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Capacity of infrastructure networks

Indicator Specificationexpired Created 21 Aug 2007 Published 15 Sep 2010 Last modified 22 Mar 2016, 03:55 PM
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This content has been archived on 06 Aug 2015, reason: No more updates will be done
Indicator codes: TERM 018
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

The total length of a network does not provide a complete indication of its capacity, as this is also a function of the design of its infrastructure, its operational efficiency, the management of its assets and resources, and the efficiency with which it can be accessed. However, limits to data availability make it impossible to develop a more sophisticated indicator and total network length does provide a meaningful basis for comparing the maximum capacity of networks between different countries.
The total length of an infrastructure network (motorways, railway lines, inland waterways and pipelines) also provides a measure of the accessibility of key infrastructure to Europe's population. It also indirectly demonstrates the fragmentation of the landscape and potential emissions from the transport sector and, together with density of infrastructure (per km2), is linked to landscape and habitat fragmentation indicators, which show areas greater than 100 km2 that are not dissected by traffic corridors with a capacity of over 1 000 vehicles per day) (see TERM06).

Infrastructure is key to economic development and is one of the priorities set out in European documents, such as the Lisbon agenda (2000). Capacity shortages on railways in Europe have a negative effect on railway operation in relation to other modes of transport (European Parliament, 2007). As indicated by the EC Green Paper on "TEN-T: a policy review", climate change objectives should be placed at the centre of future TEN-T policy, while future TEN-T policy should provide a sound basis for an effective contribution to the Community's climate change objectives (European Commission, 2009).

Scientific references

  • No rationale references available

Indicator definition

An answer to the question “are we optimising the use of existing transport infrastructure capacity and moving towards a better-balanced intermodal transport system” has been attempted by referring to data available on network lengths, as described in the rationale section.

This indicator covers roads, motorways, railways (including high speed rail lines – HSR), navigable inland waterway lines (see definitions of the terms below) and pipelines. Additionally, it looks at transport infrastructure density in terms of land area (kilometres per km2) and at transport infrastructure density in terms of population (km per 1000 inhabitants).


Road: Line of communication (travelled way) using a stabilised base other than rails or air strips open to public traffic, primarily for the use of road motor vehicles running on their own wheels. Bridges, tunnels, supporting structures, junctions, crossings and interchanges are included, as are toll roads. Dedicated cycle paths are excluded.

Road network: All roads in a given area.

Motorway: Road, specially designed and built for motor traffic, which does not serve properties bordering on it, and which:

  • Is provided, except at special points or temporarily, with separate carriageways for the two directions of traffic, separated from each other, either by a dividing strip not intended for traffic, or exceptionally by other means;
  • Does not cross at level with any road, railway or tramway track, or footpath; and
  • Is specially sign-posted as a motorway and is reserved for specific categories of road motor vehicles.

Entry and exit lanes of motorways are included irrespectively of the location of the signposts. Urban motorways are also included.


Railway: Line of communication made up by rail exclusively for the use of railway vehicles. The line of communication is part of the space equipped for the execution of transport.

Railway network: All railways in a given area. This does not include stretches of road or water, even if rolling stock should be conveyed over such routes, e.g. by wagon-carrying trailers or ferries. Lines solely used for touristic purposes during the season are excluded as are railways constructed solely to serve mines, forests or other industrial or agricultural undertakings and which are not open to public traffic.

High-speed line: A line specially built to allow traffic at speeds generally equal to or greater than 250 kilometres per hour for the main segments. High-speed lines may include connecting lines, in particular junctions with town centre stations located on them, on which speeds may take account of local conditions (adapted from Directive 98/48/EC).


Navigable inland waterways

Waterway: River, canal, lake or other stretch of water, which by natural or man-made features is suitable for navigation. Waterways of a maritime character (waterways designated by the reporting country as suitable for navigation primarily by sea-going ships) are included. Waterways also include river estuaries; the boundary being that point nearest the sea where the width of the river is both less than 3 km at low water and less than 5 km at high water.

