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Freight transport demand (CSI 036) - Assessment published Oct 2005

Indicator Assessment Created 25 May 2005 Published 03 Oct 2005 Last modified 12 Dec 2013, 12:04 PM
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Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary topic)

csi | transport
DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 036
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Key policy question: Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?

Key messages

Freight transport volume has grown rapidly, and has generally been strongly coupled with growth in GDP. Consequently the objective of decoupling GDP and transport growth has not been achieved. Closer inspection reveals great regional differences, with growth faster than GDP in the old Member States and slower than GDP in the new Member States. This is mainly a result of the economic restructuring in the new Member States over the past decade.

Trend in freight transport demand and GDP

Note: The decoupling indicator is calculated as the ratio of freight transport demand to GDP measured in 1995 market prices

Data source:


Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Freight transport demand has grown significantly since 1992, thereby making it increasingly difficult to limit the environmental impacts of transport. But underlying the almost parallel growth with GDP is a more complex picture. Freight transport demand has grown significantly faster than GDP in the 15 old Member States whereas the picture for the 10 new Member States is the opposite.

For the 15 old Member States, the main explanation is that the internal market is leading to some relocation of production processes, causing additional growth in transport demand over and above the steady growth in GDP. For the new Member States, the main reason is the large shift in production away from traditional relatively heavy low-value industry towards higher-value production and services. This, coupled with strong economic growth, means that freight transport growth is not keeping up with GDP growth. Both effects are temporary, but the data do not contain any indication that real decoupling (difference between GDP and transport volume growth) is taking place.

The share of alternative modes (rail and inland waterways) in freight transport has declined during the past decade. As a result, the objective outlined in the Common Transport Policy (CTP) of stabilising the shares of rail, inland waterways, short-sea shipping and oil pipelines, and shifting the balance from 2010 onwards, will not be achieved unless there is a strong reversal of the current trend.

This development can be explained by looking the type of goods transported. This plays an important role in choice of mode. Perishable and high-value goods require fast and reliable transportation - road transport is often the fastest and most reliable form available, providing much flexibility with pickup and delivery points. Agricultural products and manufactured goods are some of the most important goods transported throughout Europe. Their shares in tonne-km are also rising.

Because the transport system allows it, modern production prefers 'just-in-time' delivery of goods. Transport speed and flexibility are therefore of great importance. Despite congestion, road transport is often faster and more flexible than rail or water transport. In addition, as a result of spatial planning and infrastructure development, many destinations can only be reached by road, and combined transport is used only to a limited extent. Furthermore, the road sector is liberalised to a great extent, while the inland waterway and rail sectors have only relatively recently been opened up to broad competition. Finally the average tonne of goods carried by road travels about 110 km, a distance over which rail or inland waterways are less efficient because road transport is needed to and from the points of loading. Moreover, in using multi-modal transport for such short distances, valuable time is lost due to lack of standardisation of loading units and convenient and fast connections between inland waterways and rail. For short-sea shipping, the average tonne of goods is carried more than 1 430 km. Here, time is less an issue. The low price of shipping is probably of overriding importance.

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

Specific assessment

As part of the modal-split indicators project, Eurostat is working on methods regarding the calculation and territorial attribution of maritime freight transport. Total freight transport demand currently includes road, rail and inland navigation.

The modal split indicators are structural indicators. Any change regarding the methodology (i.e. possible inclusion of maritime transport) will be reviewed and incorporated in the core set indicator as soon as Eurostat validates the data. The (possible) inclusion of a new mode would have a dramatic effect on the modal split shares and therefore we will not publish these shares until Eurostat's finalises its work this year.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peder Gabrielsen


EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)


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