Indicator Assessment

Capacity of infrastructure networks

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-177-en
  Also known as: TERM 018
Published 01 Dec 2016 Last modified 11 May 2021
19 min read
This page was archived on 16 Aug 2017 with reason: No more updates will be done
  • The total length of motorways in the EEA-33 increased by 19 % between 2004 and 2014. Over the same period, data show a 1 % increase in the total length of both inland waterways and pipelines, while the total length of railway track increased by less than 1 %.
  • In the EEA-33, the total length of motorways increased by 77 % between 1990 and 2014. This compared with increases of 16 % for inland waterways and 19 % for pipelines. The total length of railways decreased by 9 % over the same time period.
  • Infrastructure length is only a proxy measure for capacity, but the steady decrease in the length of conventional rail infrastructure between 1990 and today indicates a corresponding reduction in capacity.  
  • The full extent of the increase in road transport capacity on motorways may be understated, as the total length of motorways may have increased even more than shown because additional lanes are not counted (see the Indicator specification). In contrast, the railway figures give total track length, not length by route.
  • Increasing infrastructure capacity is not always necessary to cope with capacity and congestion problems. Optimisation of the capacity of the existing infrastructure through interconnectivity, interoperability and intermodality still has much potential throughout Europe. In addition, policies to optimise network usage patterns, such as road pricing, have yet to be fully exploited. The application of these could be environmentally and socially beneficial compared with the construction of new infrastructure.
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Length of land transport infrastructure

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Length of high speed rail line infrastructure in Europe

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Utilisation of rail infrastructure for passenger and freight transport

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Infrastructure density and accessibility by country

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 Infrastructure networks

The design, construction and use of road, rail and waterborne transport infrastructure alters the quality and connectivity of habitats to the movement of plants and animals between habitat patches. The development and functioning of the transport infrastructure has been linked in part to the failure of the EU to meet its target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, and is seen as a barrier to achieving the goals of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

Between 2004 and 2014, the total length of the motorway network in the EEA-33 that was included in the analysis increased by 19 %. The strongest absolute growth in kilometres is in Spain, which accounts for 32 % of the total additional kilometres built. The combined growth in France, Hungary, Poland and Spain account for 55 % of the total additional kilometres built in this period. Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Romania and Norway had the largest percentage increase in motorway length between 2004 and 2014, more than doubling their motorway length.

The density of the motorway network is closely related to population density and the degree of urbanisation. The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg had the highest motorway network densities in 2014 at over 59 km/1000 km2, 58 km/1000 km2 and 71 km/1000 km2 respectively. These three countries also have some of the highest population densities of all the countries with motorway infrastructure. 

As shown in Figure 1, the length of railway lines in the EEA-33 increased by less than 1 % between 2004 and 2014. This is mainly because of a 2 % increase in the EU-15  and a 3 % reduction in the EU-13. Approximately 54 % of railway lines are electrified in the EEA-33 countries for which data was provided. The total length of electrified railway tracks in the EU-15 increased by 7 % between 2004 and 2014, compared with the increase of less than 1 % in the EU-13. The length of the EU’s high speed rail (HSR) network has almost doubled over the past decade. In 2014, the network length was more than 7 300 kilometres – an increase of around 72 % since 2004. Figure 3 shows rail infrastructure utilisation in terms of total freight traffic per kilometre, and passengers carried per kilometre in 2014. Utilisation of rail for passenger transport was higher in the EU-15 (1.6 M passenger-km (pkm) per km of railway on average) than in the  to the EU-13 (0.4 M pkm per km of railway). Conversely, utilisation of rail for freight purposes was higher in the EU-13 (1.3 Mt-km per km railway on average) than in the EU-15 (1.1 Mt-km per km railway).

In the EEA-33, data on inland waterways show an increase in network length of 1 % between 2004 and 2014. There may, however, be data quality issues as in several Member States there are considerable jumps in the data, which suggest that different counting methodologies may have been used in different years for a single country (for this reason data from Latvia have been excluded).

