Freight transport statistics

Data extracted in April 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: May 2018.

This article presents information on freight transport in the European Union (EU), which includes the following transport modes: road, rail, air, maritime and inland waterways. The ability to move goods safely, quickly and cost-efficiently to markets is important for international trade, national distributive trades and economic development. The rapid increase in global trade up to the onset of the global financial and economic crisis and the deepening integration of an enlarged EU, alongside a range of economic practices (including the concentration of production in fewer sites to reap economies of scale, delocalisation, and just-in-time deliveries), may (at least to some degree) explain the relatively fast growth of freight transport across the EU.

By contrast, strains on transport infrastructure (congestion and delays), coupled with constraints over technical standards, interoperability and governance issues may slow down developments within the EU’s freight transport sector.

Figure 1: Modal split of inland freight transport, 2014
(% of total inland tkm)
Source: Eurostat (rail_go_typeall), (iww_go_atygo), (road_go_ta_tott) and (road_go_ca_c) and Eurostat estimates
Figure 2: Change in the index of inland freight transport relative to GDP, 2004–2014
Source: Eurostat (tran_hv_frtra)
Table 1: Inland freight transport, 2015
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott), (rail_go_typeall), (tiww_go_atyve), (demo_gind) and (avia_gooc)
Figure 3: National and international road transport of goods, 2015
(% based on million tkm of laden transport)
Source: Eurostat (road_go_ta_tott)
Figure 4: Air freight transport, 2015
(thousand tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooc)
Figure 5: Gross weight of seaborne goods handled in ports, 2005 and 2015
(million tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (mar_go_aa)

Main statistical findings

Modal split

Total inland freight transport in the EU-28 was estimated to be just over 2 200 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm) in 2014; some three quarters of this freight total was transported over roads (see Figure 1). The road freight data used for this analysis have been adjusted in order to allow for a comparison of the three transport modes in terms of the transport actually performed in each territory. By contrast, the road freight data shown in Table 1 are based on where vehicles are registered, rather than where the transport takes place. More detailed information about the adjustments made to road freight data used for Figure 1 are available in a separate article focused exclusively on the modal split of freight transport.

The share of EU-28 inland freight that was transported by road (74.9 %) was more than four times as high as the share transported by rail (18.4 %), while the remainder (6.7 %) of the freight transported in the EU-28 in 2014 was carried along inland waterways. Compared with the modal split in 2009, the share of inland freight carried by roads was 2.2 percentage points lower in 2014, while the share transported by inland waterways had increased by 0.7 percentage points and that transported by rail by 1.5 percentage points. It should be noted that this analysis refers only to inland freight transport and that considerable amounts of freight may be transported by maritime freight services and for some product groups by air transport or by pipelines.

All inland freight transport within Cyprus and Malta was by road due to the absence of any railways or inland waterway infrastructure. Elsewhere, road transport accounted for more than 90 % of inland freight transport in Ireland, Greece and Spain in 2014. By contrast, road transport accounted for just one fifth of the inland freight transported in Latvia (18.8 %), with the remainder (81.2 %) transported by rail. More than half of the inland freight transported in the other two Baltic Member States — Estonia and Lithuania — was also carried by rail in 2014. Close to one tenth (9.9 %) of total inland freight in Germany was transported on inland waterways in 2014, with this share higher in Belgium (16.0 %), Bulgaria (26.9 %) and Romania (29.0 %), as well as in the Netherlands where it peaked at 46.6 %.

Relative growth of freight transport and the economy

Inland freight transport grew at a slower pace in the EU-28 than constant price gross domestic product (GDP) during the period from 2004–2014; this can be seen in Figure 2, as the ratio of these two values was 9.4 % lower in 2014 than in 2004.

Comparing with the situation in 2004, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Hungary recorded the greatest increases in inland freight transport relative to GDP, with their respective indices more than 40 % higher in 2014 than 10 years earlier. The rate of change in inland freight transport was around one third higher than the overall growth in economic activity during the period 2004–2014 in Poland and Lithuania. By contrast, the ratio of inland freight transport to GDP fell at its most rapid pace between 2004 and 2014 in Cyprus, Ireland and Estonia, , in each case down by more than 50 %.

