Freight transport statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from October 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: October 2014.
Table 1: Modal split of inland freight transport, 2001 and 2011 (1)
(% of total inland tkm) - Source: Eurostat (tsdtr220)
Table 2: Index of inland freight transport relative to GDP, 2001–11 (1)
(index 2000 = 100) - Source: Eurostat (tsdtr230)
Table 3: Inland freight transport, 2012 - Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott), (rail_go_typeall), (ttr00007), (tps00001) and (avia_gooc) and Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport
Figure 1: National and international road transport of goods, 2012 (1)
(% based on million tkm of laden transport) - Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 2: Air freight transport, 2012 (1)
(1 000 tonnes) - Source: Eurostat (ttr00011)
Figure 3: Gross weight of seaborne goods handled in ports, 2011 (1)
(million tonnes) - Source: Eurostat (mar_go_aa)

This article presents information on freight transport in the European Union (EU), which includes the following transport modes: road, rail, air, maritime and inland waterways.

The ability to move goods safely, quickly and cost-efficiently to markets is important for international trade, national distributive trades, and economic development. The rapid increase in global trade up to the onset of the financial and economic crisis and the deepening integration of the enlarged EU, alongside a range of economic practices (including the concentration of production in fewer sites to reap economies of scale, delocalisation, and just-in-time deliveries), may explain the relatively fast growth of freight transport within the EU.

By contrast, strains on transport infrastructure (congestion and delays), coupled with constraints over technical standards, interoperability and governance issues may slow down developments within the freight transport sector.

Main statistical findings

Total inland freight transport in the EU-28 was estimated to be close to 2 100 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm) in 2012; a little over three quarters (75.5 %) of this freight total was transported over roads in 2011 (see Table 1). The share of freight that was transported inland by road was more than four times as high as the share transported by rail (18.4 %), while the remainder (6.2 %) of the freight transported in the EU-27 in 2011 was carried along inland waterways. It should be noted that this analysis refers only to inland freight transport and that considerable amounts of freight may be transported by maritime freight services and for some product groups by air transport or by pipelines.

All freight transport within Cyprus and Malta was by road due to the absence of any rail or inland waterway infrastructure; this was also the case in Iceland. Road transport accounted for more than nine tenths of inland freight transport in Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg in 2011, as it did in Liechtenstein (2010 data) and Turkey (2007 data). By contrast, road transport accounted for less than half of inland freight transport in Latvia and Estonia where a majority of inland freight was transported by rail. As well as Latvia and Estonia, more than one third of inland freight was carried by rail in Lithuania, Sweden and Austria; this was also the case in Switzerland.

More than one tenth of total inland freight was transported on the inland waterways of Germany, Bulgaria and Belgium in 2011, with this share increasing to just over one fifth in Romania and over one third of the total in the Netherlands.

The relative importance of road freight transport, as a share of total inland freight transport, rose by 0.7 percentage points in the EU-27 between 2001 and 2011, while the share carried by rail fell by 0.4 points and that by inland waterways by 0.2 points. Particularly large increases in the share of freight transported by road were recorded for Slovakia (an increase of 23.0 percentage points), Poland (17.8 points), Estonia (17.3 points) and Bulgaria (13.4 points). In 11 Members States the share of inland freight that was transported by road fell between 2001 and 2011, most notably in Belgium (-12.0 percentage points) and Austria (-9.9 points). In most of the EU Member States the change in the share of freight transported by road was accompanied by a similar and opposite change in the share transported by rail, although Romania and Bulgaria, and to a lesser extent Belgium, recorded substantial increases in their shares of inland freight transported by inland waterways.

Inland freight transport grew at a slower pace in the EU-27 than constant price gross domestic product (GDP) during the period from 2001 to 2011; this can be seen from the index shown in Table 2, as the index value in 2011 was 2.4 % lower than in 2001. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this was in large part due to developments in 2008 and 2009 when the index level fell sharply during the financial and economic crisis. In fact, between 2004 and 2008 the index was above 100 %, indicating that inland freight transport had increased more rapidly than GDP since 2000 (the reference period for the index).

Comparing with the situation in 2001, Slovenia and Lithuania recorded the greatest increase in inland freight transport relative to GDP, with their respective indices more than 50 % higher in 2011. By contrast, the ratio of inland freight transport to GDP fell at its most rapid pace between 2001 and 2011 in Cyprus, Belgium and Ireland, in each case down by more than one third.

