Three of the major transportation branches are airlines, railroads, and passenger ships. Each mode conveys millions of passengers and tons of goods throughout the country and around the world each year.


The airlines industry is structured in four parts: major airlines, national airlines, regional airlines, and cargo carriers. Major airlines have annual operating revenues of more than $1 billion; they may fly nationwide or around the world. Examples of major airlines include American, Continental, Southwest, and United. Cargo companies such as FedEx and United Parcel Service are also classified as major airlines. National airlines have annual operating revenues between $100 million and $1 billion. They fly to certain regions in the country, although some may also operate international flights. Examples of national airlines are Atlas Air and Hawaiian Airlines. Regional airlines usually serve a single region of the country and have operating revenues of $20 million to $100 million. Cargo carriers may be major, national, or regional airlines; these planes are built to carry freight and heavier loads than passenger planes.

Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers work for passenger and cargo airlines They fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft, and work closely with flight deck crew, air traffic controllers, and airfield operations specialists to ensure the flight is operating safely and on schedule. Flight attendants oversee passengers during flights, ensuring safety procedures are followed, serving food and beverages, and handling emergencies. Air traffic controllers monitor the movement of airplanes on the ground and in the air, giving takeoff and landing instructions to pilots and advising them of critical information such as weather conditions and runway updates. Airfield operations specialists coordinate between air traffic control and maintenance personnel in conducting flight dispatch, maintaining flight records, monitoring weather, and other duties to ensure safe takeoffs and landings. There were 84,520 airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers, 120,840 flight attendants, 22,090 air traffic controllers, and 10,680 airfield operations specialists employed in the United States in May 2019, according to the Department of Labor.


The U.S. rail transportation industry is a $68 billion business, as reported by the market research group IBISWorld in August 2020. This includes large railroads, as well as regional and local line-haul railroads that transport passengers and freight. In a report by the Association of American Railroads on the state of the industry, the following conclusions were drawn: major U.S. railroads supported approximately 1.1 million jobs, contributed about $220 billion in annual economic activity, and $36 billion in tax revenues. Railroads connect different industries and consumers to the global market, help grow local communities, and save taxpayers money because most freight railroads own, build, maintain and pay for the infrastructure on which they operate.

Railroad jobs include locomotive engineers, railroad conductors, yardmasters, rail yard engineers, and railroad brake, signal, and switch operators. Locomotive engineers drive long-distance passenger or freight trains to different stations, using controls and instruments to apply and monitor speed and brakes. They communicate on radios with dispatchers, who keep them apprised of track issues and schedule changes. Conductors work on freight and passenger trains also. They collect passengers’ tickets and make announcements about station arrivals and other information. On freight trains they oversee the loading and unloading of cargo. Yardmasters do not travel on the trains, as they work in the rail yard, overseeing other yard workers. They manage work schedules and switching orders, telling yard engineers where to move trains. The yard engineers move trains between tracks so that other trains stay on schedule; they may also drive trains to and from maintenance shops for repairs. Brake operators couple or uncouple trains; signal operators install and maintain track and rail yard signals; and switch operators are responsible for controlling track switches in rail yards, making sure trains are cleared from tracks when not in use and that all trains are heading in the right direction. The DOL reported the following numbers of railroad workers employed in the United States in May 2019: locomotive engineers, 35,520; railroad conductors and yardmasters, 45,710; rail yard engineers, 5,400; railroad brake, signal, and switch operators, 11,080.

Passenger Ships

Passenger ships may be used to move people for quick trips between ports or for longer trips. For instance, ferries such as the Staten Island Ferry, may be used for commuting from one city to another. Ferries are also used for day trips or overnight travel, and they may transport people as well as cars. Ocean liners typically transport people or cargo on multiple-day trips. There are also cruise ships, which people travel on round-trip for vacations that feature on-board activities and sight-seeing excursions to different ports.

According to an industry report by Cruise Lines International Association, between 2008 and 2014, cruise travel grew at a pace that was 22 percent faster than general leisure travel in the United States. Steady growth in the industry continued from 2014 through 2019. In terms of global economic impact, in 2018, there were more than 28 million passengers on cruise ships. In 2018, a total of 1.17 million jobs were held in the cruise ship industry, at $50.24 billion in wages and salaries. Cruise ships had $150 billion total impact on the global economy in 2018. The market research group IBISWorld reported that the main cruise lines that held the majority of market share in the ocean and coastal transportation industry, as of August 2020, were Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Matson Inc.

Jobs in ocean and coastal transportation include captains, who command the vessels and supervise the crew; mates or deck officers, who take shifts commanding the boat when the captain is off duty and also oversee crew members; pilots, who guide boats and work closely with captains and deck officers to ensure the boat operates safely and reaches its destination on time. There are also sailors or deckhands, who clean and maintain the vessel and deck equipment and also do numerous other tasks to keep the boat in good working order. Ship engineers maintain and operate boat machinery, including engines, boilers, generators, and pumps; they set the speed of the boat according to the captain’s orders. Marine oilers work with engineers in the engine room, keeping the machinery is good working order. There are also motorboat operators, who transport passengers on small, motor-driven boats.