Navigable inland waterway: A stretch of water, not part of the sea, over which vessels of a carrying capacity of not less than 50 tonnes can navigate when normally loaded. This term covers both navigable rivers, lakes and canals. The length of rivers and canals is measured mid-channel. The length of lakes and lagoons is measured along the shortest navigable route between the most distant points to and from which transport operations are performed. A waterway forming a common frontier between two countries is reported by both.



Oil pipelines: Pipes for the movement, by pumping, of crude or refined liquid petroleum products. Branch lines are included, as are oil pipelines between land and drilling platforms at sea. Oil pipelines whose total length is less than 50 kilometres, or whose inside diameter is less than 15 centimetres, and oil pipelines used only for military purposes or located entirely within the site boundaries of an industrial operation, as well as oil pipelines that are entirely off-shore (i.e. located solely out in the open sea) are excluded. International oil pipelines whose total length is 50 kilometres or more are included, even if the section in the reporting country is less than 50 kilometres long. Oil pipelines consisting of two (or more) parallel pipelines are to be counted twice (or more). Only units, which actually carry out an activity during the reference period, should be considered. "Dormant" units, or those not yet having begun their activity, are excluded.

Oil pipeline network: All oil pipelines in a given area. The territory of the area in question includes that part of the seabed allocated to it under a concession.


Infrastructure networks (capacity) are measured in kilometres (km).

Infrastructure density is measured in km/1 000 km2 and km/1 000 population.

Policy context and targets

Context description

Transport infrastructure forms the arteries of the European internal market. It also contributes to social cohesion in terms of accessibility. However, infrastructure or the absence thereof, may equally produce and reinforce social inequality and fragmentation. It also contributes to a number of environmental impacts. Infrastructure construction puts pressure on the environment by destroying natural habitats and by cutting through wildlife areas, leading to fragmentation and disruption of natural behaviours and breeding territories. Additionally, the environment close to infrastructure suffers from higher noise levels, air pollution and dangers created by vehicles among other issues. The effects of infrastructure on land and nature are assessed in TERM 06 “Fragmentation”, TERM 07 “Proximity to designated nature areas” and TERM 08 “Land take”.

The European Commission has set itself the objective of offering users high-quality and safe infrastructure that includes all modes of transport and allows the optimal usage of existing capacities, by either creating new or upgrading existing infrastructure (European Commission, 2001 and 2009). Additionally, in the Reviewed Sustainable Development Strategy (European Commission, 2006), the Commission recognises that if congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution are to be tackled, demand must be shifted towards more environmentally friendly transport modes. The Strategy clearly states that the EU and Member States should take measures to improve the economic and environmental performance of all modes and enable a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport. This includes lower transport intensity through production and logistic process reengineering and behavioural change, combined with a better connection of the different transport modes.

Historically, most transport infrastructure in Europe has been developed under national policies. In order to establish a single, multimodal network that integrates European land, sea and air transport networks, the EU established the Trans-European transport network (TEN-T), enabling the Lisbon Strategy (European Council, 2000), which aimed to make the EU the most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010. A key issue identified by the Commission in relation to the implementation of the TEN-T policy is to rationalise the allocation of resources and select those projects that will provide the best value for the Community’s money. This programme also contributed to the opening of a new high speed rail network, which competes with both air and road transport, and with an increased modal shift, has even greater opportunities to reduce air transport emissions and travel (European Commission, 2009).

The European Council adopted Directive 96/48/EC of 23 July 1996, as amended by Directive 2004/50/EC of 29 April 2004, on the interoperability of the trans-European high-speed rail system to facilitate, improve and develop international rail transport services within Europe. It also requires that Member States establish a register that in part contains information on the infrastructure and rolling stock of the trans-European high-speed rail system, and which must be updated and reported annually.


One of the important targets for road infrastructure is removing bottlenecks.