Road freight

Relative to population size, road freight transport was highest among the EU Member States in Luxembourg, where over 17 000 tonne-kilometres of freight per inhabitant were transported by road in 2012 — this was around 2.2 times the next highest level recorded in Lithuania. In both cases, the vast majority of this road freight transportation was international, performed by vehicles registered in each of these EU Member States. Indeed, it is important to note that road freight statistics are generally based on movements in the registration country or abroad, of vehicles registered in the reporting country (‘nationality principle’).

Slightly less than two thirds of the goods transported on the EU-28’s roads in 2012 related to the transportation of goods on national road networks. However, this proportion varied considerably between the EU Member States — see Figure 1. The highest proportions of national road freight transport were in Cyprus (98.1 %) and the United Kingdom (93.9 % in 2010), while the relative importance of national freight was much lower in Slovakia (17.1 %), Slovenia (11.6 %), Lithuania (10.4 %) and Luxembourg (7.4 % in 2011). For most freight hauliers registered in the EU, international road freight transport mostly relates to exchanges with other EU Member States (intra-EU partners).

Air freight

About 14.4 million tonnes of air freight (both national and international) was carried through airports within the EU-28 in 2012 — see Figure 2. Airports in Germany dealt with 4.2 million tonnes of air freight, considerably more than in any other EU Member State — the United Kingdom had the second highest amount of air freight at 2.4 million tonnes. Some of the smaller EU Member States are relatively specialised in air freight, notably all of the Benelux countries, and in particular, Luxembourg (which ranked as the seventh largest air freight transporter among the EU-28 Member States).

Maritime freight

Maritime ports in the EU-28 handled 3 728 million tonnes of seaborne goods in 2011, which marked an increase of 1.6 % when compared with 2010, following an increase of 5.8 % the previous year. Sea ports in the United Kingdom and Italy handled 500 million tonnes or more of goods in 2011, while in the Netherlands the level was slightly lower — see Figure 3. These three EU Member States collectively handled more than two fifths (40.5 %) of EU-28 seaborne freight. Relative to population size, the quantity of goods handled in the maritime ports of Estonia, Latvia, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium and Sweden was high, as it was to a lesser extent in Denmark, Lithuania, Malta and Greece; this ratio was particularly high in Norway.

Data sources and availability

The development of freight transport statistics is based upon a raft of framework legislation and implementing legislation, generally organised according to the mode of transport under consideration.

Information on inland freight transport is available with an annual frequency and the time series generally begin in the early 1990s. The majority of inland freight transport statistics are based on movements in each reporting country, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel involved (the ‘territoriality principle’). For this reason, the measure of tonne-kilometres (tkm, in other words, one tonne of goods travelling a distance of one kilometre) is generally considered as a more reliable measure, as the use of tonnes entails a higher risk of double-counting, particularly for international transport. The methodology used across the EU Member States is not completely harmonised: for example, road freight statistics are generally based on all movements (in the registration country or abroad) of vehicles registered in the reporting country (the ‘nationality principle’). Therefore, the statistics presented, especially those for the smallest reporting countries, may be somewhat unrepresentative.

The modal split of inland freight transport is based on transportation by road, rail and inland waterways, and therefore excludes air, maritime and pipeline transport. It measures the share of each transport mode in total inland freight transport and is expressed in tonne-kilometres.

The level of inland freight transport (measured in tonne-kilometres) may also be expressed in relation to GDP; within this article the indicator is presented based on GDP in constant prices for the reference year 2000, with the series converted into an index with a base of 2000 = 100. This indicator provides information on the relationship between the demand for freight transport and the size of the economy and allows the intensity of freight transport demand to be monitored relative to economic developments.

Goods loaded are those goods placed on a road vehicle, a railway vehicle or a merchant ship for dispatch by road, rail or sea. The weight of goods transported by rail and inland waterways is the gross-gross weight. This includes the total weight of the goods, all packaging, and the tare weight of the container, swap-body and pallets containing goods; in the case of rail freight transport, it also includes road goods vehicles that are carried by rail. By contrast, the weight measured for maritime and road freight transport is the gross weight (in other words, excluding the tare weight).

