Freight Turnover

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Freight Turnover


a basic conventional physical indicator of transport efficiency considered as a special branch of material production.

Freight turnover is the product of a certain quantity of cargo (in tons) and the distance of the transport (in km). It is measured in ton-km net (in maritime shipping it is measured in ton-miles, where 1 mile equals 1.852 km), that is, without the weight of the rolling stock in which the cargo has been transported. Consequently, transport freight turnover depends on the weight of transported cargo and the shipping distance. The cargo weight, in turn, depends on the volume and on the structure of production of different items and on the coefficient of freighting or on the coefficient of the repetition of shipment. The freight shipping distance is influenced by the size of the territory and the location of natural resources and the enterprises, in terms of the sources of raw materials and fuels, product-use regions, the degree of development of the transportation network itself (the presence of very short or only circuitous lines), and so on. In its turn, the transport distance (and the freight-turnover volume associated with it) is influenced by the social mode of production of utilities and peculiarities of the process of the circulation of products and goods (randomly in capitalist nations, by plan in the USSR and other socialist nations).

The unplanned nature of capitalist circulation of goods causes a vast amount of cargo counterflow, excessive longdistance or repeated shipments, and other nonrational movements and, consequently, a man-made increase in needless freight turnover. This is promoted by the uneven distribution of productive forces in the capitalist world and by the separation of a large part of the processing industry from raw material sources and marketing areas. It is well known that a small number of industrially developed countries (including the USA, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Japan, Italy, and Belgium) have concentrated in their hands almost all of the processing industry of the capitalist world and that they often obtain needed raw materials from remote places. At the same time the former colonial and still economically backward nations import products from the industrially developed nations (sometimes from thousands of kilometers away) even though many types of these products could be manufactured locally. The narrow specialization of economically backward countries in the production of one or a few types of products (for example, Brazil specializes in coffee, Venezuela in oil, Chile in copper ore and niter, and Ceylon in tea) also contributes to increased freight turnover. This explains the rapid growth of cargo traffic on intercontinental maritime routes (more than two-thirds of the world’s total freight volume is carried on these routes).

A socialist planned economy, as opposed to a capitalist economy, has vast potential for the comprehensive rationalization of economic links and freight traffic, particularly in the sphere of distribution, so that freight turnover and the related transport costs borne by the national economy can be comparatively reduced. The elimination of excessive freight turnover and regulation of the remainder can be achieved by means of the rationalization of the distribution of productive forces, so that the production cost to consumers is minimal in relation to the total costs for production and transport; cost is also reduced by means of developing optimal plans for supply,

Table 1. Freight circulation of all types of world transport according to social systems and regions in 1967
RailroadMotor vehicleMaritime1Internal watersPipelinesAirTotal
 InterurbanTotalInternationalCoasttradeFleettotalOilGasInternal routesTotalInternal routesAll types of routes
1 About 70 percent of the total freight turnover among developing nations is carried out by the maritime cargo fleet of Liberia (technically the world’s largest), Panama, and some other countries. These fleets actually are owned by large monopolies of the USA and a number of Western European countries. These fleets’ vessels are fictitiously registered to the ports of small countries in order to avoid paying large amounts of taxes. It is precisely this reason that explains the comparatively small freight turnover of the maritime fleet of the USA in spite of the fleet’s large size. According even to rough calculations, the present-day world statistics for freight circulation exaggerates the developing nations’ share of world freight circulation by a factor of about three (from 6 to 19 percent) and correspondingly understates the share of the developed capitalist countries.
Billions of ton-km
All socialist...............             
All developed...............             
capitalist countries...............1,5801,0431,2878,3936849,0775316003556.312.15,04313,442
Developing countries...............2341321833,485943,57931230150.20.97874,273
Entire world...............4,5291,2701,71012,61384613,4597491,0234578.114.89,32221,942
All socialist...............             
USSR............... 7.718.512.030.515.2
All developed...............             
capitalist countries...............34.982.175.366.680.967.471.058.677.777.881.754.161.3
Developing countries...............5.210.410.727.511.
Entire world...............100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0100.0

sale, and transportation (the elimination of excessive long-distance, counterflow, and other nonrational transport). The considerable experience accumulated within the USSR has shown that, on the basis of precise mathematical methods and computer-derived data, all-Union (all-supply network) mass cargo transport plans permit significant reductions in freight-turnover volume (in ton-km).

