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US freight, passenger traffic recovers in 2010

The movement of goods and people, a key driver of activity on infrastructure assets, posted its annual first increase in two years, according to data indexes published by the US Department of Transportation.

After sliding for two consecutive years, US freight and passenger movements are back on the rise, indicating a warm-up in economic activity that could translate to rising revenues for owners of economically sensitive infrastructure assets.

The US Department of Transportation’s freight, passenger and combined transportation services indexes each posted increases in the twelve months from December 2009 to 2010, according to preliminary data published by the department.

All three indexes, which closely mirror the movement of people and goods across the economic cycle, had posted declines in the 12 months to December 2009 and 2008. During that time, the US economy was in its most severe recession since the Great Depression.

The Freight Transportation Services Index measures changes in freight shipments based on data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight. That index rose .4 percent in 2010, indicating that owners of toll roads, ports and airports may finally be experiencing improved business conditions from the lows of the recession.

The index was down .8 percent in 2008 and tumbled 8.7 percent in 2008 alone. In May 2009, it stood at its lowest level since June 1997, according to the Department of Transportation.

The Passenger Transportation Services Index measures changes in travel in the for-hire transportation sectors, such as air, transit and intercity rail. That index was up 4.1 percent in 2010, beating declines of .8 percent and 6.4 percent in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

The Department of Transportation’s Combined Freight and Passenger Index, which reflects movements in both indexes, registered a 1.3 percent increase in 2010, hinting of improved traffic volumes in the transportation sector overall. The index had previously slid .8 percent in 2009 and 8.1 percent in 2008.

The Department of Transportation said in a statement that its 2010 figures are preliminary and subject to revision once more comprehensive data becomes available.