Best Types of Commodity Flow Data for Freight, Railroad, and Ports and Waterways Studies


Camila Fonseca, Raihana Zeerak, Kimberly Napoline, Jerry Zhao

February 2023

Report no. MnDOT 2023-02

The understanding of freight movement is critical to economic development and competitiveness and to make decisions regarding the transportation system. Despite the increased interest in freight planning and modeling, freight data are limited in availability and granularity, and the existing sources are incomplete or outdated. This research analyzes various types of public and proprietary freight databases to determine which are most helpful for planning, programming, and designing future infrastructure on the truck, rail, air, and waterway networks within Minnesota and surrounding states. There are some comprehensive multimodal freight databases that provide different levels of data granularity. These are typically complemented with other data sources that are specific to a transportation mode. We also interview stakeholders involved in freight planning in Minnesota to identify data gaps and capture current and future data needs. Important needs include (i) mode specific freight data, especially for waterways and ports and air freight; (ii) equity considerations in freight transportation; and (iii) understanding the relationship between freight transportation and climate change. Additional freight data are much needed overall to inform economic development and funding prioritization, as well as to evaluate and minimize supply chain disruptions.

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