Similar to the international shipping market with its freight indices and benchmarks, the inland barge market in the U.S. is equally well monitored to assess both transport costs and also get an early sign (leading indicator) of the economy's overall direction
Downbound Grain Barge Rates
Weekly barge rates for downbound freight originating from seven locations along the Mississippi River System, which includes the Mississippi River and its tributaries (e.g., Upper Mississippi River, Illinois River, Ohio River, etc.). The seven locations are: (1) "Twin Cities," a stretch along the Upper Mississippi; (2) "Mid-Mississippi," a stretch between eastern Iowa and western Illinois; (3) "Illinois River," along the lower portion of the Illinois River; (4) "St. Louis"; (5) "Cincinnati," along the middle third of the Ohio River; (6) "Lower Ohio," approximately the final third of the Ohio River; and (7) "Cairo-Memphis," from Cairo, IL, to Memphis, TN.
The U.S. Inland Waterway System utilizes a percent-of-tariff system to establish barge freight rates. The tariffs were originally from the Bulk Grain and Grain Products Freight Tariff No. 7, which were issued by the Waterways Freight Bureau (WFB) of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). In 1976, the United States Department of Justice entered into an agreement with the ICC and made Tariff No. 7 no longer applicable. Today, the WFB no longer exists, and the ICC has become the Surface Transportation Board, which does not have jurisdiction over barge rates on the inland waterways. However, the barge industry continues to use the tariffs as benchmarks for rate units.
Each city on the river system has its own benchmark, with the northernmost cities having the highest benchmarks: Twin Cities = 619; Mid-Mississippi = 532; St. Louis = 399; Illinois = 464; Cincinnati = 469; Lower Ohio = 446; and Cairo-Memphis = 314.