Oil pipeline infrastructure in the EEA-33 increased by 1 % between 2004 and 2014 (data for Norway and Greece have been excluded from the analysis due to a methodological change to the data during the time series)In Eastern Europe in particular, pipeline infrastructure increased over the same period. Examples include the trans-European gas pipeline infrastructure across 38 European countries (EEA-32 plus  Belarus, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine and West Russia), which exceeds 436 000 kilometres (Carvalho et. al, 2009).

Infrastructure density

Infrastructure density, measured as the length of infrastructure per unit land area, is a proxy indicator for a country’s transport capacity (see Table 1), but is to some extent correlated with geographical characteristics. Densely populated small countries (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) have high infrastructure densities, while the Scandinavian countries and most new Member States have relatively low infrastructure densities. The density of infrastructure is also a proxy-indicator for accessibility, since it provides a measure of travel distances to transport networks.

Network extension

In October 2013, the European Commission published maps that show the nine major corridors that will act as a backbone for transportation in Europe (EC, 2013). To match the level of ambition, EU financing for transport infrastructure will be tripled to  EUR 26 billion for the 2014 to 2020 period. The new infrastructure policy, which was finalised in January 2014, will transform the existing patchwork of European roads, railways, airports and canals into a unified trans-European transport network (TEN-T).

The new policy establishes, for the first time, a core transport network built on nine major corridors: two north-south corridors, three east-west corridors and four diagonal corridors. It will transform east-west connections, remove bottlenecks, upgrade infrastructure and streamline cross-border transport operations for passengers and businesses throughout the EU. The work plans for the core network corridors were put in place in June 2015 (EC, 2015) and established the basis for action up to 2030. The new core network will:

  • connect 94 major European ports with rail and road links,
  • connect 38 key airports with rail connections into major cities,
  • upgrade 15 000 km of railway track to high speed,
  • set up 35 cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator covers roads, motorways, railways (including high speed rail lines (HSR)), navigable inland waterway lines (see definitions of the terms below) and pipelines. Additionally, it looks at transport infrastructure density in terms of land area (km per km2) and at transport infrastructure density in terms of population (km per 1000 inhabitants).


Road: Line of communication (travelled way) using a stabilised base other than rails or air strips open to public traffic, primarily for the use of road motor vehicles running on their own wheels. Bridges, tunnels, supporting structures, junctions, crossings and interchanges are included, as are toll roads. Dedicated cycle paths are excluded.

Road network: All roads in a given area.

Motorway: Road that is specially designed and built for motor traffic, which does not serve properties bordering on it, and which:

  • is provided, except at special points or temporarily, with separate carriageways for the two directions of traffic, separated from each other, either by a dividing strip not intended for traffic, or exceptionally by other means;
  • does not cross at level with any road, railway or tramway track, or footpath; and
  • is specially sign-posted as a motorway and is reserved for specific categories of road motor vehicles.


Entry and exit lanes of motorways are included irrespective of the location of the signposts. Urban motorways are also included.


Railway: Line of communication made up of rail, exclusively for the use of railway vehicles. The line of communication is part of the space equipped for the execution of transport.

Railway network: All railways in a given area. This does not include stretches of road or water, even if rolling stock should be conveyed over such routes, e.g. by wagon-carrying trailers or ferries. Lines solely used for touristic purposes during the season are excluded as are railways constructed solely to serve mines, forests or other industrial or agricultural undertakings and which are not open to public traffic.

High-speed line: A line specially built to allow traffic at speeds generally equal to or greater than 250 km/h for the main segments. High-speed lines may include connecting lines, in particular junctions with town centre stations located on them, on which speeds may take account of local conditions (adapted from Directive 98/48/EC).

