Railroads are critical to the nation’s food security because they transport the feed for livestock and the food we eat.

The U.S. agricultural sector is the most efficient in the world, and railroads’ scale helps make that possible. For example, one railcar can carry enough:

  • Flour for approximately 258,000 loaves of bread.
  • Corn for the lifetime feeding requirements of 37,000 chickens.
  • Barley for 94,000 gallons of beer.
  • Soybeans for 415,000 pounds of tofu.

America’s farmers are huge exporters — in a typical year, grain exports are equivalent to around 30% of U.S. grain production. That couldn’t happen without railroads, which connect our nation’s primary crop-producing areas with ports hundreds or thousands of miles away. According to the USDA, railroads account for well over a third of U.S. grain export movements.

Primary Stat: In a typical year, railroads haul around 1.6 million carloads of grain and other farm products and 1.6 million carloads of food products. Railroads typically originate more than 60,000 carloads of food and agriculture products per week.

Perishable & Non-perishable Products

Refrigeration cars (also known as “reefers”) allow for transporting perishable food products. Refrigeration technology has continued to evolve, and cryogenic refrigeration equipment is now common. For example, railroads have introduced state-of-the-art technologies into refrigerated cars, allowing cold food processors and distribution warehouses to reduce emissions while maintaining efficiency. Railroads also carry non-perishable food items, such as corn syrup, flour, pasta and canned goods.

But railroads don’t just carry food products destined for human consumption. Each year, railroads transport several hundred thousand carloads of soybean meal, distiller’s dried grains and other types of animal feed and pet food — they even carry birdseed.

Freight railroads move about 400,000 carloads of grain mill products (such as corn syrup, flour, animal feed, pet food, and more); 260,000 carloads of processed soybeans, mainly soybean meal and soybean oil; 350,000 carloads of beverages and extracts; 140,000 carloads of canned and preserved foods; 75,000 carloads of meat and poultry products; and 375,000 carloads of other miscellaneous food products.

The Effect of International Trade

Railroads and farmers link America to much of the world — particularly Canada and Mexico. One in every ten planted acres feeds people of these countries. Much of this impact is due to railroads’ scale of operations; one railcar can haul enough wheat for 258,000 loaves of bread, enough soybeans for 415,000 pounds of tofu or enough barley for 94,000 gallons of beer. The freight rail network is deeply entrenched in a national supply chain primarily created by the North American Fair Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

For example, trains move chemicals from Canada to Florida, where they are used to create agricultural fertilizers. Railroads will then move the fertilizers to the U.S. heartland, where America’s farmers will use them to grow their crops. Farmers will then send the food products by rail to ports for sale on the global market. Dinner in Mexico is made possible, in part, by the same train cars that started in Canada.