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Length of Haul

Most freight shipments by value and tonnage move less than 250 miles. In 2002, more than half the value of all Commodity Flow Survey shipments ($4.5 trillion), and 80 percent of the weight (9 billion tons), moved in local and short-haul shipments, which are critical to state and metropolitan area economies, using local roads, tracks, and facilities (see figure). But goods that move longer distances—more than 250 miles—carried 82 percent of the ton-miles, an increase from 80 percent in 1993. During the past decade, local and short-haul shipments grew 41 percent by value, 16 percent by weight, and 19 percent by ton-miles. Shipments traveling over 250 miles grew faster—51 percent by value, 34 percent by weight, and 36 percent by ton-miles.

By weight, only 5 percent of shipments travel more than 1,000 miles. Nevertheless, these shipments carried nearly one-third (32 percent) of the ton-miles in 2002, an increase from 29 percent in 1993. These longer haul shipments traveled an average of 18,000 miles and grew the most by value, tons, and ton-miles compared to other distance categories—53, 54, and 57 percent respectively. The ability to move large amounts of freight nationwide allows domestic trade to flourish and demonstrates the importance of transportation to the nation's commerce.

Higher value products, such as pharmaceuticals, precision instruments, and textile products that cannot be obtained locally, are shipped longer distances. Commodities that can be found in every region, such as gravel and crushed stone, travel only a few miles. Long-distance shipments—traveling more than 250 miles—carried 20 percent of tons shipped, although they were almost half the value of CFS shipments. These shipments facilitate interstate commerce within the United States, connecting rural America to large urban centers and allowing manufacturers to locate plants throughout the country.

Longer haul shipments, on average, had a much higher value per ton than local and short-haul shipments (see figure). These long-haul shipments (more than 250 miles) were valued higher ($1,430 per ton in 2002) than goods shipped less than 250 miles ($510 per ton). For example, goods that moved 1,000 or more miles in 2002 had an average value of $2,200 per ton, compared with an average of $440 per ton for goods shipped less than 100 miles. Low-valued commodities are not usually shipped long distances because the value of the goods would not cover the cost of transportation. Moreover, businesses are often willing to pay a premium to have high-value goods shipped longer distances by air and truck combination in exchange for speedy delivery (see figure). It's expected that as more and more businesses move beyond "just-in-time" deliveries to "this-specific-time" deliveries, where the entire logistics supply chain is vertically integrated and coordinated to the very last minute, the tonnage and ton-miles generated from long-haul shipments will continue to increase.

Textiles, leather, and related products traveled the most miles per ton in 2002—650 miles, a 16-percent growth from 560 miles in 1993. During this period, these products averaged about $10,000 per ton. They were followed in length of haul by electronic, electrical, and office equipment, traveling about 610 miles per ton in 2002, down slightly from 680 in 1993 (see figure). Gravel and crushed stones, which mostly travel in local areas, were shipped about 60 miles in 2002, nearly the same distance as in 1993.