The amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry rose 1.2% in January from December, rising for the third consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ Freight Transportation Services Index.

The January 2013 index level (111.3) was 18% above the April 2009 low during the recession and the highest level since December 2011.

BTS, a part of the Department’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, reported that the level of freight shipments in January measured by the Freight TSI (111.3) was 2.4% below the all-time high level of 114.0 in December 2011.

BTS’ TSI records began in 1990.

The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index. The index measures the output of the for-hire freight transportation industry and consists of data from for-hire trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air freight.

Analysis: The Freight TSI increased in January 2013, its third consecutive month of growth with trucking showing a large increase. The TSI increase in January likely resulted from inventory growth. Wholesale inventories grew 1.2% during the month, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Monthly Wholesale Trade report. The restocking followed the drawdown of inventories in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Trend: With the January increase to 111.3, the index rose above the narrow band in which it remained through most of 2012. The exception was a drop in October (107.1) as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The index began 2013 in January at 111.3, the second highest level since April 2009. After dipping to 94.3 in April 2009 during the recession, freight shipments increased in 30 of the last 45 months, rising 18% during that period.

Index highs and lows: Freight shipments in January 2013 (111.3) were 18% higher than the recent low in April 2009 during the recession (94.3). In April 2009, freight shipments were at their lowest level since June 1997 (92.3). The January 2013 level is down 2.4% from the historic peak reached in December 2011 (114.0).