Road freight

Relative to population size, road freight transport was highest among the EU Member States in Luxembourg, where, on average, 15.5 thousand tonne-kilometres (tkm) of freight were transported by road for each inhabitant in 2015; this was 70 % higher than the next highest level of road freight transport per inhabitant, recorded in Lithuania (9.1 thousand tkm). In both cases, the vast majority — more than 85 % — of the freight transported by road was international movements performed by vehicles registered in these two EU Member States. Note that these road freight statistics are based on worldwide movements of vehicles registered in the reporting country (‘nationality principle’).

The split between national and international road freight varied considerably across the EU Member States (see Figure 3): the highest proportions of national road freight transport in 2015 were recorded in Cyprus (97.3 %) and the United Kingdom (95.5 %), while shares in France and Sweden were also above 90 %. By contrast, in 2015, half of the Member States reported that foreign road networks accounted for the majority of the goods transported by vehicles registered in their Member State. The share of international road freight transport in total road freight was particularly high in Latvia (81.3 %), Slovakia (84.4 %), Luxembourg (87.5 %), Slovenia (88.4 %), and Lithuania (89.0 %).

Air freight

About 14.6 million tonnes of air freight (both national and international) was carried through airports within the EU-28 in 2015. The quantity of goods transported by air in the EU-28 was 11.4 % higher in 2015 than it had been five years earlier in 2010.

Airports in Germany dealt with 4.3 million tonnes of air freight in 2015, considerably more than in any other EU Member State (see Figure 4); France and the United Kingdom had the second and third highest amounts of air freight, at 2.5 million and 2.4 million tonnes. Some of the smaller EU Member States are relatively specialised in air freight, notably all of the Benelux countries, and in particular, Luxembourg which ranked as the seventh largest air freight transporter among the EU Member States.

Maritime freight

Maritime ports in the EU-28 handled 3.8 billion tonnes of seaborne goods in 2015, which marked a slight increase of 1.4 % when compared with 2014, but an increase of 10.8 % compared with the 2009 (when a low point was reached during the global financial and economic crisis). Sea ports in the Netherlands handled close to 600 million tonnes of goods in 2015, while in the United Kingdom the level was close to 500 million tonnes and in Italy and Spain it was also in excess of 400 million tonnes (see Figure 5). These four EU Member States collectively handled more than half (52.0 %) of the EU-28’s seaborne freight.

Data sources and availability

The development of freight transport statistics is based upon a raft of framework legislation and implementing legislation, generally organised according to the mode of transport under consideration. Statistics on inland freight transport are available with an annual frequency and time series generally begin in the early 1990s.

The majority of inland freight transport statistics are based on movements in each reporting country, regardless of the nationality of the vehicle or vessel involved (the ‘territoriality principle’). For this reason, the measure of tonne-kilometres (tkm, in other words, one tonne of goods travelling a distance of one kilometre) is generally considered as a more reliable measure, as the use of tonnes entails a higher risk of double-counting, particularly for international transport. The methodology used across the EU Member States is not completely harmonised: for example, road freight statistics are generally based on all movements (in the registration country or abroad) of vehicles registered in the reporting country (the ‘nationality principle’).

The modal split of inland freight transport is based on transportation by road, rail and inland waterways, and therefore excludes air, maritime and pipeline transport. It measures the share of each transport mode in total inland freight transport and is expressed in tonne-kilometres. Note that the data on the modal split presented in this article are based on road freight data that have been adjusted so that they are based on the territoriality principle rather than the nationality principle.

The level of inland freight transport (measured in tonne-kilometres) may also be expressed in relation to GDP; within this article the indicator is presented based on GDP in constant prices for the reference year 2005. This indicator provides information on the relationship between the demand for freight transport and the size of the economy and allows the development of freight transport demand to be monitored relative to economic developments.

Goods loaded are those goods placed on a road vehicle, a railway vehicle or a merchant ship for dispatch by road, rail or sea. The weight of goods transported by rail and inland waterways is the gross-gross weight. This includes the total weight of the goods, packaging, and the tare weight of the container, swap-body and pallets containing goods; in the case of rail freight transport, it also includes road goods vehicles that are carried by rail. By contrast, the weight measured for maritime and road freight transport is the gross weight (in other words, excluding the tare weight).

Road freight

Road freight transport statistics are collected under the framework provided by Regulation 1172/98 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road, substantially amended several times, and recast as Regulation 70/2012. The data are based on sample surveys carried out in the reporting countries and record the transport of goods by road, as undertaken by vehicles registered in each of the EU Member States. It is important to note that almost all of the Member States apply a cut-off point for carrying capacity under which vehicles are not surveyed; this should not be greater than 3.5 tonnes carrying capacity, or 6 tonnes in terms of gross vehicle weight; some of the Member States also apply a limit on the age of the vehicles surveyed.