Road freight

Road freight transport statistics are collected under the framework provided by Regulation 1172/98 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road, substantially amended several times, and recast as Regulation 70/2012. The data are based on sample surveys carried out in the reporting countries and record the transport of goods by road, as undertaken by vehicles registered in each of the EU Member States. It is important to note that almost all of the EU Member States apply a cut-off point for carrying capacity under which vehicles are not surveyed; this should not be greater than 3.5 tonnes carrying capacity, or 6 tonnes in terms of gross vehicle weight; some of the EU Member States also apply a limit on the age of the vehicles surveyed.

Rail freight

Rail freight data are collected under the framework provided by Regulation 91/2003 on rail transport statistics. The data are collected for a quarterly frequency (usually limited to larger enterprises) and for an annual frequency (covering enterprises of all sizes). Rail freight data are not available for Malta and Cyprus (or Iceland) as they do not have a railway infrastructure. Rail statistics are also collected every five years in relation to a regional analysis (NUTS level 2).

Aside from the mandatory collection of data based on legal acts, Eurostat also collects rail transport statistics through a voluntary data collection exercise. The questionnaire used for this exercise provides information in relation to railway transport infrastructures, equipment, enterprises, traffic and train movements.

Maritime freight

The legal framework for the collection of statistics on maritime freight transport is Directive 2009/42/EC on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods and passengers by sea (Recast). Maritime transport data are available for most EU Member States from 2001 onwards, although some countries have provided data back to 1997. Maritime freight statistics are not transmitted to Eurostat by the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia as they have no maritime ports.

Inland waterways freight

The legal framework for the collection of statistics on inland waterway freight transport is Regulation 1365/2006 on statistics of goods transported by inland waterways. Data on inland waterways are only required for those EU Member States with an annual quantity of goods transported that exceeds one million tonnes, namely: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom; Croatia also provides data. Data collection is based on an exhaustive survey of all inland waterway undertakings for all goods that are loaded or unloaded. In the case of transit, some countries make use of sampling methods in order to estimate the quantity of goods.

Air freight

The legal framework for air transport statistics is provided by Regulation 437/2003 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of passengers, freight and mail by air. Air freight statistics are collected for freight and mail loaded and unloaded in relation to commercial air flights. The information is broken down to cover national and international freight transport.

Air transport statistics are collected at the airport level by the EU Member States, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and candidate countries. Annual data are available for most of the EU Member States for the period from 2003 onwards, while some countries have provided data back to 1993. Air freight statistics are also collected for a monthly and a quarterly frequency and with a regional analysis (NUTS level 2).


One of the main challenges identified by the 2001 White paper, titled ‘European transport policy for 2010: time to decide’ (COM(2001) 370 final) was to address the imbalance in the development of different transport modes. A mid-term review of the White paper, titled ‘Keep Europe moving — sustainable mobility for our continent’ (COM(2006) 314 final) made a number of suggestions for new policy developments, which have been subsequently expanded upon in the form of a series of European Commission Communications, these include:

As the 10-year period covered by the White paper drew to an end, the European Commission adopted a Communication in mid-2009 titled ‘A sustainable future for transport: towards an integrated, technology-led and user friendly system’ (COM(2009) 279 final). Following on from this, in March 2011 the European Commission adopted a White paper titled ‘Roadmap to a single European transport area — towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011) 144 final). This comprehensive strategy contains a roadmap of 40 specific initiatives for the next decade to build a competitive transport system that aims to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment.

In the transport introduced article more information is available on the White paper, as well as the European Commission’s proposals for a new EU transport infrastructure policy.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Statistical books

Statistics in Focus

Main tables

Regional transport statistics (t_tran_r)
Maritime transport of freight, by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00076)
Air transport of freight, by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00078)
Transport, volume and modal split (t_tran_hv)
Volume of freight transport relative to GDP (tsdtr230)
Modal split of freight transport (tsdtr220)
Railway transport (t_rail)
Goods transport by rail (ttr00006)
Road transport (t_road)
Goods transport by road (ttr00005)
Inland waterways transport (t_iww)
Goods transport by inland waterways (ttr00007)
Maritime transport (t_mar)
Sea transport of goods (ttr00009)
Air transport (t_avia)
Air transport of goods (ttr00011)


Regional transport statistics (tran_r)
Transport, volume and modal split (tran_hv)
Railway transport (rail)
Road transport (road)
Inland waterways transport (iww)
Oil pipeline transport (pipe)
Maritime transport (mar)
Air transport (avia)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Reference manuals

ESMS metadata files

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links