Improving Export Freight Logistics

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the United States is the world's third-largest exporter (behind China and Germany), with goods exports totaling $1.3 trillion in 2010. Further, U.S. exports consist of a huge variety of products and commodities, including (in 2010) $108 billion in food and agricultural products (e.g., grain, meat and poultry, animal feed); $392 billion in industrial supplies and materials (e.g., chemicals, coal, fuel oil, forest products, steel products); $447 billion in capital goods (e.g., machinery, semiconductors, medical equipment, telecommunications equipment, aircraft); $112 billion in motor vehicles and parts; and $166 billion in consumer goods (e.g., pharmaceuticals, jewelry, sporting goods, cosmetics). Therefore, exports play a key role in U.S. economic growth. Their role has been even more important in recent years as the growth of foreign demand has helped compensate for the sluggishness of domestic demand. In 2010, for example, exports contributed 1.3% of the 2.9% overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the year. In the years ahead, exports will continue to be key contributors to economic recovery and sustained economic growth. In recognition of this fact and in the hope of using exports to boost the U.S. economy, President Obama recently announced an ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports in 5 years. A host of different economic, social, and political factors collectively determine the level of U.S. exports. Some of these factors are effectively beyond U.S. control. Others, though, can be greatly influenced by the actions or inactions of U.S. firms and policymakers. One such factor is the effectiveness of the logistical system that, in its totality, connects U.S. farmers, manufacturers, and resource producers with the global marketplace. In today's extremely competitive global economy, the efficiency with which U.S.-made goods can be moved from where they are produced domestically to where they are consumed abroad can go a long way in determining whether a sale goes to a U.S. firm or to a competitor elsewhere in the world. Put simply, export supply chains matter. The United States has the best developed freight transportation system, but it is by no means perfect. For example, a major logistical problem for many U.S. exporters, especially small- and medium-size enterprises, is the availability of containers. Containers are either unavailable or, when they are, the costs of repositioning and drayage can be prohibitive. In view of trade imbalances and the higher container rates they impose on the inbound trip, ship owners usually opt to send their empty containers back to Asian export markets rather than wait for U.S. export loads. In light of this, unnecessary costs can be the difference between being able to export from the United States or not. The market impediments of a few extra miles to the nearest intermodal terminal, the cost of repositioning a container, and empty miles to pick up a chassis all adversely affect the export decision. There are also numerous hidden costs and inefficiencies in the freight transportation system that are barriers to exports. All the factors discussed above and the many others that exist impede export freight logistics and need to be identified and quantified using appropriate metrics. Improving this system will improve the global competiveness of U.S. goods and provide a welcome boost to the U.S. economy. Research is needed to identify and, where appropriate, quantify factors that impede export freight logistics and discuss ways that these impediments might be addressed. The objectives of the research are to (1) identify the domestic impediments (e.g., those related to infrastructure and equipment supply; environmental, safety, and security legislation and regulations; land use issues; and transportation service) that currently restrict U.S. export supply chains; and (2) identify options for improving export freight logistics without degrading the existing import supply chain.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Funding: $300000.00
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 40

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Freight Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001
  • Project Managers:

    Rogers, William

  • Performing Organizations:

    CDM Smith

  • Principal Investigators:

    Bingham, Paul

  • Start Date: 20120316
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20150130
  • Source Data: RiP Project 37918

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01545911
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 40
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 27 2014 1:01AM