A shipment of electronic equipment moving from overseas to a U.S. retail outlet arrives in the Port of Long Beach, California, via containership. The container is transferred to a railcar and travels by train to Chicago, where the load is broken into separate shipments. The electronics equipment is placed on a large truck with other shipments and driven to a distribution center in Indianapolis, where the truck's cargo is unloaded and the electronic equipment shipment is separated out. The shipment is then placed in a delivery van and driven to its final destination in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Some information about this shipment would be included in multiple data sources, such as the Waterborne Commerce of the United States database maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the maritime portion of the trip, in the Rail Waybill Sample conducted for the Surface Transportation Board for the train portion of the trip, by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics' Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) for the intercity truck portion of the trip, and by the company that provided delivery to the final destination for its segment of the total trip. The data collected are not consistent throughout, nor are all the data sources publicly available. The CFS would not capture information about the shipment if the shipper for the entire trip is foreign, since this survey does not cover imports. But the CFS would capture the data for the domestic segments of the trip handled by a domestic shipper. A similar scenario of differing modes of transportation and segmented data collection could be produced for passenger travel with the same result: data users would not have an integrated picture of the entire trip. This inaccurate picture of intermodal travel and freight movement occurs because of the many incompatible data sources and the gaps in coverage by national surveys.