Here's How Stuff Gets Shipped Across America

There are many ways to track U.S. economic activity. Billionaire Warren Buffett likes to follow railroad traffic.

However, rail isn’t the only means by which goods get transported around the country. In fact, you could argue that trucking is a much more sensitive to the economy.

The Bureau of Transportation statistics runs the Commodity Flows Survey every five years (most recently in 2012), tracking what kinds of goods are shipped around the country and how they get from place to place.

We took a look at how shipping breaks down among the different types of transportation.

Trucking dominates freight movement by total dollar value of all goods shipped, with just over $US10 trillion out of the total $US13,625,059 worth of goods moved around the country:

Trucks also account for most of the total weight of goods shipped, with rail in a distant second:

However, trucks aren’t moving things super far. The average distance traveled by a truck shipment was just 216 miles, about a quarter of the distance traveled by rail and water shipments, and far shorter than the average air shipment:

So, if you’re shipping something in bulk way across the country, you’re probably shipping it on a train or a boat. This relationship is stark when combining together weight and distance into a statistic called “ton-miles”, measuring how far and how large shipments are. Here, rail is king:

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