The Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Dec. 17 released an updated Rail Rate Index Study, showing real (adjusted for inflation) and nominal rail rates (measured as revenue per ton-mile) from 1985 to 2019.
The study uses STB’s confidential Carload Waybill Sample data to show how rates have changed over time, across the entire rail industry, and within specific commodity groups.
From 1985 through the mid-2000s, for most commodities, real rail rates fell, then increased through the early 2010s, and since then, have remained relatively flat.
Notably, from 2004 to 2019, STB’s intermodal and commodity-level rail rate indices show rates for shipping grain increased 35 percentage points (pp) — as compared to increases of 9 pp for chemicals, 14 pp for coal, and 20 pp for intermodal traffic (containers and trailers of any commodity).
In 2019, rail rates for shipping grain were 6 pp above their 1985 levels — in stark contrast with rates for all other commodities, which were down.