Railway freight transport statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from December 2013. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article takes a look at recent statistics on rail freight transport in the European Union (EU). The total performance in the EU-28 was estimated at around 408 billion tonne-kilometres in 2012, a decrease of 3.6 % compared with 2011. This shows how difficult is the recovery of rail freight transport following the economic crisis (which brought to an end a sustained period of growth over recent years).

Figure 1: Rail transport of goods by country in 2012 - in billion tkm Eurostat (rail_go_typeall)

Main statistical findings

Significant decrease in rail freight transport performance for 2012, signs of recovery for 2013

The decline in transport performance between 2011 and 2012 could be noticed in a large majority of the Member States: the main exception was Portugal, with an increase of 4.3 % of the total transport performance.

Looking at the development by quarter, the downturn is well spread over the year. The quarterly growths were -2.7 %, -3.5 %, -3.4 % and -3.5 % respectively, compared with the same quarters of 2011. 

In absolute terms, Poland recorded the largest decrease (-4.8 billion tonne-kilometres between 2011 and 2012). Nevertheless, this country recorded the second highest rail transport performance in Europe, with 49 billion tonne-kilometres in 2012. Two other countries reported absolute decreases of more than 1.5 billion tonne-kilometres over the same period, namely Germany (-3.3) and France (-1.7).

The share of international transport in the various countries is strongly linked to their geographical position within Europe. For the EU-28 as a whole, the share of international transport could be estimated at around 40 % in 2012, remaining stable over recent years.

Different patterns at country level for rail freight transport performance

Figure 2: The development of rail transport - change between 2011 and 2012 - in million tkm Eurostat (rail_go_typeall)
Table 1: Evolution of total freight transport by rail - change between 2011 - 2012 - in million tkm and in % Eurostat (rail_go_typeall)
Table 2: Quarterly evolution of total freight transport by railways - in million tkm Eurostat (rail_go_quartal)

Despite the general decreasing trend, the patterns at national level show substantial differences among countries. Of the 28 reporting countries for which data are available, 6 countries recorded an increase in freight transport performance between 2011 and 2012.

The highest increase was recorded by Portugal (+4.3 %), followed by Italy (+2.3 %) and the United Kingdom (+2.2 %). At the other end of the scale, the largest decrease between 2011 and 2012 was recorded in Greece (-19.6 %), followed by Estonia (-18.2 %) and Ireland (-13.5 %).

In absolute terms, the United Kingdom recorded the largest rise, 470 million tonne-kilometres, ahead of Italy and Latvia, both increasing by 457 million tonne-kilometres. In contrast, Poland, Germany and France registered the highest absolute falls among the reporting countries.

Focusing on the share of international transport, the geographical location of the countries plays a key role. Countries registering the highest share of international transport are located in key corridors within the European market. In the Baltic States of Latvia and Estonia, situated at the border between Europe and Russia, international transport accounted for 90 % and 87 % respectively of the total transport performance in 2012.

The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, also strategically situated in the heart of the European market, registered shares of 85 %, 87 % (2011 data) and 70 % (2011 data) respectively. The key import harbours of Rotterdam and Antwerp, with important sea/rail transfers of goods dispatched within the European Union, strongly influence these figures.

In contrast, countries with specific geographical characteristics (at the periphery of the European Union or islands) recorded a low share of international transport by rail. Small shares are observed in the United Kingdom (2 %) and in Portugal (15 %). For such countries, the preferred mode for international freight transport remains the maritime transport, the goods being delivered at the nearest harbour to the point of their destination and then being forwarded in the country mainly by road, but also by rail (accounted as national transport). Turkey also recorded a low percentage (7 %) which may also be linked to its peripheral position.

Year-to-year development of quarterly transport differs significantly across countries

Assessing in details the development of rail transport, it is interesting to examine closely the evolution of quarterly figures (Table 2). While the decrease is equally spread over the year at EU-28 level, the picture looks differently when drilling down at country level, with major disparities across countries in the development of freight transport performance.

While most countries recorded year-to-year decreases for all quarters of 2012, various exceptions can be underlined. Italy, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom were the only Member States registering rises for all quarters of 2012 compared to the corresponding quarters of 2011. For Czech Republic and Latvia, freight transport performance increased for the first three quarters of 2012, but for both of them, a significant decrease took place during the last quarter of the year.

Based on the figures available for the first half of 2013, Spain registered the highest increase (+11.1 % between the first six months of 2012 and the corresponding period of 2013), ahead of Hungary (+ 7.7 %). France (+3.3 %) and Finland (+0.2 %) were the only other reporting countries showing positive year-to-year rises for the first semester of 2013.

Data sources and availability

Data availability

The figures presented in this article have been extracted from the Eurostat rail transport database on the 9th December 2013. They include data on national, international and transit transport of the Member States, collected according to the current Regulation 91/2003 (that has replaced the Council Directive 80/1177/EEC since 2003).

The following table presents some characteristics of data availability:

Country characteristics of data availability (see list of country codes)

  • IE - Irish rail ceased international freight traffic in 2004.
  • FR - Quarterly data (Table 2) include all railway undertakings (under detailed and simplified reporting).
  • CY, MT - No railway transport.


The various elements present data collected under the detailed and simplified reporting systems. Simplified reporting is an alternative to normal detailed reporting for undertakings for which the annual total performance of freight transport is less than 500 million tonne-kilometres.

Railway lines in Liechtenstein are operated by ÖBB (Austria) and statistics are reported by Austrian authorities under simplified reporting.

Quarterly figures are only collected under detailed reporting. For CZ, DE, EE, IE, EL, HR, LV, LT, FI, SE and UK, detailed reporting covers all undertakings, so quarterly aggregates and annual data are comparable.

Figure 1, Figure 2 and Table 1 combine both simplified and detailed reporting statistics while Table 2 is based on detailed reporting only (quarterly data). Moreover, detailed reporting in Figure 1, Figure 2 and Table 1 is based on annual figures while it is based on quarterly figures in Table 2.


: not available

- not applicable

0 actual zero or very negligible transport

c confidential


Statistics on national, international and transit transport by rail are collected according to the current Regulation 91/2003 (that has replaced the Council Directive 80/1177/EEC since 2003).

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Railway transport (t_rail)
Goods transport by rail (ttr00006)


Railway transport (rail)
Railway transport measurement - Goods (rail_go)

Dedicated section

Other information

  • Regulation 91/2003 of 16 December 2002 on rail transport statistics
  • Directive 80/1177/EEC of 4 December 1980 on statistical returns in respect of carriage of goods by rail, as part of regional statistics

See also