Navigable inland waterways

Waterway: River, canal, lake or other stretch of water, which, as a result of natural or man-made features is suitable for navigation. Waterways of a maritime character (waterways designated by the reporting country as suitable for navigation primarily by sea-going ships) are included. Waterways also include river estuaries, the boundary being that point nearest the sea where the width of the river is both less than 3 km at low water and less than 5 km at high water.

Navigable inland waterway: A stretch of water, not part of the sea, over which vessels of a carrying capacity not less than 50 tonnes can navigate when normally loaded. This term covers both navigable rivers, lakes and canals. The length of rivers and canals is measured mid-channel. The length of lakes and lagoons is measured along the shortest navigable route between the most distant points to and from which transport operations are performed. A waterway forming a common frontier between two countries is reported by both.


Oil pipelines: Pipes for the movement, by pumping, of crude or refined liquid petroleum products. Branch lines are included, as are oil pipelines between land and drilling platforms at sea. Oil pipelines whose total length is less than 50 km, or whose inside diameter is less than 15 cm, and oil pipelines used only for military purposes or located entirely within the site boundaries of an industrial operation, as well as oil pipelines that are entirely off-shore (i.e. located solely out in the open sea) are excluded. International oil pipelines whose total length is 50 km or more are included, even if the section in the reporting country is less than 50 km long. Oil pipelines consisting of two (or more) parallel pipelines are to be counted twice (or more). Only units that actually carried out an activity during the reference period, are considered. "Dormant" units, or those not yet having begun their activity, are excluded.

Oil pipeline network: All oil pipelines in a given area. The territory of the area in question includes that part of the seabed allocated to it under a concession.


Infrastructure networks (capacity) are measured in kilometres (km).

Infrastructure density is measured in km/1 000 km2 and km/1 000 population.


Policy context and targets

Context description

Transport infrastructure forms the arteries of the European internal market. It also contributes to social cohesion in terms of accessibility. However, infrastructure or the absence thereof, may equally produce and reinforce social inequality and fragmentation. It also contributes to a number of environmental impacts. Infrastructure construction puts pressure on the environment by destroying natural habitats and by cutting through wildlife areas, leading to fragmentation and disruption of natural behaviours and breeding territories. Additionally, the environment close to infrastructure suffers from higher noise levels, air pollution and dangers created by vehicles among other issues. The effects of infrastructure on land and nature are assessed in TERM006 “Fragmentation”, TERM007 “Proximity to designated nature areas” and TERM008 “Land take”.

The European Commission has set itself the objective of offering users high-quality and safe infrastructure that includes all modes of transport and allows the optimal usage of existing capacities, by either creating new or upgrading existing infrastructure (European Commission, 2001 and 2009). Additionally, in the Reviewed Sustainable Development Strategy (European Commission, 2006), the Commission recognises that if congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution are to be tackled, demand must be shifted towards more environmentally friendly transport modes. The Strategy clearly states that the EU and its Member States should take measures to improve the economic and environmental performance of all modes and enable a shift from road to rail, water and public passenger transport. This includes lower transport intensity through production and logistic process reengineering and behavioural change, combined with a better connection of the different transport modes.

Historically, most transport infrastructure in Europe has been developed under national policies. In order to establish a single, multimodal network that integrates European land, sea and air transport networks, the EU established the Trans-European transport network (TEN-T), enabling the Lisbon Strategy (European Council, 2000), which aimed to make the EU the most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010. A key issue identified by the Commission in relation to the implementation of the TEN-T policy is to rationalise the allocation of resources and select those projects that will provide the best value for the Community’s money. This programme also contributed to the opening of a new HSR network, which competes with both air and road transport, and with an associated increased modal shift, has even greater opportunities to reduce air transport emissions and travel (European Commission, 2009).

The European Council adopted Directive 96/48/EC of 23 July 1996, as amended by Directive 2004/50/EC of 29 April 2004, on the interoperability of the trans-European HSR system to facilitate, improve and develop international rail transport services within Europe. It also requires that Member States establish a register that in part contains information on the infrastructure and rolling stock of the trans-European HSR system, and which must be updated and reported annually.


