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Freight transport demand - outlook from EEA

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 08 Jan 2007 Published 08 Jun 2007 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 06:59 PM
This content has been archived on 12 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated
Indicator codes: Outlook 055
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Key messages

The volume of freight transport is projected to increase at a rate of 1.7% per year, between 2005 and 2030. Forecasts predict a gradual decoupling of freight transportation activity from GDP growth, a trend which is more accentuated in the long term.
The Baseline scenario* shows important increase in freight transport by trucks - also experienced in the recent past (from 58,4% to 72,7% between 1990 and 2005) - but expected to slow down in the future. Trucks are expected to slightly enhance their predominance in the modal split (from 72,7% to 75,4 over the 2005-2030 period) at the expense of rail (from 16% to 14%) and inland navigation (from 11,4% to 9.6%).


*The EEA's baseline scenario follows a conventional definition and expands on current expectations regarding macro-economic, sectoral, technological and societal developments, as well as including those policies that have been implemented and/or adopted, which typically refer to pieces of legislation such as EU directives (e.g. on urban waste water treatment and on landfills) or political agreements (e.g. mid-term review of the common agriculture policy).

Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Freight transport activity increase in comparison to GDP growth in EU 27, 1990-2030

Note: N/A

Downloads and more info

The Baseline scenario of transportation activity, which includes details about flows of transportation between and within the EU Member-States, shows a gradual decoupling of transportation activity from GDP growth. This trend, which is more accentuated in the long term, is a combined result of productivity gains in transportation and certain saturation effects. The volume of freight transport is projected to increase at a rate of 1.7% per year, between 2005 and 2030. In comparison to past trends, the scenario includes a slowdown in the rate of increase of activity.
Transportation of goods is closely associated with economic activity and the completion of the Internal Market, as increasing specialization induces larger flows of goods. Historically, transportation of goods has grown at least as fast as GDP. However, the Baseline scenario conditions with a changing structure of the EU economy towards services combined with productivity gains in transportation bring about a gradual decoupling of freight transport from GDP growth.
The projection shows freight activity per unit of GDP declining from 0.225 tonne-km per Euro'05 of GDP in 2005 to 0.199 tonne-km per Euro'05 of GDP.

Is the share of goods transported by road being reduced relative to other transport modes?

Road transport (see Figure 2) is also dominating freight transport activity and this is projected to continue in the Baseline scenario. Transport of goods by trucks seems to offer a significant degree of flexibility which compensates for the higher cost of road transport as compared with rail. The share of rail freight transport is projected to rise only in the long term, as a result of improvement of infrastructure. While the share of road transportation of passengers is projected to decline, road freight transport activity (+1.8% pa in 2005-2030) is projected to increase and attain a share in total freight transport of 75.4% by 2030, 2.8 percentage points up from 2005 levels. This increase occurs to the detriment of both rail and inland navigation activity, which are projected to grow by +1.4% per year and +1.0% per year respectively in the period 2005-2030. By 2030 rail freight is projected to account for 15% of total activity (16% in 2005) and inland navigation for 9.6% of total activity (11.4% in 2005).

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

Definition: Freight transport activity or freight transport demand is the total volume of freight transport in tonne-km travelled. Modal split covers public trucks, rail transport and inland navigation. It should be noted that inland navigation includes both waterborne inland transport activity and domestic sea shipping. However, international short sea shipping is not included in the above category as, according to EUROSTAT energy balances, energy needs for international shipping are allocated to bunkers.

Model used: PRIMES

Ownership: European Environment Agency

Temporal coverage: 1990 - 2030

Geographical coverage: EU25: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Czech republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia



The unit used is the tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre. It includes transport by road, rail and inland waterways. Rail and inland waterways transport are based on movements on national territory, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel. Road transport is based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country.

Policy context and targets

Context description

Pan-European policy context

The large number of non binding policy instruments have been developed under fora such as Environment for Europe process, the European Council of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) and the UNECE/WTO Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (The PEP). The PEP was set up to address the key challenges to achieve more sustainable transport patterns and a closer integration of environmental and health concerns into transport policies.

EU policy context

The EU has set itself the objective to reduce the link between economic growth and freight transport demand ('decoupling') in order to achieve more sustainable transport.

Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP is a central theme in EU transport policy for reducing the negative impacts from transport: 

  • The objective of decoupling freight transport demand from GDP was first mentioned in the Transport & Environment (T&E) integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of ministers in Helsinki. Here, the expected growth in transport demand was named as an area where urgent action was needed. In the sustainable development strategy that was adopted by the European Council in Gothenburg, the objective of decoupling is set in order to reduce congestion and other negative side-effects of transport.
  • In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of reducing the link between the growth of transport and GDP.
  • In the Sixth Community Environmental Action Programme, decoupling of economic growth and transport demand is named as one of the key objectives in order to deal with climate change and to alleviate health impacts from transport in urban areas.

Shifting freight from road to water and rail is an important strategic element in the EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy ("SDS"). In the review of the T&E integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council states that the modal split should remain stable for at least the next ten years, even with further traffic growth.  In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy (CTP) "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", the Commission proposes a number of measures aimed at the modal shift.

The White Paper on the Common Transport Policy also says that common transport policy alone will not provide all the answers. It must be part of an overall strategy integrating sustainable development, to include: a) economic policy and changes in the production process that influence demand for transport; b) land-use planning policy and in particular town planning; c) social and education policy;  d) urban transport policy; e) budgetary and fiscal policy to, to link the internalisation of external, and especial environmental, costs with competition of trans-European network; f) competition policy, to ensure, in line with the objectives of high-quality public services, and in particularly in rail sector, that the opening-up of market is not harmed by the dominant  companies already present on market; g) research policy for transport in Europe.

