Transportation & Vehicle Safety Policy

External Costs of Truck and Rail Freight Transportation

Forkenbrock, D.J.


The purpose of this monograph is to estimate these true costs for freight truck and rail. We estimate four general types of external costs for a ton-mile of freight shipped by truck or rail: accidents (fatalities, injuries, and property damage); emissions (air pollution and greenhouse gases); noise; and unrecovered costs associated with the provision, operation, and maintenance of public facilities (primarily roads and bridges). Because the preponderance of freight transportation occurs between cities, we focus on intercity freight flows and ignore the movement of goods within urban areas. Consequently congestion, a primarily urban phenomenon, is not addressed.

An intercity focus also simplifies the estimation of air pollution costs. Whereas pollution levels in rural areas are fairly consistent, an additional unit of pollution can bring about costs that vary greatly among metropolitan areas based on existing air quality. Our analysis thereby serves as a benchmark against which more specific external cost estimates can be compared.


Forkenbrock DJ. External Costs of Truck and Rail Freight Transportation. Iowa City, IA: The University of Iowa, Public Policy Center; 1998.