Most of those very big transportation companies tumbled several spots on the Fortune 500 list, as the recession withered their revenue 18.3 percent on average.
Only two of the transportation companies moved up the list. Delta Air Lines rose to number 84 from 111 last year on a 23.6 percent increase in revenue to $28.1 billion.
Southwest Airlines leaped from 246 to 229 despite a 6.1 percent decline in sales, as other companies shrank faster.
The 17 carriers represent every segment of transportation except ocean shipping -- which is dominated by non-U.S. shipping companies.
They include six passenger airlines, four railroads, two package express carriers, two trucking companies, two vehicle leasing operators and one third-party logistics company.
Their combined revenue was $255.3 billion. In comparison, the largest single company on the Fortune 500 list, Wal-Mart Stores, had $408 billion in revenue last year.
Two companies, UPS, ranked number 43, and US Airways Group, number 222, held their places on the list last year, though revenue was down at both companies.
The largest trucking company on the list, YRC Worldwide, fell farthest in the rankings, dropping from number 293 last year to 396 as its revenue fell 40.9 percent.
More of the companies were profitable than not, with 10 of the 17 reporting net income totaling $8.7 billion. UPS had the highest profit of the bunch at $2.2 billion.
The remaining unlucky seven lost a combined $4.6 billion, with AMR, parent of American Airlines, flying $1.5 billion into the red in 2009.
However, the transportation group as a whole lagged its Fortune 500 peers in profitability. More than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, 404 businesses, made a profit.
Earnings for the total group rocketed 335 percent to $391 billion last year, the second largest increase in the corporate list's 56-year history, according to Fortune.
That astounding gain in profit was wrung largely from a 3.2 percent reduction in payroll -- 821,000 jobs -- and other spending cuts at the Fortune 500.
Fortune 500 revenue dropped 8.7 percent, its largest percentage decrease since 1983, hitting $9.8 trillion, Fortune said.
Compare the transportation group's 18.3 percent decline on average.
Even where the transportation companies reported profits, they typically were lower than in 2008. The four railroads -- Union Pacific Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, CSX and Norfolk Southern -- all reaped more than $1 billion in net income, but their profits declined anywhere from 15.6 percent at CSX to 39.7 percent at NS.
Only C.H. Robinson Worldwide managed to push its profit up, by 0.5 percent, according to the information provided by Fortune.
That points to the difficulty the transportation firms, as service companies, had matching the cost-cutting and productivity gains of other industries, including their customers.
The transportation companies, by ranking, were UPS (43), FedEx (60), Delta (84), American Airlines (120), United Airlines (140), Union Pacific (164), BNSF (167), Continental (183), US Airways (222), Southwest (229), Penske (245), CSX (259), Norfolk Southern (287), C.H. Robinson (301), YRC (396), Ryder (426) and Con-way (483).
The list, which will be in print May 3, is available online now.
Contact William B. Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org.