Freight transport demand
Between 2010 and 2011, freight transport volumes in the EU-28 (excl. Croatia) remained unchanged, approximately 8 % below the peak volumes experienced in 2007. However, the modal share changed slightly in favour of rail transport, the only mode to experience an increase in tkm between 2010 and 2011. Still, road transport dominates land freight transport at 76 %, followed by rail (18 %) and inland waterways (6 %). Fuel consumption data for 2012 suggests that overall freight transport volumes experienced another dip, falling back approximately to 2009 levels.
In the EU-13, land freight transport grew by 72 % between 2001 and 2011, with tkm more than doubling in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia between 2001 and 2011. In contrast, demand in the EU-15 was 2 % lower in 2011 than in 2001. Remarkably, land tkm per capita is now slightly greater in Poland than in Germany and tkm per capita for the EU-13 is greater than for the EU-15.
Land freight transport growth in the non-EU EEA Member States has been higher than the EU-28 average at 33 % compared to 11 % (2001-2011). In terms of modal split, Norway’s rail share is around the EU-28 average, while Turkey’s is significantly lower at around 5 %. However, rail freight in Turkey has increased considerably, by 51 % between 2001 and 2011. In Iceland, all freight transport is by road. By contrast, in Switzerland 54 % is by road compared to 46 % by rail.
Is freight transport demand being decoupled from economic growth?
Freight transport demand by road, rail, ship and air within the EU-28 showed an upward trend throughout the 1990s and early 2000s up to the onset of the recession, growing by 20 % between 2000 and 2007. Between 2007 and 2009, freight volumes fell back to levels previously seen in mid-2003. Between 2009 and 2011, they grew again, yet total tkm in 2011 were still around 8 % lower than in 2007. The estimate for 2012, based on fuel consumption data and latest road and rail data as a proxy, suggests that freight transport demand may have fallen again in 2012. Growth in land freight transport demand (road, rail and inland waterways) in each of the four non-EU EEA Member States was above 20 %, significantly exceeding the EU-28 average of 12 %.
Road haulage accounted for 76 % of total freight movements by road, rail and inland waterways within the EU-28 in 2011. Total road freight volumes in 2011 were below their pre-recession peak in 2007 but still 15 % higher than in 2000. Road freight demand varies across different EU Member States. Road freight transportation fell by around 2.3 % in the EU-15 but grew by around 2.1 % in the EU-13 between 2010 and 2011. For the EU-15, road freight demand differs widely depending on the Member State. For example, a 30 % decline was recorded in Greece between 2010 and 2011, while volumes in Germany grew by 3.4 %.
In the EU-13, Bulgaria (9 %), Latvia (15 %) and Lithuania (11 %) show particularly high growth rates. In 2010 Poland replaced Spain as the country with the second largest road freight volumes after Germany.
In the non-EU EEA Member States the shares of road and rail transport freight transport demand are varied; inland waterways do not play any role. Switzerland has high rail share (46 %) while in Iceland all freight transport is by road. Rail shares in Turkey and Norway are 5 % and 16 %, respectively.
Rail freight volumes in the EU-28 remained fairly stable during the 1990s but grew roughly in line with overall freight volumes between 2002 and 2007. Most of this growth occurred in the EU-15, which saw a 19 % increase. All EEA member countries experienced steep declines during the economic recession; in 2009, overall rail freight volumes were almost 20 % lower than during the peak in 2007. Between 2009 and 2011, volumes recovered. In 2011, rail freight volumes were only 6 % lower than in 2007. In fact, rail is the only mode that has experienced an increase in tkm between 2010 and 2011.
Maritime freight transport makes up 38 % of the total freight transport demand in EU-28 countries (excl. Croatia; DG MOVE, 2013). The modal share has remained fairly stable at that level since 1995, meaning that growth in demand for maritime transport has been broadly in line with overall freight transport growth rates. Maritime transport peaked in 2007, but declined in the following two years due to the recession. Volumes increased again in 2010 and remained broadly unchanged in 2011 at around 8 % below the 2007 peak.
Is the share of goods transported by road being reduced relative to other transport modes?
Two decades ago, the share of rail freight transport in the EU-13 was very high, exceeding the road freight share. However, the rail freight share of the road/rail total has been in decline since the 1990s falling to 24 % in 2009.
In 2010-2011, there appears to have been a slight recovery with the EU-13 rail freight share up to 26 %. The rail freight share in the EU-13 thus still remains significantly higher than in the EU-15 where it increased from 15 % to 17 % between 2009 and 2011. Over the longer term, the share of rail freight has remained fairly stable in the EU-15.
Indicator specification and metadata
Freight transport demand is defined as the amount of inland tonne-kilometre travelled every year in the EEA33. According to the latest metadata Inland freight transport includes transport by road, rail, inland waterways, air and maritime: rail and inland waterways transport are based on movements on national territory ('territoriality principle'), regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel; road transport is based on all movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country.
