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ATA forecast report points to continued future freight growth

Continued growth appears to be the main thesis looking out over the next decade for the freight transportation market, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) ATA Freight Transportation Forecast… By Jeff Berman

Continued growth appears to be the main thesis looking out over the next decade for the freight transportation market, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) ATA Freight Transportation Forecast 2017, which was released today. Data for this report comes from both the ATA and IHS Global Insight.

The numbers issued in this report paint a largely positive picture for freight transportation over all, including how freight volumes are projected to grow 2.8% in 2017, with 3.4% annual growth through 2023, followed by a 2.3% annual rate in subsequent years.  What’s more, the report is calling for 15.18 billion tons of freight to be moved by all modes in 2017, with the expectation that it will head up to 20.73 billion tons, an increase of 36.6% in 2028.

The 2.8% growth will be paced “by solid growth across all modes resulting from general economic growth as well as improved conditions in the manufacturing sector,” the report stated. Looking at projected growth on a modal basis, the report stated the following:

  • trucking’s share of freight tonnage will decline from 70.6% in 2016 to 67.9% in 2023 to 67.1% in 2028, while its share of total revenue in absolute terms will fall from 79.8% in 2016 to 77.7% in 2028 while still increasing substantially more than other modes;
  • truckload volume will increase 2.7% per year from 2017-2023 and then by 2% per year through 2028;
  • LTL volume will increase 3.3% per year from 2017-2023 and then by 2.9% per year through 2028, with tonnage growing from 147.6 million in 2017 to 179.1 million in 2023 to 206.9 million in 2028;
  • private carrier volume will increase 2.8% per year from 2017-2023 and then by 2.1% per year through 2028, with its share of total transportation volume going from 35% in 2017 to 33.9% in 2023 to 33.6% in 2028
  • rail share of total tonnage (carload plus intermodal) will go from 11.4% in 2017 to 9.7% in 2023 to 8.9% in 2028, with rail carload traffic growing 0.6% per year from 2017-2024 and by 0.67% per year through 2028;
  • rail carload revenue is pegged to be $60.8 billion in 2017, or 6.8% of total transportation revenues, with revenue growing by an average of 2.8% per year going to $82.5 billion by 2028 or 5.1% of revenue
  • rail intermodal tonnage is expected to grow 3.45 per year from 2017-2023 and then 3.3% per year through 2028, with revenue going from $29.1 billion in 2017 to $29.1 billion in 2023 to $37.7 billion in 2028;
  • air cargo tonnage will grow by 2.2% per year from 13.8 billion in 2017 to 15.7 billion in 2023 and to 17.5 billion by 2028, with 2017 revenues expected to be up 6.1% in 2017 at $30.5 billion;
  • waterborne commerce volume will be up 1.2% per year from 2017-2023 and 0.7% per year through 2028, with revenue going from $13.5 billion in 2017 to $17.1 billion in 2013 to $19.9 billion in 2028; and
  • pipeline is slated to increase from 10.3% of total tonnage in 201 to 15.5% in 2023 to 17.5% in 2028, with revenue expected to rise 10.2% per year and hit $163.4 billion in 2028

The report made it clear that over the forecast period, capacity shortfalls will develop, with some selected tightness in freight handling capacity starting to emerge, suggesting that capacity expansion will be required if the modes are going to be able to handle anticipated growth.

On a media conference call, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said that this report takes a bottom up approach, first with a general economic forecast that is then fed through a transportation model.

“It is not just looking at the modes and saying ‘this is by how much we think the modes will grow,’ especially when it comes to a modal shift,” he said. “There is no assumption that one mode will grow over another mode, because [of some specific factor like tightening truck or rail capacity]. There is none of that. It is assumed that all the modes will haul all the freight they are asked to….that is a big assumption, but it is a proper one as it is based on economic growth.”

Addressing the projected growth in pipeline, the report said it is attributed to volumes expecting to benefit from rising imports, expanding shale gas and associated liquids output and anticipated chemical industry capacity expansion programs.

And for projected intermodal growth it pointed to the mode working its way into shipper, motor carrier, and consignee acceptance going back to July 2008, with the caveat that a major, and quick, uptick in the U.S. and global economies could pressure speed-to-market levels in a shift back from intermodal to over-the-road and, in turn exacerbate the ongoing truck driver shortage.

“When you see a slight decrease in other modes for modal share, with trucking going from 70.6% of all tonnage in 2016 to 67.1% in 2018, and most other modes following a similar pattern, remember it is not because of an actual decrease in freight, it is because pipeline is expected to grow so much over the forecast period,” Costello said. 

About the author
Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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