Trends in Freight Railroad Rates and Competition (GAO-07-292SP), an E-supplement to GAO-07-291R

Read the Full Report Freight Railroads: Updated Information on Rates and Other Industry Trends (GAO-07-291R)


This e-publication supplements our report "Freight Railroads: Updated Information on Rates and Other Industry Trends" GAO-07-291R (Washington, D.C.: August 2007) by presenting our analysis of the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) Carload Waybill Sample.1 We analyzed the data in this database and present trends across the industry, for certain commodities, by state, and for certain routes, by shipment size and length of haul.

Scope and Methodology

We used STB’s Carload Waybill Sample to identify railroad rates, revenue-to-variable-cost (R/VC) ratios2 , and other data from 1985 through 2005 (the latest year for which data was available at the time of this review). The Carload Waybill Sample is a sample of railroad waybills (in general, documents prepared from bills of lading that authorize railroads to move shipments and collect freight charges); the sample contains information on rail rates. Since much of the information in the Carload Waybill Sample is confidential, we aggregated rail rates and other data sufficiently to protect confidentiality. We present this data from 1985 through 2005 in a series of charts and tables, including:

• A rate index3

• total tonnage

• freight revenue

• the share of tonnage on private cars

• miscellaneous revenue4

• various R/VC data.

For some commodity, state, and route data, such as total tonnage and freight revenue, we also present maximum, minimum, and mean values. We also list much of this data in tables, where the user can compare data across commodities, states, and routes.

It is important to note that while this e-supplement provides useful information on the freight railroad industry, limitations exist, and therefore the data must be interpreted with caution. For example, it is possible for the data to show the R/VC ratio increasing, potentially indicating a lack of competitive alternatives for a shipper—when the rate paid by the shipper is in fact declining. For a more detailed discussion of our scope and methodology, including limitations of the data, please visit our scope and methodology page. We performed our work from October 2006 through June 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

This e-supplement was reissued on February 1, 2008 to correct data in figures and tables in the Industry, Commodity and State sections. Total revenue and miscellaneous revenues were incorrectly reported in millions of dollars, instead of billions of dollars. Total tonnage was reported in thousands instead of millions. The share of revenue and tonnage over 180 R/VC was incorrectly reported as the share between 180 and 300 R/VC.

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Scope and Methodology
Table of Contents

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1This STB database includes information on rail rates, tonnage, federal regulation, and other statistics but disguises some revenues to avoid disclosing confidential business information to the public. We obtained a version of the Carload Waybill Sample that did not disguise revenues and aggregated data at a level sufficient to protect confidentiality.
2STB regards traffic traveling over 180 percent R/VC as potentially captive, and this is is part of the statutory threshold for bringing a rate relief case before STB.
3We used rate indexes and average rates to measure rate changes over time. A rate index attempts to measure price changes over time by holding constant the underlying collection of items that are consumed (in the context of this report, items shipped).
4Some railroads report fuel surcharges as part of their general revenues, while others categorize these surcharges and other revenues separately under a miscellaneous revenue category. We only report on miscellaneous revenue from 2000 through 2005, since the manner in which the data was collected changed in 2000.