Freight Transportation

The United States has the largest freight transportation system in the world, an extensive physical network of infrastructure and entities that provide transportation services:

  • 4 million miles of public roads,
  • 140,000 miles of railroad tracks operated by freight carriers,
  • 25,000 miles of navigable waterways,
  • 9,800 coastal and inland waterway facilities, and
  • 5,200 public-use airports (USDOT RITA BTS 2009a)

This transportation network serves more than 300 million people and 7.5 million business establishments across 3.8 million square miles of land. Moving raw materials and finished goods between production and consumption centers, this freight network is a vital component of commerce in the United States.


Nearly every foreign company investing in the USA will be dependant to some degree on the USA freight transportation and logistics industry. This is a well developed and highly integrated industry which is showing both growth and investment. Since 1998 the transportation industry has accounted for 3% of the U.S. GDP each year. Spending in the U.S. logistics and transportation industry totaled $1.1 trillion in 2009, and averaged 9.4 percent of annual gross domestic product (GDP) between 2000 and 2008. Analysts expect industry investment to correlate with growth in the U.S. economy.

In 2008, U.S. carriers received $22 billion for commercial freight services to foreign businesses in other countries. U.S. seaports and airports received $36 billion for port services. (USDOC BEA 2009).

Foreign companies entering the USA will find their logistics and transport needs can be served either through multinational or domestic firms offering tailored logistics and transportation solutions to ensure products move from their home manufacturing facility through the supply chain to their USA customer.

Main Industry Subsectors

Air Transportation


The United States has an advanced air transportation infrastructure which utilizes approximately 5,000 paved runways. There are over 200 domestic passenger and cargo airlines and a number of international carriers. The major international carriers of the U.S. are Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines operates no international routes, but has grown its domestic operations to a size comparable to the major international carriers.UPS, the world's largest package-delivery firm and a bellwether for transportation companies globally, is based in Atlanta while FedEx Corp., the world's second-largest package delivery company is headquartered in Memphis.

Freight Rail


High volumes of heavy cargo and products are transported over long distances via the U.S. rail tracking network. Freight rail moves 72 percent of the nation's coal, 58 percent of its raw metal ores, and 31 percent of its grain, and accounted for approximately one third of all USA exports. Large Companies involved in the movement of freight on the railways in the USA includes :

  • BNSF Railway
  • CSX Transportation
  • Northern Santa Fe (BNI)
  • Union Pacific (UNP)



The American Trucking Associations reports that in 2009 trucks moved 8.8 billion tons of freight, or about 68 percent of all freight tonnage transported domestically, and motor carriers collected $544 billion in revenues, or 81.9 percent of total revenue earned by all domestic transport modes.



The ports of the United States handle more than 2 billion metric tons of domestic and import/export cargo annually. American ports are responsible for moving over 99 percent of the country's overseas cargo. Leading USA ports by cargo weight are Louisiana and New York/New Jersey (US DOT).

Industry Associations for further information

American Association of Port Authorities
American Trucking Associations
Association of American Railroads
Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals
Express Delivery and Logistics Association

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