Rail Economic Competitiveness

The Value of Rail

In the Association of American Railroads’ Railroad Facts, 2019 Edition, it is reported that the national freight rail network is nearly an $80 billion industry that provides more than 167,000 jobs. In 2017, rail moved over 7.5 million tons of freight valued at almost $6.9 billion in the OKI region, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s Freight Analysis Framework data.

Waybill Data

Another source of rail data is the Surface Transportation Board’s 2019 Carload Waybill Sample (CWS). The CWS is an annual database of commodities transported by freight railroads. Examining the CWS data for the Cincinnati Business Economic Area (BEA), shows that while the total expanded tons has decreased since 2010 by 14 percent, the expanded freight revenue from this same rail freight has increased 22 percent.

CWS also reports data for the Cincinnati BEA in terms of expanded carloads and trailer or container count. Rail carload and trailer/container, or intermodal, represent two types of rail freight based on the different commodities they transport. Carload traffic consists mostly of bulk commodities such as primary metal products, chemicals, and agricultural products. Rail intermodal transports a diverse range of products from automotive parts to bottled water in trailers or containers.

CWS data shows that the total expanded carloads have decreased 14 percent between 2010 and 2019. In contrast, the total number of expanded trailers or containers has increased 63 percent due to the growth in intermodal rail transport. (Source: Weekly Railroad Traffic, compiled by Association of American Railroads. (March 21, 2022).)

Outbound Rail Freight

Since 2010, the top originating commodity by total tonnage, billed weight, and total fare revenue moved by rail is far and away Primary Metal Products. In 2019, Primary Metal Products accounted for over 72 percent of the region’s total outbound rail traffic tonnage and 61 percent of the fare revenue value.

Top destination of OKI rail freight by tonnage and revenue is another Ohio River region about 125 miles south of Louisville in Evansville, Indiana and Henderson, Kentucky. It is notable that the OKI region serves as one of the top destinations for our own rail freight.

Inbound Rail Freight

In terms of rail freight terminating in the OKI region, since 2010 Primary Metal Products is once again the leader in terms of tonnage. However, over this same time, Chemicals and Allied Products stands on top in terms of total rail revenue. Inbound rail freight commodities are more diverse than those originating in the OKI region. In 2019, although Primary Metal Products was the greatest commodity in volume, it only comprised about 24 percent of the region’s total inbound rail traffic tonnage. Similarly, Chemicals and Allied Products only comprised about 26 percent of the region’s total inbound rail traffic fare revenue value. Other commodities such as Waste & Scrap Materials and Food & Kindred Products help diversify OKI’s inbound rail freight loads.

The top origin of OKI rail freight by tonnage and revenue is the Chicago metropolitan area. The OKI region once again serves as one of its own top origins for rail freight, but only in terms of tonnage.

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