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Freight transport demand (CSI 036) - Assessment published Dec 2008

Indicator Assessment Created 12 Dec 2008 Published 22 Dec 2008 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, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, 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 seen as 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 EU-15 Member States and slower than GDP in the EU-10 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 the early 1990s, thereby making it increasingly difficult to limit transport's impacts on the environment. However, the almost parallel growth with GDP is a more complex issue. Freight transport demand has grown significantly faster than GDP in the EU-15 Member States, yet trends tend to be opposite in the EU-10 Member States.

For the EU-15 Member States, the main explanation demand overtaking GDP 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 EU-10 Member States, there has been a 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.

Development of the Trans-European Networks under the TEN-T programme may facilitate further growth in freight volume due to the focus on relieving bottlenecks and expansion of infrastructure capacity. The revised guidelines have some provisions for environmental issues, namely a call on Member States to perform Strategic Environmental Assessment of national transport programmes and a requirement that funding for TEN-T projects be conditional on compliance with EU environmental legislation. However, environmental concerns are secondary for the selection of projects and the overall environmental impacts have not been assessed.

Freight volumes have increased in the EEA member countries (data for Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Malta and Romania are missing) over the past couple of decades. The most extensive growth was in road transport with an average annual growth rate of 3.8 % in the EEA member countries. Between 1995 and 2005 road and rail freight (tkm) increased by 38 % and 8 %, respectively.

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

Specific assessment

In terms of mode share, road freight has the largest share at 78 % in 2005, whereas rail and inland waterways are 17 % and 5 % respectively. Since 1995, the share of both rail and inland waterways freight has declined gradually. As a result, the objective outlined in the Common Transport Policy (CTP) of stabilising the mode 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 at 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 so far 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.

However, in terms of all freight transport volumes, sea shipping dominates when international sea transport is also included. The lack of information about sea transport is due to methodological and data reliability problems frequently omitted from transport statistics, but volumes should not be underestimated. The demand for intra-European short-sea transport is roughly on the level of road transport in the EU-15, for which data is available.

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