A Time Series Analysis of U.S. Inland Waterways Trade

A Time Series Analysis of U.S. Inland Waterways Trade

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"Owners, agents, masters, and clerks of vessels and other craft plying upon the navigable waters of the United States, and all individuals and corporations engaged in transporting their own goods upon the navigable waters of the United States, shall furnish such statements relative to vessels, passengers, freight, and tonnage as may be required by the Secretary of the Army" [from Section 11 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act of 1922 (42 Stat. 1043), as amended, and codified in 33 U.S.C. 555]. The monthly data reviewed here represent the tonnage (in millions of short tons) of all commodities transported on the U.S. inland waterways from January 1994 through March 2002.

Figure 1 - Transported Tonnage on U.S. Inland Waterways: All Commodities
Figure 1 - Transported Tonnage on U.S. Inland Waterways: All Commodities. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

Figure 1 provides the time series plot of the monthly tonnage. As is true of other transportation data, the plot indicates strong seasonality in the data, with tonnage dropping sharply in the winter months. The issue to be studied is whether there is some significant direction to the trend underlying the seasonal variation. A cursory glance gives the impression of some downward trend-does it really exist? The next step of analysis is the measurement of the seasonality prior to the extraction of the trend.

Figure 2 provides a plot of the monthly seasonal variation the transported tonnage for inland waterway trade. The months of and February the lowest months for freight movement; these two months are seen as the troughs the actual data series (as see Figure 1). The series seem to around October, which has the highest seasonal variation. The summer months are positive, expected. December shows a negative impact on the overall monthly average, but negative impact is not as strong that exhibited by January and February. Figure 2 provides a plot of the monthly seasonal variation,for calculated over the period of January 1994 through April 2002, for theJanuary transported tonnage for areinland waterway trade. The months of January and February are the lowest months infor freight movement; these two months seen arepeaksas inthe thetroughs in the actual occurdata series (as seen in Figure 1). The peaks in the series seem to occur around October, which ashas the highest positive seasonal variation. The summer months of July and August thisare strongly positive, as expected. asDecember shows a negative impact on the overall monthly average, but this negative impact is not as strong as that exhibited by January and February. The monthly factors for March, April, June and September are not significantly different from zero.

Figure 2 - Monthly Seasonal Variation of Transported Tonnage
Figure 2 - Monthly Seasonal Variation of Transported Tonnage. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

To see how the seasonality compares to the seasonality in other modes of transportation, we have provided a plot of the seasonal variation of highway vehicle miles traveled in Figure 3 (the VMT analysis was originally provided in the September 2001 issue of Transportation Indicators).

Figure 3 - Monthly Seasonal Variation for VMT
Figure 3 - Monthly Seasonal Variation for VMT. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

The highway VMT seasonality shows a similar pattern to the water trade data. Both experience large drops in the January and February months. For highway travel, however, the highest months are July and August, with low autumn values. Water tonnage movement, on the other hand, exhibits higher seasonality for October and November; the summer months are closer to the overall average.

The long-term pattern of the tonnage data tends to be masked by this strong seasonal pattern. The trend can be extracted as a separate component, so that long term behavior can be studied. Figure 4 provides a plot of the underlying trend compared to the actual monthly data. The long-term slope to the trend proved to be insignificant, which is confirmed by the manner in which the underlying trend tends to drift up and down over the period of seven years.

In the earlier data in this time series plot, a strong intervention was found around May 1995; this particular data point is highlighted in Figure 4. This intervention was removed prior to fitting the final trend line.

Statistical process control (SPC) procedures were applied to the model to search for additional shifts in the data. The SPC also highlighted a significant decrease in the data that could not be explained by seasonal variation alone. As the seasonal variation showed in Figure 2, December 2000 seasonality tends to be lower than the average monthly value. In fact, the trend shows a rise early in the year, followed by a significant decline in the last few months of 2000; this temporary decline may have been due to the adverse impact of the extreme heat, drought, and other disasters on agricultural products that year.

Figure 4 - Transported Tonnage on U.S. Inland Waterways and Underlying Trend
Figure 4 - Transported Tonnage on U.S. Inland Waterways and Underlying Trend. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.