Freight Glossary

Average Annual Daily Truck Traffic (AADTT) – The total volume of truck traffic on a highway segment for one year, divided by the number of days in the year.

Backhaul – The process of a transportation vehicle (typically a truck) returning from the original destination point to the point of origin. A backhaul can be with a full or partially loaded trailer.

Barge – The cargo-carrying vehicle that inland water carriers primarily use. Basic barges have open tops, but there are covered barges for both dry and liquid cargoes.

Belly Cargo – Air freight carried in the belly of passenger aircraft.

Bill of Lading – A transportation document that is the contract of carriage containing the terms and condition between shipper and carrier.

Bottleneck – A section of a highway or rail network that experiences operational problems such as congestion. Bottlenecks may result from factors such as reduced roadway width or steep freeway grades that can slow trucks.

Boxcar – An enclosed railcar, typically 40 or more feet long, used for packaged freight and some bulk commodities.

Breakbulk Cargo – Cargo of non-uniform sizes, often transported on pallets, sacks, drums, or bags. These cargoes require labor-intensive loading and unloading processes. Examples of breakbulk cargo include coffee beans, logs, or pulp.

Broker – A person whose business it is to prepare shipping and customs documents for international shipments. Brokers often have offices at major freight gateways, including border crossings, seaports, and airports.

Bulk Cargo – Cargo that is unbound as loaded; it is without count in a loose unpackaged form. Examples of bulk cargo include coal, grain, and petroleum products.

Cabotage – A national law that requires costal and intercostal traffic to be carried in its own nationally registered, and sometimes built and crewed ships.

Capacity – The physical facilities, personnel, and process available to meet the product of service needs of the customers. Capacity generally refers to the maximum output or producing ability of a machine, person, process, factory, product, or service.

Cargo Ramp – A dedicated load/unload facility for cargo aircraft.

Carload – Quantity of freight (in tons) required to fill a railcar; amount normally required to qualify for a carload rate.

Carrier – A firm which transports goods or people via land, sea, or air.

Centralized Dispatching – The organization of the dispatching function into one central location. This structure often involves the use of data collection devices for communication between the centralized dispatching function, which usually reports to the production control department and the shop manufacturing departments.

Chassis – A trailer-type device with wheels constructed to accommodate containers, which are lifted on and off.

Claim – Charges made against a carrier for loss, damage, delay, or overcharge.

Class I Carrier – A classification of regulated carriers based upon annual operating revenues-motor carrier of property greater than or equal to $5.0 million; motor carriers of passengers; greater than or equal to $3.0 million.

Class II Carrier – A classification of regulated carriers based upon annual operating revenues-motor carrier of property $1.0 million to $5.0 million; motor carriers of passengers; less than or equal to $3.0 million.

Class III Carrier – A classification of regulated carriers based upon annual operating revenues-motor carrier of property less than or equal to $1.0 million.

Class I Railroad – Railroads which have annual gross operating revenues over $266.7 million.

Class II Railroad – See Regional Railroad.

Class III Railroad – See Shortline Railroad.

Classification Yard – A railroad terminal area where railcars are grouped together to form train units.

Coastal Shipping – Also known as short-sea or coastwise shipping, describes marine shipping operations between ports along a single coast or involving a short sea crossing.

Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN) – A national program administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration designed to improve motor carrier safety and to enhance the efficiency of administrative processes for industry and government.

Commodity – An item that is traded in commerce. The term usually implies an undifferentiated product competing primarily on price and availability.

Commodity Classification – A coding scheme used to identify commodities. Some commonly used are the Standard Transportation Commodity Classification used by railroads, the Standard Classification of Transported Goods used by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and the Harmonized Series used by Customs.

Common Carrier – Any carrier engaged in the interstate transportation of persons/property on a regular schedule at published rates, whose services are for hire to the general public.

Consignee – The receiver of a freight shipment, usually the buyer.

Consignor – The sender of a freight shipment, usually the seller.

Container on Flatcar (COFC) – Containers resting on railway flatcars without a chassis underneath.