In addition, a number of targets have been set in the EC paper “Towards a rail network giving priority to freight” (European Commission, 2007b), some of which relate to infrastructure development, not necessarily covered by, but relevant to this indicator, such as:

  • create a strong European rail network as part of the TEN-T over which freight transport will be more reliable and efficient;
  • undertake new measures to create a freight-oriented network;
  • increase the capacity of corridors in terms of freight length, gauge, axle load and maximum speed.


The EC Green Paper “TEN-T: A policy review” raised one more possible target, that of separating rail freight and passenger infrastructure to ensure better capacity and provide for the different needs of both services (European Commission, 2009). The revision is still in progress and the scope of the policy and targets are to be set.

The EU’s policy to promote inland waterway transport is reflected in the Integrated Action programme “NAIADES” 2006-2013. One of the objectives is to provide adequate waterway infrastructure and to develop it in a coordinated and integrated way. TEN-T programme project No. 18 is dedicated to inland waterways and its completion should finalise the current Europe wide (18 participating countries) waterway infrastructure.

Pipelines are the most efficient, economic and safe transport mode for crude oil transportation. Recently EU energy policy underwent a second strategic energy review, resulting in the Third Energy Package, agreed in May 2009 by the European Parliament. One of the five points of the EU Energy Security and Solidarity Action plan focuses on infrastructure needs and the diversification of energy supplies (DG TREN, 2008). The declaration signed in 2007 for the construction of a pipeline to bring oil from the Black Sea by 2012 is an action that is already in progress (EurActive, 2007). Future developments of the oil pipeline infrastructure should not only provide greater oil supply security for the EU, but should also be in line with the “20-20-20 initiative”, which should make the EU less dependent on oil and gas import by increasing the share of renewable energy in overall energy consumption.

Most recently, in March 2011, the European Commission published a Transport White Paper (European Commission, 2011) that includes a number of objectives and targets for transport. In particular, there are a number of objectives aimed at ‘Optimising the performance of multi-modal logistic chains, including by making greater use of more energy-efficient modes’, which will in most cases have a direct impact on transport infrastructure investment and capacity. These include:

  • 30 % of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % by 2050. This shift is to be facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors. To meet this goal will also require appropriate infrastructure to be developed.
  • Complete a European high-speed rail network by 2050. Triple the length of the existing high-speed rail network by 2030 and maintain a dense railway network in all Member States. By 2050, the majority of medium-distance passenger transport should go by rail.
  • A fully functional and EU-wide multi-modal TEN-T ‘core network’ by 2030, with a high quality and capacity network by 2050, and a corresponding set of information services.
  • By 2050, connect all core network airports to the rail network, preferably high-speed; ensure that all core seaports are sufficiently connected to the rail freight and, where possible, inland waterway systems.

Related policy documents

Specific policy question

Are we moving towards a better-balanced intermodal transport system?


Methodology for indicator calculation

Data are collected by Eurostat. Data on HRS length are collected by the International Union of Railways. More details on the methodologies used for collecting these data are available on the relevant websites (see Data Specification).

Methodology for gap filling

Capacity is defined as the maximum traffic flow (vehicle-kilometres in a given time unit) that can be carried by transport infrastructure. However, such data are not available. Therefore, the length of transport infrastructure by type (e.g. motorways, railways, navigable inland waterways and oil pipelines) is taken here as a proxy indicator for capacity of road, rail and inland waterways.

Due to various inconsistencies with road classification, road infrastructure is not provided in this indicator. The exception to this is for motorways, for which there is a clear definition available (see earlier text).

Pipelines for transport of natural gas are not included because of a lack of available data, however, information on gas pipelines serving Europe has been found in the French Institute for International Relations (Nies, 2008), where detailed information per pipeline has been collected from various sources. Another source of gas pipeline capacity data could be Platts Natural Gas (

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

External data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified. 

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Cinzia Pastorello


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
TERM 018
Version id: 1
Primary theme: Transport Transport


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Frequency of updates

This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.


DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
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