Freight Transportation Services Index, March 2011 - March 2016. Graphic: U.S. DOT

Freight Transportation Services Index, March 2011 - March 2016. Graphic: U.S. DOT

The amount of freight moved by the nation’s entire for-hire transportation industry declined for the second straight month in March, hitting its lowest level since March 2014, according to U.S. Transportation Department figures released on Wednesday.

Its Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI) fell 0.9% to a reading of 120 in March from February. Also, the February index was revised down to 121.1 from 122.2 in last month’s release and the January index was revised down to 122.9 from 123.1.

March 2016 freight shipments also declined 2.4% from the same time a year earlier.

The March Freight TSI decrease was broad, with all freight modes falling except for air freight, which rebounded after a significant decrease in February, according to the department. The drop was driven by continued weakness in mining (including oil and gas well drilling and servicing), along with the utility and manufacturing sectors of the economy.

The first-quarter TSI decline of 1.2%, the largest quarterly drop since the third quarter of 2012, matched trends in the larger economy as gross domestic product growth decreased to a relatively slow annual rate of 0.5% while a government measure of industrial production also fell during the first quarter.

It is also the first time that Freight TSI has declined for two consecutive quarters since the first quarter of 2009, when the economy was in a recession. The Freight TSI has now declined in four of the last five quarters, however, the index remains high compared to earlier years and has increased by 26.7% since its low of 94.7 in April 2009.

Also, the level of freight shipments in March measured by the Freight TSI was only 2.8% below the all-time high level of 123.5 hit in November 2014.

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.