The data in Table 1 show the distribution of freight circulation according to various types of transport and according to groups of nations with different social systems; the table illustrates the uneven development of transport. Thus, the underdeveloped and developing nations have at their disposal only about 20 percent of the total freight turnover (including shipments on international routes) and less than 8 percent of the freight turnover on internal routes, while at the same time they occupy almost half of the earth’s surface and account for about 45 percent of the earth’s population. Freight turnover is developing unevenly in specific types of transport. Thus, freight turnover of all types of transport from 1950 to 1967 increased an average of 219 percent (including 146 percent on internal routes). During this same period the railroad’s freight turnover increased only 113 percent, with a 249 percent increase in motor-vehicle transport, a 93 percent increase in internal-water transport, a 277 percent increase in maritime transport, a 382 percent increase in pipeline transport and a 518 percent increase in gas pipeline transport. The relative shares of total freight turnover are changing (see Table 2).

Table 2. Relative shares of specific types of transport in total world freight turnover1(in percent)
 1913193719501967Average shipping distance in 1967 (in km)
1 In 1913, 45.0 percent of transport was on internal routes: in 1937, 44.7 percent: in 1950, 55.1 percent; and in 1967, 42.4 percent
Motor vehicle...............
Internal water...............
Oil pipeline...............
Gas pipeline...............
Total...............100.0100.0100.0 100.0

Maritime transport accounts for about two-thirds of total freight circulation, mostly because of the vast distances traveled by cargo, especially on international routes (more than 6,000 km).

Table 3a. Freight circulation of general-use transport within the USSR (in billions of ton-km)
 RailroadMaritimeRiverOil pipelineMotor vehicle1AirTotal
1 Include motor vehicle transport carried out by all departments, organizations, and kolkhozes
Table 3b. Average shipping distance and the relative share of various transport types in total freight circulation in 1970
 RailroadMaritimeRiverOil pipelineMotor vehicle1AirTotal
1 Including motor vehicle transport carried out by all departments, organizations, and kolkhoze
Average shipping distance (km)...............8614,05248682815.110,23 
Relative share (percent)...............65.317.

Freight turnover of the USSR’s general-purpose transport and the dynamics of this turnover reflect the particularly rapid developmental tempo and vast scale of the national economy (Tables 3a, 3b). Total freight turnover for all types of transport within the USSR during 1969 amounted to about 15 percent of the world’s total and about 30 percent of the internal freight turnovers of all the world’s countries. The USSR’s railroads handled almost 50 percent of the world’s freight turnover; they handled about 65 percent of all the freight within the USSR and more than 80 percent of the internal freight. The leading role of railroads within the USSR’s transport system is related to the size of the USSR’s territorial area, the particular features of the distribution of natural resources and productive forces within the nation, and a number of other important factors.

From 1913 to 1970 freight turnover of the USSR’s railroads grew more than 30 times, as a result of increases in volume and distance traveled by cargo. The latter increased from 496 to 861 km, or 73 percent, between 1913 and 1970. A corresponding increase was achieved in freight turnover on the USSR’s railroads in comparison with the increase in freight volume (in tons). The average distance traveled by freight along the USSR’s railroads (861 km) is the highest in the world. In the USA, for example, in 1967 the corresponding figure was 747 km (it should be kept in mind that the USSR has 2.5 times the area of the USA). The planned economy has made it possible, during the years of socialist construction, to locate productive forces much more rationally and uniformly than was possible before the October Revolution, when economic links within Russia were basically contained within the borders of the nation’s European part (and even then excluding the northern regions). If the generally increasing demand for coal, oil, metals, and other products had been met by shipments from the same regions as was the case before the October Revolution, that is, coal and metals mostly from the Donbas, oil from the Caucasus, and so on, the average distance traveled by cargo would be much more than 861 km and the freight turnover and the national economy’s expenditures for transport would be correspondingly higher. Freight turnover indicators are used for planning to determine the distribution of income and changes in the costs of labor, material, equipment, and other items.


Transportnaia sistema mira, Moscow, 1971.
Zarubezhnii transport: Spravochnik, Moscow, 1966.
Transport i sviaz’ SSSR: Statisticheskii sbornik. Moscow, 1967.
Ekonomika zheleznodorozhnogo transporta. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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