Today’s fleet of nearly 4,000 modern tugboats and towboats and more than 28,000 barges moves more than 800 million tons of raw materials and finished goods each year. This industry allows the United States to take advantage of one of its greatest natural resources – the 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels. America’s “marine highways” move commerce to and from 38 states, from Canada to the Gulf, from the Atlantic almost to the Rockies and in the Pacific Northwest, too.
Moving freight on America’s waterways is the most environmentally friendly mode of surface transportation, and contributes to the American economy, national security and quality of life.
Waterways transportation is the most economical mode of commercial freight transportation due to the enormous capacity of a barge. It is difficult to appreciate the carrying capacity of a barge until you understand how much tonnage a single barge can move. For example, a typical inland barge has a capacity 16 times greater than one rail car, and 70 times greater than one semi-trailer truck.
To help put this into perspective, one loaded covered hopper barge carries enough wheat to make almost 2.5 million loaves of bread. And one tank barge carries enough gasoline to satisfy the annual demand of about 2,500 people.