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Rail Coal Transportation Rates to the Electric Power Sector

Release Date: June 16, 2011   |  Next Release Date: July 2012   |   full report 

Previous Data Years


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is releasing a series of estimated data based on the confidential, carload waybill sample obtained from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (Carload Waybill Sample). These estimated data represent a continuation of EIA's data and analysis products related to coal rail transportation. These estimated data also address a need expressed by EIA's customers for more detailed coal transportation rate data.

Having accurate coal rail transportation rate data is important to understanding the price of electricity for two main reasons. First, coal-burning electric power plants receive approximately 72 percent of their coal by rail. Second, rail transportation costs account for a sizable share of total delivered costs. While, on average, transportation costs account for approximately 20 percent of total costs, they can reach as high as 59 percent on shipments of coal originating in the Powder River Basin. Because of these two factors, changes to rail transportation costs can have a significant impact on the delivered price of coal and indirectly on electricity prices charged to consumers.

Unlike EIA's prior Coal Transportation Rate Data, which contains transportation data reported by non-jurisdictional utilities on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Form 580 for the years 1979 to 2001, the updated version, known as the Coal Waybill Data, is based primarily on waybills submitted by rail carriers. Also, while the prior Coal Transportation Rate Data includes a variety of transportation modes, the Coal Waybill Data is based only on rail shipments. Due to the different nature of the data sources, users should exercise caution when attempting to combine the two data sets into a single time series.

A "waybill" is an official document created by rail carriers from shipping instructions provided by the shipper. A waybill shows the origin and destination stations, car name and number, consignor and consignee, routing, description and weight of the commodity, cost of transport as well as other details about the shipment. A waybill can include one or more cars and a train can include one or more waybills.

Unlike most other reports with coal transportation rate data – which are based on defined mileage blocks or on national averages – EIA's new Coal Waybill Data and resulting tables allow users to disaggregate the national level data and determine the revenue charged by rail carriers for specific distribution routes. EIA plans to update the coal transportation data on an annual basis after obtaining the most recent Waybill Sample available from the STB.

Nonetheless, the ability of EIA's Coal Waybill Data to accurately estimate coal transportation rates on a State-to-State (or Coal Basin-to-State) basis is related in large part to the number of waybills used to calculate an average rate along a particular route (i.e., the sample size for that particular origin and destination). This means that users should exercise caution when interpreting the significance of State-to-State (or Basin-to-State) rates when the rate was calculated using a relatively small sample. In addition, when examining rate trends over a multiple year period, users typically can be more confident of results when there are large sample sizes for each of the years studied. The same caution should be exercised when comparing the results of one origin-destination pair to another, whether it is on a State-to-State or Coal Basin-to-State basis.


Tables and Figures

Estimated U.S. Coal Rail Transportation Rates State to State Coal Basin to State
T1. 2001    
T2. 2002    
T3. 2003    
T4. 2004    
T5. 2005    
T6. 2006    
T7. 2007    
T8. 2008    
T9. 2001 - 2008 (real dollars)    
F3. Percent in Average Real Rates, 2001 to 2008

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