than it receives from other states, whereas a ratio less than 1.0 indicates that a state imports more goods from other states than it exports.  In terms of value, North Dakota and Alaska have the highest ratios of 2.2 and 1.8, respectively, indicating that the value of their goods exported to other states is double the value of the goods they received from other states. Although North Dakota has a relatively small population, it is a major oil producer.  According to the Freight Analysis Framework, pipeline and rail were the primary modes for moving oil out of North Dakota. Two other states that exported more to other states than they imported were Connecticut and California.  The top outbound domestic shipment from Connecticut was mixed freight (e.g., groceries and convenience store goods, food for restaurants, office supplies, and hardware and plumbing items). Electronics was the top outbound commodity from California, due in part to technology manufacturing in Silicon Valley.  Hawaii had the lowest ratio of interstate outbound-to-inbound shipments by value at 0.18 because of its distance location from the mainland and its resource dependency.  Florida, Arizona, and New Hampshire also exported far less to other states than they imported, partly due to demographics and other factors.

Ratio of outbound to inbound domestic shipments by weight

The top five net interstate exporters by weight are major producers of energy commodities:  Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Montana, and New Mexico.  Net domestic exporters are states that ship more freight to other states than they receive from other states.  According to the Energy Information Administration, Wyoming is the largest U.S. coal producer, while Montana is the sixth largest coal producer. For domestic markets, rail and barge are used to transport coal over long distances, primarily to power plants.  New Mexico is ranked in the top 10 for both oil and gas production.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Freight Facts and Figures (Washington, DC: 2019).

Freight Facts and Figures, developed by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is a collection of charts and statistical tables about freight transportation in the United States. These interactive visualizations and tables provide a snapshot of freight movement; the extent, condition, and performance of the freight transportation system; the economic implications of freight movement; and the safety, energy, and environmental impacts of freight transportation.

More from Freight Facts & Figures

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation.