The amount of freight carried by all modes of the U.S. for-hire transportation industry fell 3.6% in January from hot December levels, but it still remains higher than any monthly level from the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 through last November, according to federal statistics released today.
January’s dip in the Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) was due to declines in pipeline, trucking, and air freight, despite increases in water, rail intermodal, and rail carload, the U.S. Department of Transportation said.
Showing the economic impact of the pandemic, the TSI has decreased in 10 of the last 17 months since its record peak of 141.5 in August 2019. For context, the January figure of 136.2 is 3.7% below that high point, but remains 43.5% above its recent low point of 94.9 during the Great Recession in April 2009. Over the long run, January’s mark is up 11.4% in the five years since January 2016 and up 23.7% in the 10 years since January 2011.
DOT calculates the Freight TSI by measuring month-to-month changes in for-hire freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. But in another sign of the broad impact of the pandemic, the DOT noted that it is withholding its scheduled release of the air passenger and combined air passenger/freight indexes for January, saying it created the TSI by substituting a a statistical estimate that does not fully account for the rapidly changing impacts of the coronavirus on historical trends.
The DOT is also tracking the impact of the pandemic in a second index, announcing Monday that the annual total of North American Transborder Freight moved between the U.S., Canada, Mexico had dropped 13% in 2020 from 2019.
That decrease reduced the value of total transborder freight moved by all modes of transportation to $1.06 trillion in 2020. That sum reflected a longer trend, where freight declined during 2020 compared to 2019 in every month from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, until finally posting a 0.4% increase at the end of the year in December.
By mode, the 2020 total for trucking was down 10.0% to $695 billion and rail fell 16.9% to $148 billion.
The top three truck commodities, comprising 48.3% of total transborder truck freight, were: computers and parts ($136 billion), electrical machinery ($110 billion), and motor vehicles and parts ($89 billion). And the top three rail commodities, summing up to 58.9% of the mode’s total, were: motor vehicles and parts ($69 billion), mineral fuels such as oil and gas ($10 billion), and plastics ($8 billion).
The broad-based January 2021 #freight index (TSI) fell 3.6% from revised December due to declines in pipeline, trucking, and air freight. The index was up 8.4% in 9 months since the April low. #economy #transportation https://t.co/3cPfr0x71J pic.twitter.com/SG5ADwyl7e— TransportStats (@TransportStats) March 10, 2021