Motorways of the sea are alternative routes which could relieve bottlenecks on land. The member States are jointly invited to establish transnational maritime links. (TEN)

The European Neighborhood Policy stressed t
hat generating more trade and tourism between the Union and its neighbours, requires efficient, multimodal and sustainable transport systems. EU should develop an Actions plan for cooperation with its neighbors to improve the physical transport networks connecting the Union with neighboring countries, to step up aviation relations with partner countries with the aim to open up markets and to co-operate on safety and security issues.  The Action Plans will also contain specific provisions to address the vulnerability of transport networks and services vis-A-vis terrorist attacks. The highest attention will be paid to enhance the security of air and maritime transport.

 EECCA policy context

EECCA Environmental Strategy recognizes the need to incorporate environmental concerns into transport policies and sets this action as one of the Strategy objectives.

Links to other policies and documents:

EU Strategy for Sust.Dev. (A Sustainable Europe for a Better World) 

WTP: White Paper on the Common Transport Policy (European transport policy for 2010: time to decide)

UNECE/WHO Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Prigramme

SDS: Environmental Partnerships in the UNECE Region: Environment Strategy for Countries of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia Strategic Framework. Fifth MInisterial Conference Environment for Europe. Kiev, Ukraine, 21-23 May 2003

The European Neighborhood Policy


Structural goals and targets

- Implement transport strategies for sustainable development (WSSD)


- ... "develop transport infrastructure further through ... networks, better traffic management  ... and intermodal approach" (ECMT, Council of Ministers, 1997)


- Maintain 35% rail modal share for freight in EU10 by 2015 (2001 White Paper)
- Increase railway  freight share from 8 to 15% by 2020 (2001 White Paper + rail industry)
- A single European railway system (2001 White Paper + rail industry)
- "...a shift in transport use from road to rail, water and public passenger transport .. [so] the share of road transport in 2010 is no greater than in 1998" (EU Sustainable Development Strategy, 2001)


- incentives for sustainable transport (EECCA Strategy)
- modernization of transportation facilities, including use of less energy intensive transport modes  (EECCA Strategy)

Efficiency targets

- Promoting demand-side management and modal shift (the PEP )

- Decouple transport growth significantly from GDP (6th EAP)
- "...a switch to more efficient and cleaner forms of transport including better organization and logistics" (6EAP)

-...emphasis on demand management" (EECCA Strategy)

Link to other policy goals and targets

- Integration of environment and health into transport policy
-"..reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector
- "..Better integration of land-use and transport planning."
- "develop transport infrastructure further through networks, better traffic management. "
- Extension of pan-European transport corridors to neighboring areas (2004 Santiago de Compostela Conference)
- TEN established by 2020 (884/2004/CE)

- 140g CO2 average passenger car fleet emissions by 2008
 120g CO2 by 2012 (EC/industry agreement)
-  Noise from transport is reduced and is no longer presents a health concern
- "introduction of road pricing" (EU Sust. Dev. Strategy, 2001)
-  "promoting measures to reflect the full environmental costs in the price of transport" (6EAP)
- Promote more balanced regional development (EU 2001 Sust. Dev. Strategy)
- Link sea, inland water and rail transport
- Improve efficiency of intermodal services (2001 White Paper on Transport)

- Develop and implement national transport strategies for sustainable development to: improve affordability, efficiency, convenience, GHG emissions, urban air quality, health (EECCA Strategy)
- Introduce vehicle and fuel standards (EECCA Strategy)

Related policy documents


Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator of the Freight transport activity is produced using the transport module of PRIMES model. The model covers the horizon from 1990 to 2030 with 5 years periods.

Overview of the PRIMES Model

PRIMES is a partial equilibrium model for the European Union energy system developed by, and maintained at, The National Technical University of Athens, E3M-Laboratory. The most recent version of the model used in the calculations covers each of the EU Member States, EU candidate countries and Neighbouring countries, uses Eurostat as the main data source, and is updated with 2000 as the base year. The PRIMES model is the result of collaborative research under a series of projects supported by the Joule programme of the Directorate General for Research of the European Commission.

The transport module of PRIMES has been developed to study mainly the penetration of new transport technologies and their effects on emissions, besides the evaluation of the energy consumption and emissions in the transport sector. The emphasis is on the use of car technologies and on the long term (2030). The model structure is kept deliberately simple as it is made to interact as demand module with supply modules (refineries, new fuel production) of PRIMES.

The transport sector distinguishes passenger transport and goods transport as separate sectors. They are further subdivided in sub-sectors according to the transport mode (road, air, etc.). At the level of the sub-sectors, the model structure defines several technology types (car technology types, for example), which correspond to the level of energy use.

The overall demand for transport (passenger kilometres, ton kilometres) is determined by income/activity growth and by the overall price of transport. The overall price of transport is determined endogenously, as a function of the modal split and of the price per mode. The split of the overall transport activity over the different modes is driven by the price per mode and by behavioural and structural parameters. The price per mode depends on the choice of technology for new investment and on past investment for each transport mode. The technologies for new investment are chosen, based on the lowest expected usage costs.

The stock of vehicles inherited from the previous period is expanded in function of the transport needs per mode. The new stock composition determines the stock for the next period and influences the aggregate price per mode.

For more information see:

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Environmental scenarios Environmental scenarios (Primary topic)

Transport Transport

freight activity | modal split | forward looking indicators | transport
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • Outlook 055
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Anita Pirc Velkavrh


EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100