One of the important targets for road infrastructure is removing bottlenecks.

In addition, a number of targets have been set in the EC paper “Towards a rail network giving priority to freight” (European Commission, 2007b), some of which relate to infrastructure development, not necessarily covered by, but relevant to this indicator, such as:

  • create a strong European rail network as part of the TEN-T over which freight transport will be more reliable and efficient;
  • undertake new measures to create a freight-oriented network;
  • increase the capacity of corridors in terms of freight length, gauge, axle load and maximum speed.


The EC Green Paper “TEN-T: A policy review” raised one more possible target, that of separating rail freight and passenger infrastructure to ensure better capacity and provide for the different needs of both services (European Commission, 2009). The revision is still in progress and the scope of the policy and targets are to be set.

The EU’s policy to promote inland waterway transport is reflected in the Integrated Action programme “NAIADES” 2006-2013. One of the objectives is to provide adequate waterway infrastructure and to develop it in a coordinated and integrated way. TEN-T programme project No. 18 is dedicated to inland waterways and its completion should finalise the current Europe wide (18 participating countries) waterway infrastructure.

Pipelines are the most efficient, economic and safe transport mode for crude oil transportation. Recently EU energy policy underwent a second strategic energy review, resulting in the Third Energy Package, agreed in May 2009 by the European Parliament. One of the five points of the EU Energy Security and Solidarity Action plan focuses on infrastructure needs and the diversification of energy supplies (DG TREN, 2008). The declaration, signed in 2007, for the construction of a pipeline to bring oil from the Black Sea by 2012 is already being acted upon (EurActive, 2007). Future developments of the oil pipeline infrastructure should not only provide greater oil supply security for the EU, but should also be in line with the “20-20-20 initiative”, which should make the EU less dependent on oil and gas imports by increasing the renewable energy as a proportion of overall energy consumption.

Most recently, in March 2011, the European Commission published a Transport White Paper (European Commission, 2011) that includes a number of objectives and targets for transport. In particular, there are a number of objectives aimed at ‘Optimising the performance of multi-modal logistic chains, including by making greater use of more energy-efficient modes’, which will in most cases have a direct impact on transport infrastructure investment and capacity. These include:

  • 30 % of road freight over 300 km should shift to other modes such as rail or waterborne transport by 2030, and more than 50 % by 2050. This shift is to be facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors. To meet this goal will also require the development of appropriate infrastructure.
  • Complete a European HSR network by 2050. Triple the length of the existing HSR network by 2030 and maintain a dense railway network in all Member States. By 2050, the majority of medium-distance passenger transport should go by rail.
  • A fully functional, EU-wide multi-modal TEN-T ‘core network’ by 2030, with a high quality and capacity network by 2050, and a corresponding set of information services.
  • By 2050, connect all core network airports to the rail network, preferably high-speed. Ensure that all core seaports are sufficiently connected to the rail freight and, where possible, inland waterway systems.

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

Data are collected by Eurostat. Data on HSR length are collected by the International Union of Railways. More details on the methodologies used for collecting these data are available on the relevant websites (see Data Specification).

Methodology for gap filling

Capacity is defined as the maximum traffic flow (vehicle-km in a given time unit) that can be carried by transport infrastructure. However, such data are not available. Therefore, the length of transport infrastructure by type (e.g. motorways, railways, navigable inland waterways and oil pipelines) is taken here as a proxy indicator for capacity of road, rail and inland waterways.

Due to various inconsistencies with road classification, road infrastructure is not provided in this indicator. The exception to this is motorways, for which there is a clear definition available (see earlier text).

Pipelines for the transport of natural gas are not included because of a lack of available data, however, information on gas pipelines that serve Europe has been found in the French Institute for International Relations (Nies, 2008), where detailed information per pipeline has been collected from various sources. Another source of gas pipeline capacity data could be Platts Natural Gas (

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

Other info

DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • TERM 018
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
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Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage



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