Container – A “box” typically ten to forty feet long, which is used primarily for ocean freight shipment. For travel to and from ports, containers are loaded onto truck chassis’ or on railroad flatcars.

Containerization – A shipment method in which commodities are placed in containers and after initial loading, the commodities per se are not re-handled in shipment until they are unloaded at destination.

Containerized Cargo – Cargo that is transported in containers that can be transferred easily from one transportation mode to another.

Contract Carrier – A carrier that does not serve the general public but provides transportation for hire for one or a limited number of shippers under a specific contract.

Contract Carrier – Carrier engaged in interstate transportation of persons/property by motor vehicle on a for-hire basis but under continuing contract with one or a limited number of customers to meet specific needs.

Cubage – Cubic volume of space being used or available for shipping or storage.

Deadhead – The return of an empty transportation container back to a transportation facility. Commonly-used description of an empty backhaul.

Demurrage – The carrier charges and fees applied when rail freight cars and ships are retained beyond a specific loading or unloading time.

Detention Fee – The carrier charges and fees applied when rail freight cars, ship, and carriers are retained beyond a specified loading or unloading time.

Direct to Store – Process of shipping direct from a manufacturer’s plant or distribution center to the customer’s retail store, thus bypassing the customer’s distribution center.

Dispatcher – An individual tasked to assign available transportation loads to available carriers.

Distribution Center (DC) – The warehouse facility which holds inventory from manufacturing pending distribution to the appropriate stores.

Dock – A space used or receiving merchandise at a freight terminal.

Double-Stack – Railcar movement of containers stacked two high.

Drayage – Transporting of rail or ocean freight by truck to an intermediate or final destination; typically a charge for pickup/delivery of goods moving short distances (e.g., from marine terminal to warehouse).

Drop – A situation in which an equipment operator deposits a trailer or boxcar at a facility at which it is to be loaded or unloaded.

Durable Goods – Generally, any goods whose continuous serviceability is likely to exceed three years.

Exempt Carrier – A for-hire carrier that is free from economic regulation. Trucks hauling certain commodities are exempt from Interstate Commerce Commission economic regulation. By far the largest portion of exempt carrier transports agricultural commodities or seafood.

Flatbed – A trailer without sides used for hauling machinery or other bulky items.

Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) – A specially designated area, in or adjacent to a U.S. Customs Port of Entry, which is considered to be outside the Customs Territory of the United States.

For-Hire Carrier – Carrier that provides transportation service to the public on a fee basis.

Four Ps – Set of marketing tools to direct the business offering to the customer. The four P’s are product, price, place, and promotion.

Freight All Kinds (FAK) – Goods classified FAK are usually charged higher rates than those marked with a specific classification and are frequently in a container that includes various classes of cargo.

Freight Broker – A person whose business it is to prepare shipping and customs documents for international shipments. Brokers often have offices at major freight gateways, including border crossings, seaports, and airports.

Freight Forwarder – A person whose business is to act as an agent on behalf of a shipper. A freight forwarder frequently consolidates shipments from several shippers and coordinates booking reservations.

Fuel-Taxed Waterway System – Eleven thousand miles of the U.S. waterway system designated by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. Commercial users of this system pay a per gallon fuel tax which is deposited in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and used to fund inland navigation projects each year.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – The final market value of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the nation.

Gross State Product (GSP) – The final market value of goods and services produced by labor and property located in a state.

Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – The combined total weight of a vehicle and its freight.

Hazardous Material – A substance or material which the Department of Transportation has determined to be capable of posing a risk to health, safety, and property when stored or transported in commerce.

Hours of Service – Ruling that stipulates the amount of time a driver is allotted to work.

Hub – A common connection point for devices in a network. Referenced for a transportation network as in “hub and spoke” which is common in the airline and trucking industry.

In-Bond Shipment – A shipment status in which goods are permitted to enter a country and temporarily stored for transport to a final destination where the duty will be paid.

Inbound Logistics – The movement of materials from shippers and vendors into production processes or storage facilities.

Input-Output Models – An economic analysis method to systematically quantify the interrelationships among various sectors of an economic system.

Interline Freight – Freight moving from point of origin to destination over the lines of two or more transportation lines.

