AAR Reports on Freight Railroad’s Ties to International Trade

In an assessment of trade's impact on the freight railroad industry from 2014 data, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) has found that 42 percent of rail carloads and intermodal units, and more than 35 percent of annual rail revenue, are directly associated with international trade.

In 2014, there were 329 million tons of exports handled, nearly double the 171 million tons of imports moved by rail. According to the AAR analysis, approximately 50,000 domestic rail jobs, which accounts for more than $5.5 billion in annual wages and benefits, depend directly on international trade, and if rail traffic indirectly associated with trade was included, the figures would be much higher.

The AAR notes that the data provides a reminder that today's global economy is firmly established and cannot be easily undone with rushed policy modifications, which could have damaging and counterproductive effects on American workers and industries.

"Efforts that curtail overall trade would threaten thousands of U.S. freight rail jobs that depend on it and limit essential railroad revenues used to modernize railroad infrastructure throughout North America," said Edward R. Hamberger, AAR president and CEO.

"For a highly capital-intensive industry that has spent $26 billion annually in recent years, private investment is the lifeblood of a freight rail sector that must devote massive sums to safely, efficiently and affordably deliver goods across the economy. Upending the ability of railroads to do so by undermining free trade agreements that have done far more good than harm would have far reaching effects,” added Hamberger.

"These numbers validate our view that U.S. policymakers should proceed with caution in their quest to reverse some impacts of globalization," Hamberger added. 

The AAR report analyzed data from the 2014 Surface Transportation Board (STB) Waybill Sample, other government data, and information from U.S. ports and Google Earth, among others. Waybill Sample contains data from a stratified sample of waybills submitted each year by freight railroads to the STB.