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Wheat Shuttle-Train Shipments Increase in Past 15 Years

Date Posted: April 12, 2012

This article is reprinted from the USDA's April 12 Grain Transportation Report.

In the past 15 years, U.S. wheat tonnages hauled in shuttle-train shipments (more than 76 railcars) increased 335 percent, from 3.7 million tons in 1994 to 44.2 million tons in 2009, reflecting the lower costs of shuttle-train shipments and a consolidation of grain elevators.

Over the same time period, wheat tonnages hauled by 1 to 5 railcar shipments decreased 43 percent, 6 to 49 railcar shipments decreased 13 percent, and 50 to 75 railcar shipments decreased 77 percent.

Wheat is heavily dependent upon rail transportation as it is grown in regions distant from markets and inland waterway transportation.

From 1994 to 2009, rail transported an average of 69 percent of the wheat produced.

U.S. wheat production decreased 4 percent from 1994 to 2009; the tonnage of wheat moved by rail decreased by 5 percent.

Smaller-size shipments of wheat are still an important part of wheat markets, particularly for domestic movements.

Shuttle-train shipments move predominantly to export ports.

Although the percentage of wheat moved by shuttle trains increased from 8 percent of the rail wheat tonnage in 1994 to 36 percent in 2009, shipment sizes of 6 to 49 railcars hauled 47 percent of the tonnage in 2009.

Wheat shipments of 1 to 5 railcars decreased from 20 percent of the total tonnage in 1994 to 12 percent of the total in 2009.

Likewise, wheat shipments of 50 to 75 railcars decreased from 21 percent of the total rail tonnage in 1994 to only 5 percent in 2009.

The distance that wheat is shipped has increased since 1994.

Wheat shipments between 20 and 500 miles, have decreased 45 percent, from 15.0 million tons (32 percent of the total) in 1994 to only 8.3 million tons (19 percent of the total) in 2009.

Most wheat is transported 501 to 1,000 miles, which increased from 18.5 million tons (40 percent of the total) in 1994 to 22.7 million tons (51 percent of the total) in 2009.

The amount of wheat transported 1,001 miles to 1,500 miles has decreased 11 percent in tonnage since 1994, representing 19 percent of the total in 2009.

The amount transported more than 1,500 miles has increased 27 percent in tonnage since 1994 and represents only 11 percent of the total in 2009.

Wheat usage has not changed markedly since 1994. Exports and domestic food use are still the primary uses of wheat, comprising 45 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of 2009 wheat use.

Exports have averaged 48 percent of production from 1994 to 2009, but are variable, ranging from 40 percent to 62 percent of production because of changes in world markets and world production.

For more information, call Surajudeen (Deen) Olowolayemo, USDA, at 202-694-3050.

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