Intermodal Terminal – A location where links between different transportation modes and networks connect. Using more than one mode of transportation in moving persons and goods. For example, a shipment moved over 1,000 miles could travel by truck for one portion of the trip, and then transfer to rail at a designated terminal.

Inventory – The number of units and/or value of the stock of good a company holds.

Just-in-Time (JIT) – Cargo or components that must be at a destination at the exact time needed. The container or vehicle is the movable warehouse.

Laker – Large commercial ship operating on the Great Lakes carrying bulk cargo.  The Lakers are up to 1,000 feet long and can carry up to 66,000 tons of cargo. The large bulk Lakers stay within the Great Lakes because they are too large to enter the Saint Lawrence Seaway portion.

Lead-Time – The total time that elapses between an order’s placement and it receipt. It includes the time required for order transmittal, order processing, order preparation, and transit.

Less-Than-Container load/Less-Than-Truck load (LCL/LTL) – A container or trailer loaded with cargo from more than one shipper; loads that do not by themselves meet the container load or truck load requirements.

Level of Service (LOS) – A qualitative assessment of a road’s operating conditions. For local government comprehensive planning purposes, level of service means an indicator of the extent or degree of service provided by, or proposed to be provided by, a facility based on and related to the operational characteristics of the facility. Level of service indicates the capacity per unit of demand for each public facility.

Lift-on/Lift-off (lo/lo) Cargo – Containerized cargo that must be lifted on and off vessels and other vehicles using handling equipment.

Line Haul – The movement of freight over the road/rail from origin terminal to destination terminal, usually over long distances.

Liquid Bulk Cargo – A type of bulk cargo that consists of liquid items, such as petroleum, water, or liquid natural gas.

Live Load – As situation in which the equipment operation stays with the trailer or boxcar while being loaded or unloaded.

Lock – A channel where the water rises and falls to allow boats to travel a dammed river.

Logbook – A daily record of the hours an interstate driver spends driving, off duty, sleeping in the berth, or on duty not driving.

Logistics – All activities involved in the management of product movement; delivering the right product from the right origin to the right destination, with the right quality and quantity, at the right schedule and price.

Lumpers – Individuals that assist a motor carrier owner operator in the unloading of property; quite commonly used in the food industry.

Neo-Bulk Cargo – Shipments consisting entirely of units of a single commodity, such as cars, lumber, or scrap metal.

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions – Nitrogen oxides (NOx), the term used to describe the sum of nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other oxides of nitrogen, play a major role in the formation of ozone. The major sources of man-made NOx emissions are high-temperature combustion processes, such as those occurring in automobiles and power plants.

Node – A fixed point in a firm’s logistics system where goods come to rest; includes plants, warehouses, supply sources, and markets.

On-Dock Rail – Direct shipside rail service. Includes the ability to load and unload containers/breakbulk directly from rail car to vessel.

Operating Ratio – A measure of operation efficiency defined as: (Operating Expenses/Operation Revenues) x 100.

Outbound Logistics – The process related to the movement and storage of products from the end of the production line to the end user.

Over, Short and Damaged (OS&D)  Report is issued at warehouse when goods are damaged; claim is usually filed with the carrier.

Owner-Operator – Trucking operation in which the owner of the truck is also the driver.

Particulate Matter (PM) Emissions – Particulate matter (PM) is the general term used for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. They originate from many different stationary and mobile sources as well as from natural sources, including fuel combustion from motor vehicles, power generation, and industrial facilities, as well as from residential fireplaces and wood stoves. Fine particles are most closely associated with such health effects as increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for heart and lung disease, increased respiratory symptoms and disease, decreased lung function, and even premature death.

Piggyback – A rail/truck service. A shipper loads a highway trailer, and a carrier drives it to a rail terminal and loads it on a flatcar; the railroad moves the trailer-on-flatcar combination to the destination terminal, where the carrier offloads the trailer and delivers it to the consignee.

Placard – A label that identifies a hazardous material shipment and the hazards present.