Rail freight

Rail freight data are collected under the framework provided by Regulation 2016/2032 on rail transport statistics. The data are collected for a quarterly frequency (usually limited to larger enterprises) and for an annual frequency (covering enterprises of all sizes). Statistics for rail freight are not available for Malta and Cyprus (or Iceland) as they do not have a railway infrastructure. Rail statistics are also collected every five years in relation to a regional analysis (NUTS level 2).

Aside from the mandatory collection of data based on legal acts, Eurostat also collects rail transport statistics through a voluntary data collection exercise. The questionnaire used for this exercise provides information in relation to railway transport infrastructure, equipment, enterprises, traffic and train movements.

Maritime freight

The legal framework for the collection of statistics on maritime freight transport is Directive 2009/42/EC on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods and passengers by sea (Recast). Maritime transport data are available for most EU Member States from 2001 onwards, although some countries have provided data back to 1997. Statistics on maritime freight are not transmitted to Eurostat by the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia as they have no maritime ports; for the same reason maritime data are not available for Liechtenstein or Switzerland.

Inland waterways freight

The legal framework for the collection of statistics on inland waterway freight transport is Regulation (EU) 2016/1954 of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation 1365/2006 on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways as regards the conferral of delegated and implementing powers on the Commission for the adoption of certain measures. Data on inland waterways are only required for those EU Member States with an annual quantity of goods transported that exceeds one million tonnes, namely: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Croatia, Luxembourg, Hungary, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom. Data collection is based on an exhaustive survey of all inland waterway enterprises for all goods that are loaded or unloaded. In the case of transit, some countries make use of sampling methods in order to estimate the quantity of goods.

Air freight

The legal framework for air transport statistics is provided by Regulation 437/2003 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of passengers, freight and mail by air. Statistics on air freight are collected for freight and mail loaded and unloaded in relation to commercial air flights. The information covers national and international freight transport.

Air transport statistics are collected at the airport level by the EU Member States, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and the candidate countries. Annual data are available for most of the Member States for the period from 2003 onwards, while some countries have provided data back to 1993. Air freight statistics are also collected for a monthly and a quarterly frequency and with a regional analysis (NUTS level 2).

Treatment of double counting in air freight statistics: the national aggregates and total intra-EU-28 aggregates exclude any double counting. They include all the reported departures plus a part of the reported arrivals; the reported arrivals that are included are those for which the corresponding departures of the partner airport are missing.


As part of its review of transport policy through to 2010, the European Commission made a number of suggestions for new policy developments, which were subsequently expanded upon in the form of a series of Communications, including:

This was followed in mid-2009 by a Communication titled ‘A sustainable future for transport: towards an integrated, technology-led and user friendly system’ (COM(2009) 279 final) and in March 2011 by a White paper titled ‘Roadmap to a single European transport area — towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system’ (COM(2011) 144 final). This comprehensive strategy contains a roadmap of 40 specific initiatives to build a competitive transport system over a 10 year period that aims to increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment.

More details concerning the European Commission’s proposals for transport policy initiatives are provided in an introductory article on transport in the EU.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Statistical books

Statistics in Focus

Main tables

Regional transport statistics (t_tran_r)
Maritime transport of freight, by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00076)
Air transport of freight, by NUTS 2 regions (tgs00078)
Transport, volume and modal split (t_tran_hv)
Volume of freight transport relative to GDP (tsdtr230)
Modal split of freight transport (tsdtr220)
Railway transport (t_rail)
Goods transport by rail (ttr00006)
Road transport (t_road)
Goods transport by road (ttr00005)
Inland waterways transport (t_iww)
Goods transport by inland waterways (ttr00007)
Maritime transport (t_mar)
Sea transport of goods (ttr00009)
Air transport (t_avia)
Air transport of goods (ttr00011)


Multimodal split (tran)
Transport, volume and modal split (tran_hv)
Railway transport (rail)
Road transport (road)
Inland waterways transport (iww)
Oil pipeline transport (pipe)
Maritime transport (mar)
Air transport (avia)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Reference manuals

ESMS metadata files

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links