Indicator Assessment

Freight transport demand

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-36-en
  Also known as: CSI 036 , TERM 013
Created 24 Aug 2017 Published 18 Oct 2017 Last modified 17 Jan 2019
12 min read
This page was archived on 17 Jan 2019 with reason: Other (Replaced by: Passenger and freight transport demand (CSI056/TERM039))
  • Freight transport grew considerably in the EU‑28 between 2000 and 2007. A sharp fall in freight demand occurred in the years immediately following the economic downturn in 2008 and, after a limited recovery, freight volumes have since remained largely stable. 
  • In 2015, total freight transport in the EU-28 was 9.1 % higher than in 2000, but 6.2 % below its 2007 peakIt has remained broadly stable since 2013 and increased by 1.1 % in 2015, mainly due to an increase in road freight. 
  • Between 2014 and 2015, inland waterway transport and maritime freight transport decreased by 2.2 % and 1.1 %, respectively. Road transport increased by 2.8 % over the same period, while air and rail transport remained broadly stable. 
  • The modal share of freight transported over land remains largely constant. It is still dominated by road transport (75 %), followed by rail (18 %) and inland waterways (6 %).
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.

Freight transport volume and modal split within the EU

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Inland freight transport volumes and GDP

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Alongside economic growth and expansion, total land freight transport within the EU-28 (road, rail and inland waterways) increased steadily throughout the 1990s and early 2000sgrowing by 23 % in the years up to 2007. Between 2000 and 2007, the real average annual growth rate of GDP was slightly more than 2 % in the EU‑28, with higher growth in the EU‑13 than in the EU‑15. This growth took place in the context of continued globalisation, with rising trade volumes both within the EU and with trade partners outside of the EU. A sharp fall in freight demand occurred in the years immediately following the economic downturn in 2008, and since then freight volumes have recovered slightly but have not yet reached pre-downturn levels. In 2015, total land freight transport increased by 2 %, compared with 2014.

  • Road: Total road freight volumes in 2015 were around 14 % higher than in 2000. In the EU-15, road freight transportation increased slightly in 2015 compared with 2014, with different country recording different amounts. In the EU-13, volumes grew by 5 %. Road haulage accounted for more than three quarters of total inland freight movements within the EU-28 in 2015. 
  • Rail: The amount of freight transported by rail has stabilised overall. In the EU-28, rail freight volumes were higher in 2015 compared with 2000, after having reached a peak increase of 11.5 % in 2007, compared with 2000. In 2015, rail freight transport demand increased slightly compared with the previous year. Changes in rail, both in the EU-13 and EU-15, were minor. Rail freight volumes decreased by 12 % in Turkey, although they remained almost stable in Norway and Switzerland.
  • Inland waterways: the amount of freight transported by inland waterway continues to decrease in the EU-28. In 2015, it decreased by 2.2 % compared with 2014, mainly because of a decrease in inland waterway freight transport in the EU-15. Compared with 2010, total tonne-kilometers in the EU-28 have decreased by 5 %. In addition, the EU-28 average masks important national differences. In the EU-15, tonne-kilometers have remained quite stable compared with 2000, while they have almost tripled in the EU-13.

If the evolution of the intensity of freight transport in the EU‑28 economy (tonne kilometres per unit of GDP in constant 2010 prices) is considered with 2000 as a benchmark, freight intensity was lower between 2001 and 2003, but subsequently increased between 2004 and 2008. Since 2009, the intensity of freight transport in the economy has been around 5 % lower than in 2000. This lower intensity coincides with the period of lower or negative economic growth in Europe following the economic downturn.

Modal split between freight transported by road and rail

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The majority share of freight in the EU-28 is transported by road. Over time there has been no substantial change in share at an aggregated EU level.

By way of contrast, within the EU-13, the share of rail in the total amount of freight transported by road and rail decreased from more than 40 % in 2000 to almost 21 % in 2015. Conversely, the share of freight transported by road increased over the same period. Despite the decrease in transport of freight by rail, the share of rail in the EU-13 remains higher than that in the EU-15, with the latter accounting for 18 %. Compared with 2000, the share of rail in the EU-15 has increased slightly.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Freight transport demand is defined as the amount of inland tonne-kilometres travelled every year in the EEA-33. According to the latest metadata, inland freight transport includes transport by road, rail, inland waterway, air and maritime. Transport via rail and inland waterway is based on movements within 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 2010 prices, determines the amount of coupling between GDP and transport. The decoupling indicator is defined as unity minus the coupling ratio, where the data index = 2000.

The modal split of freight transport is defined as the percentage share of modes (road and rail) in total inland transport. It includes transport by road, rail and inland waterway.


The unit used to express freight transport volume is the tonne-kilometre (tkm), which represents the movement of one tonne over a distance of one kilometre.

GDP is Gross Domestic Product expressed in constant euros, indexed to the year 2010.

Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (2000=100). 

The modal split for freight transport is shown as a percentage (%).


Policy context and targets

Context description

Minimising the negative impacts of transport is a central theme in EU transport policy:

  • 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, 2001): '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 transport from road to water and rail is an important strategic element in EU transport policy. The objective was first formulated in the Sustainable Development Strategy in 2001 (European Commission, 2001).
  • In the White Paper on the Common Transport Policy, 'European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide' (European Commission, 2001), the Commission outlines concerns for curbing the demand for transport, which included the fact that economic growth will almost automatically generate a greater need for mobility, an increasing demand for goods and services, and more 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 a modal shift and decoupling from GDP.
  • 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 greenhouse gas emissions from transport from 1990 levels, by 2050. One of these goals is that '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, facilitated by efficient and green freight corridors'.


  • 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



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 EEA-33. 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.

Freight transport demand and GDP are shown as an index (for freight transport demand: 2000=100; GDP at 2010 prices). 

A detailed description of the concepts used and data collected in the transport database can be found in Eurostat's concepts and definitions database (

Methodology for gap filling

No gap filling is required for this indicator.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.



Methodology uncertainty

not applicable

Data sets uncertainty

not applicable

Rationale uncertainty

not applicable

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Driving force
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 036
  • TERM 013
Frequency of updates
This indicator is discontinued. No more assessments will be produced.
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage





Filed under:
Filed under: freight transport
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