Point of Sale (POS) – The time and place at which a sale occurs, such as a cash register in a retail operation, or the order confirmation screen in an on-line session. Supply chain partners are interested in capturing data at the POS because it is a true record of the sale rather than being derived from other information such as inventory movement.

Pool/Drop Trailers – Trailer that are staged at a facilities for preloading purposes.

Port Authority – State or local government that owns, operates, or otherwise provides wharf, dock, and other terminal investments at ports.

Prepaid – A freight term, which indicates that charges are to be paid by the shipper. Prepaid shipping charges may be added to the customer invoice, or the cost may be bundled into the pricing of the product.

Private Carrier – A carrier that provides transportation service to the firm that owns or leases the vehicles and does not charge a fee.

Private Warehouse – A company-owned warehouse.

Proof of Delivery – Information supplied by the carrier containing the name of the person who signed for the shipment, the time and date of delivery, and other shipment delivery related information.

Pull Logistics System – “Just in time” logistics system driven by customer demand and enabled by telecommunications and information systems rather than by manufacturing process and inventory stockpiling.

Purchase Order (PO) – The purchaser’s authorization used to formalize a purchase transaction with a supplier. The physical form or electronic transaction a buyer uses when placing an order for merchandise.

Push Logistics System – Inventory-based logistics system characterized by regularly scheduled flows of products and high inventory levels.

Radio Frequency (RFID) – A form of wireless communication that lets users relay information via electronic energy waves from a terminal to a base station, which is linked in turn to a host computer. The terminals can be placed at a fixed station, mounted on a forklift truck, or carried in the worker’s hand. The base station contains a transmitter and receiver for communication with the terminals. When combined with a bar-code system for identifying inventory items, a radio-frequency system can relay data instantly, thus updating inventory records in so-called “real time.”

Rail Siding – A very short branch off a main railway line with only one point leading onto it. Sidings are used to allow faster trains to pass slower ones or to conduct maintenance.

Receiving – The function encompassing the physical receipt of material, the inspection of the shipment for conformance with the purchase order (quantity and damage), the identification and delivery to destination, and the preparation of receiving reports.

Reefer Trailer – A refrigerated trailer that is commonly used for perishable goods.

Regional Railroad – Railroad defined as line-haul railroad operating at least 350 miles of track and/or earns revenue between $40 million and $266.7 million.

Reliability – Refers to the degree of certainty and predictability in travel times on the transportation system. Reliable transportation systems offer some assurance of attaining a given destination within a reasonable range of an expected time. An unreliable transportation system is subject to unexpected delays, increasing costs for system users.

Return to Vendor (RTV) – Material that has been rejected by the customer or buyer’s inspection department and is awaiting shipment back to supplier for repair or replacement.

Reverse Logistics – A specialized segment of logistics focusing on the movement and management of products and resources after the sale and after delivery to the customer. Includes product returns and repair for credit.

Roll-on/Roll-off (ro/ro) Cargo – Wheeled cargo, such as automobiles, or cargo carried on chassis that can be rolled on or off vehicles without using cargo handling equipment.

Seasonality – Repetitive pattern of demand from year to year (or other repeating time interval) with some periods considerably higher than others. Seasonality explains the fluctuation in demand for various recreational products, which are used during different seasons.

Secondary Traffic –Freight flows to and from distribution centers or through intermodal facilities.

Shipper – Party that tenders goods for transportation.

Shipping Manifest – A document that lists the pieces in a shipment.

Short Line Railroad – Freight railroads which are not Class I or Regional Railroads, that operate less than 350 miles of track and earn less than $40 million.

Short-Sea Shipping – Also known as coastal or coastwise shipping, describes marine shipping operations between ports along a single coast or involving a short sea crossing.

Sleeper Team – Two drivers who operated a truck equipped with a sleeper berth; while one driver sleeps in the berth to accumulate mandatory off-duty time, the other driver operates the vehicle.

Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) – A category of unit with unique combination of form, fit, and function.

Stock Outs – Merchandise that is requested by a customer but is temporarily unavailable. Also referred to as Out of Stock (OOS).

Stop Off Charge – Charge associated with a load that has more than one drop off point. Typically, the first stop of a multi-stop load is free, and then the charge applies to the subsequent stops.

