Transportation in the United States

From Academic Kids

The primary modes of passenger transportation in the United States are the airplane and the automobile. Most Americans prefer to fly to any destination over 300 miles away and will drive to anything closer. Other common forms of transportation include passenger trains, buses, and ferries. There are thriving mass transit systems with extensive bus, subway, rapid rail, and ferry networks in many large American cities.

Most cargo transportation in the United States is done by sea, road, and rail; planes are commonly used only for perishables and certain valuables. Usually cargo is imported in containers through seaports, then distributed by road and rail. Freight rail is still financially viable and remains privately operated, as are all other methods of cargo movement (with the obvious exception of the United States Postal Service). There are also several large private cargo shippers like FedEx and UPS.



Passenger trains were formerly a dominant mode of transportation, up until the mid-twentieth century. Declining profits for the privately-run passenger routes drove the nationalization of passenger rail service, and the creation of Amtrak in 1971. Service in most parts of the country is limited; most major cities are served, but, especially in parts of the west, by only one or two trains per day. More frequent service is available in regional corridors between major cities, particularly the Northeast Corridor between Washington, DC and Boston, around Chicago, and in parts of California and the Pacific Northwest.

Nearly all railroad corridors are owned by private companies, which provide freight service. Amtrak pays these companies for the rights to use the tracks for passenger service. There are approximately 240,000 km of mainline rail routes in the United States. See List of United States railroads

Many cities use metro rail systems for high-capacity passenger service within the urban area. These include:


Greyhound Lines is the largest intercity bus company in the United States, with routes in all parts of the continental U.S.. There are also many smaller regional bus companies, many of which use the terminal and booking facilities provided by Greyhound. The bus is, in most cases, the least expensive way to travel long distances in the United States.

Missing image
A traffic jam on a typical American freeway (the Santa Monica Freeway).

total: 6,348,227 km
paved: 3,732,757 km (including 88,727 km of expressways)
unpaved: 2,615,470 km (1997 est.)

All highways are maintained by state governments, although they receive federal aid to build and maintain freeways signed as part of the nationwide Interstate highway network. A large number of expressways are actually government-operated toll roads in most East Coast and Midwest states. West Coast freeways are generally free to users (no toll charged per use), although since the 1990s there have been some small experiments with toll roads operated by private companies. See list of United States numbered highways.


Waterways: 41,009 km of navigable inland channels, exclusive of the Great Lakes

Ports and harbors: Anacortes, Washington, Anchorage, Alaska, Baltimore, Maryland, Boston, Massachusetts, Charleston, South Carolina, Chicago, Illinois, Duluth, Minnesota, Hampton Roads, Honolulu, Hawaii, Houston, Texas, Jacksonville, Florida, Long Beach, California, Los Angeles, California, Miami, Florida, New Orleans, Louisiana, New York, New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Port Canaveral, Florida, Portland, Oregon, Oakland, California, Savannah, Georgia, Seattle, Washington, Tacoma, Washington, Tampa, Florida, Toledo, Ohio, Valdez, Alaska

Merchant marine:
total: 386 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 11,634,608 GRT/15,574,117 DWT
ships by type: barge carrier 10, bulk 67, cargo 28, chemical tanker 14, combination bulk 2, container 84, liquified gas 10, multi-functional large load carrier 3, passenger 7, passenger/cargo 1, petroleum tanker 104, roll-on/roll-off 43, short-sea passenger 3, specialized tanker 1, vehicle carrier 9 (1999 est.)

Ferry service is available in many parts of the country, including the Great Lakes region, Washington state, and the New York city area. Alaska is served by long-distance ferry routes that connect it to the rest of the country, and connect remote areas not connected by roads.


There is no single national flag airline. Aviation in the United States has been completely privatized. There is currently no direct government regulation of ticket pricing, although the federal government retains jurisdiction over aircraft safety, pilot training, and accident investigations (through the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board). Airports are usually constructed and operated by local governments (the main exceptions are federal military bases). For a list of airlines, see the United States section in the List of airlines#United_States.

Airports: 14,572 (1999 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:
total: 5,174
over 3,047 m: 180
2,438 to 3,047 m: 221
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1,310
914 to 1,523 m: 2,448
under 914 m: 1,015 (1999 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 9,398
over 3,047 m: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 6
1,524 to 2,437 m: 155
914 to 1,523 m: 1,661
under 914 m: 7,574 (1999 est.)

Heliports: 118 (1999 est.)


petroleum products 276,000 km;
natural gas 331,000 km (1991)

See also


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