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Freight transport demand (CSI 036/TERM 013) - Assessment published Sep 2010

Indicator Assessment Created 07 Aug 2009 Published 07 Sep 2010 Last modified 12 Dec 2013, 12:04 PM
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Generic metadata


Transport Transport (Primary topic)

csi | transport indicators | rail | freight | roads | transport
DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 036
  • TERM 013
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

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

Key messages

Over the past decade freight transport volume has grown rapidly and has generally been coupled with growth in GDP. This is particularly striking in recent years when there has been a surge in freight transport activity. Consequently the objective of decoupling GDP and freight transport growth has not been achieved. Closer inspection reveals large regional differences, with the EU-12 Member States showing much faster growth since 2000 in the freight transport sector, compared to the EU-15. This is mainly a result of these countries starting from a relatively low transport level and then experiencing a shift towards high value production and service industries, which has resulted in strong transport growth.

Freight transport volumes grow alongside GDP

Note: Freight transport volumes grow alongside GDP

Data source:

EEA core set indicator 036, to be published based on Eurostat, 2009. Data downloaded from [Accessed 12 April 2010].

Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Overall in the EEA-32, freight transport demand has grown significantly since the early 1990s, thereby making it increasingly difficult to limit transport's impact on the environment. Between 1997 and 2007 the most extensive growth was in road transport with an average annual growth rate of 4.2 % in the EEA member countries. Between 1997 and 2007, rail and inland waterways freight (tkm) increased by 11 % and 10 % respectively. Different member States however display different trends. For example, between 1997 and 2007 the highest growth in freight transport has been in Ireland and Lithuania. The only Member state to show a decline in transport demand over this period was Denmark.

Road freight has seen the highest increases with Lithuania and Latvia experiencing growth of almost a factor of four between 1997-2007. In contrast Belgium and Denmark have seen a decline in road freight tonne kilometres over this period.

Rail freight has seen a much smaller increase in the EEA-32 Member States over the 1997 to 2007 period. Whilst overall there is a growth in tonne kilometres, 10 countries have seen a decline in rail freight over this period. The largest declines are seen in Ireland, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.

Inland Waterways (IWW) make up a much smaller proportion of the overall freight movement, with many countries experiencing declines or very small increases. Romania saw the greatest increase with growth of approximately 90 % between 1997 and 2007. The largest declines in IWW freight transport have been seen in Poland (2007 values are 69% of 1997 levels) and the Czech Republic (2007 values are 63 % of 1997 levels).

For the EU-15 Member States, the main explanation for tonne kilometres growing faster than 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-12 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 has led to strong freight transport growth, which has surpassed the growth in GDP.

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 expanding the infrastructure capacity. The revised guidelines have some provisions for environmental issues, namely a call on Member States to perform a 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.


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

Freight transport by mode

Note: Share of freight transport between road and rail transport mode for EU12 and EU15.

Data source:

Eurostat - Statistical Office of the European Communities. Transport demand by mode.


Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

In terms of mode share, road freight has the largest share at 78% in 2007, whereas rail and inland waterways (IWW) are 17 % and 5 % respectively, the same shares as in 2006. Since 1997, 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-kilometres 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. The average tonne of goods carried by road travels about 110 kilometres, 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 of 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. Due to methodological and data reliability problems, sea transport is frequently omitted from transport statistics, but volumes should not be underestimated. Data is available for the EU-15 and it shows that the demand for intra-European short-sea transport is roughly equivalent to the level of road transport.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

User not found: pastocin


EEA Management Plan

2009 2.10.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year in October-December (Q4)


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