Strategic Highway Network (STRAHNET) – A network of highways which are important to the United States’ strategic defense policy and which provide defense access, continuity, and emergency capabilities for defense purposes.

Strategic Rail Corridor Network (STRACNET) – An interconnected and continuous rail line network consisting of over 38,000 miles of track serving over 170 defense installations.

Supply Chain – Starting with unprocessed raw materials and ending with final customer using the finished goods.

Switching and Terminal Railroad – Railroad that provides pick-up and delivery services to line-haul carriers.

Third-Party Logistics (3PL) Provider – A specialist in logistics who may provide a variety of transportation, warehousing, and logistics-related services to buyers or sellers. These tasks were previously performed in-house by the customer.

Throughput – Total amount of freight imported or exported through a seaport measured in tons or 20-foot Equivalent Units.

Ton-Mile – A measure of output for freight transportation.  It reflects the weight of shipment and the distance it is hauled; a multiplication of tons hauled by the distance traveled.

Trailer on Flatcar (TOFC) – Transport of trailers with their loads on specially designed rail cars.

Transit Time – The total time that elapses between a shipment’s delivery and pickup.

Transloading – Transferring bulk shipments from the vehicle/container of one mode to that of another at a terminal interchange point.

Truckload (TL) – Quantity of freight required to fill a truck, or at a minimum, the amount required to qualify for a truckload rate.

Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) – The eight-foot by eight-foot by 20-foot intermodal container is used as a basic measure in many statistics and is the standard measure used for containerized cargo.

Unit Train – A train of a specified number of railcars handling a single commodity type which remain as a unit for a designated destination or until a change in routing is made.

Vehicle Classification (VMT) – A system used to classify motor vehicles, primarily trucks. The most commonly used classification system is based on 13 different axle and body types used by Federal Highway Administration and state departments of transportation.

Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) – A unit to measure vehicle travel made by a private vehicle, such as an automobile, van, pickup truck, or motorcycle.

Warehouse – Storage place for products. Principal warehouse activities include receipt of product, storage, shipment and order picking.

Weigh-in-Motion – Defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM as “the process of measuring the dynamic tire forces of a moving vehicle and estimating the corresponding tire loads of the static vehicle.” It allows truck weights to be determined without requiring the vehicle to stop.


AAPA – American Association of Port Authorities

AAR – American Association of Railroads

AASHTO – American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials

ACE – Automated Commercial Environment

ATA – American Trucking Association

BTS – Bureau of Transportation Statistics

CBP – Customs Border Protection

CDL – Commercial Drivers License

CFS – Commodity Flow Survey

CMAQ – Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality

CMV – Commercial motor Vehicle

CTPAT – Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism

CVISN – Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks

CVO – Commercial Vehicle Operations

DOD – Department of Defense

FAA – Federal Aviation Administration

FAF – Freight Analysis Framework

FAST – Free and Secure Trade

FHWA – Federal Highway Administration

FMCSA – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

FPD – Freight Professional Development

FRA – Federal Railroad Administration

GIS – Geo Information Systems

GPS – Global Positioning System

HERS – Highway Economic Requirements Systems

HPMS – Highway Performance Monitoring System

HS – Harmonized Series

ITE – Institute of Transportation Engineers

ITS – Intelligent Transportation System

MPG – Miles Per Gallon

MPO – Metropolitan Planning Organization

MUTCD – Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

NAFTA – North American Free Trade Agreement

NAICS – North American Industrial Classification System

NHS – Nation Highway System

NVOCC – Non-Vessel Operating Common Carriers

P&D – Pick up and delivery

POD – Proof of Delivery

POE – Port of Entry

SCAC – Standard Carrier Alpha Code

SCTG – Standard Classification of Transported Goods

SED – Shipper’s Export Declaration

SIC – Standard Industrial Classification

SLSC/SLDC – Shipper Load, Shipper Count/Shipper Load, Driver Count

STB – Surface Transportation Board

STCC – Standard Transportation Commodity Classification

TRANSCAD – Transportation Computer Assisted Design

UFC – Uniform Freight Classification

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