The ratio of annual growth of inland freight transport to GDP, measured in 2005 prices, determines the amount of coupling between GDP and transport. The decoupling indicator, is defined as unity minus the coupling ratio. data index = 2000.
The modal split of freight transport is defined as the percentage share of modes (road and rail) to total inland transport. It includes transport by road, rail and inland waterways.
The unit used to express freight transport volume is tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.
GDP is Gross Domestic Product express in constant euro, indexed to the year 2005.
Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100).
The modal split share for freight transport is shown as a percentage (%).
Policy context and targets
The EU set itself the objective of reducing the link between economic growth and freight transport demand ('decoupling') in order to create a more sustainable transport network. Reducing the link between transport growth and GDP is a central theme in EU transport policy to minimise the negative impacts of transport:
- The objective of decoupling freight transport demand from GDP was first mentioned in the Transport and Environment integration strategy that was adopted by the Council of ministers in Helsinki (European Council, 1999). 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 (European Commission, 2001a): “A sustainable transport policy should tackle rising volumes of traffic and levels of congestion, noise and pollution. Action is needed to bring about a significant decoupling of transport growth and GDP growth, in particular by a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport”.
- 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 in 2001 (European Commission, 2001a).
- In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy "European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide", (European Commission, 2001b) the Commission outlined concerns for curbing the demand for transport, which included the fact that economic growth will almost automatically generate greater needs for mobility, therefore increasing demand for goods services and for passengers. The objective of breaking the link between economic growth and transport growth was therefore considered as the basis for the White Paper for the next decade. Thus, a number of measures were proposed within the White Paper aimed at achieving mode shift and decoupling from GDP.
- In the review of the Transport and Environment integration strategy in 2001 and 2002, the Council reaffirmed the objective of reducing the link between the growth of transport and GDP (European Council, 2002a and 2002b). The review also stated that the modal split should remain stable for at least the following ten years, even with further traffic growth.
- 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.
- The European Commission's White Paper on transport published in 2011, " Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area – Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system" acts as a framework to guide future policy developments in the transport sector over the next decade. The White Paper sets out 10 goals for a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. These goals serve as benchmarks for achieving the target of a 60 % reduction in GHG emissions from transport by 2050 target (from 1990 levels).
- Decouple transport growth significantly from growth in GDP in order to reduce congestion and other negative side effects of transport;
In the EU, a total of 30 % of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % should shift by 2050, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors
Related policy documents
A sustainable future for transport
In 2001, the Commission issued a White Paper setting an agenda for the European transport policy throughout 2010. This programme was updated in the mid-term review of 2006. Approaching the end of the 10-year period, it is time to look further ahead and prepare the ground for later policy developments.
COM (2001) 264 final
A sustainable Europe for a better world: A European Union strategy for sustainable development. Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament. COM (2001) 264 final.
COM (2001) 370 final. European transport policy for 2010.
WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decideCOM (2001) 370 final
Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent
European Commission, 2006. Keep Europe Moving: Sustainable Mobility for our Continent. Mid-term review of the EC’s 2001 Transport White Paper.
Sixth Environment Action Programme
DECISION No 1600/2002/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme
Transport White paper 2011
Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area - Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system
WHITE PAPER European transport policy for 2010: time to decide
The need for integration of transport in sustainable development
Methodology for indicator calculation
To measure the decoupling of freight transport demand from economic growth, the volume of freight transport relative to GDP (i.e. the intensity) is calculated. Separate trends for its two components are shown for the EEA33. The annual tkm growth rate is therefore compared with the annual GDP growth rate. Relative decoupling occurs when freight transport demand grows at a rate below that of GDP. Absolute decoupling occurs when freight transport demand falls and GDP continues to rise or remains constant. If demand and GDP both fall, they remain coupled.
The unit is the tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.
Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100). The ratio of the former to the latter is indexed on the previous year (i.e. annual decoupling/intensity changes) in order to be able to observe changes in the annual intensity of freight transport demand relative to economic growth.
A detailed description of concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in (Found in RAMON, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/ramon) .
Methodology for gap filling
no gap filling
No methodology references available.
Data sets uncertainty
Population evolution (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport statistics - freight (Eurostat)
provided by Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat)
Transport (Primary topic)
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
- CSI 036
- TERM 013
Contacts and ownership
EEA Contact InfoCinzia Pastorello
EEA Management Plan2013 2.9.2 (note: EEA internal system)
Frequency of updates
- 18 Jan 2011 - Freight transport demand
- 07 Sep 2010 - Freight transport demand
- 21 Apr 2009 - Freight transport demand
- 22 Dec 2008 - Freight transport demand
- 28 Jun 2006 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 03 Oct 2005 - Freight transport demand
- 28 Apr 2005 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 28 Mar 2004 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 28 Oct 2003 - Freight transport demand by mode and group of goods
- 01 Jun 2001 - Freight transport demand
- 01 Jun 2001 - Freight transport
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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