The graph below was created using Google’s chart tools.
The vertical bar graph shows the costs per ton mile for shipping freight on four transportation modes – truck, rail, air, and water. The costs per ton mile amounts are computed from US Department of Transportation data for 2002. The costs per ton mile were computed by dividing the 2002 data for the total costs of shipping freight in each of the four modes by the total ton miles shipped for each of the four modes.
The total costs for shipping freight in 2002 are provided in a Department of Transportation study. Click here to go to this study.
The total ton miles shipped for each of the four modes are provided in another Department of Transportation study. Click here to go to this study (PDF file).
From the data in the graph, shipping freight by air is about 10 times as expensive as by truck, which is about ten times as expensive as by rail.
The data suggest that whenever possible shipping by rail can save companies significant costs. Also, improved rail infrastructure and greater use of that infrastructure could be an important national strategy for cost savings.
Although this is 2002 data (the most recent that could be found), the comparative costs between the four modes likely remain the same for more recent data.