Freight transport statistics - modal split

Data from May 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Next update of the article: May 2018

This article mainly analyses the relative importance of the different inland transport modes (road, rail, inland waterways) in the European Union (EU). It explains the principles of the modal split between the different modes and the adjustments applied to road freight data in order to compare the share of each of the three modes in the transport performance on each country’s territory. In addition, this article presents results regarding the modal split at EU level for five transport modes (including maritime and air transport, in addition to road, rail and inland waterways) and explains the calculation principles for air and maritime transport performance.

Figure 1: Freight transport in the EU-28: modal split of inland transport modes (% of total tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport)
Figure 2: Modal Split of inland freight transport, 2015 (% of total tkm)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport)
Table 1: Modal Split of inland freight transport (% of total tkm)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport)
Table 2: Transport performance of inland modes (million tkm, adjusted for territoriality)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport)
Table 3: International road transport performance in the EU and EFTA countries, by territory on which the transport was performed, 2015
Source: Eurostat computations
Table 4: International road freight transport: Top 5 countries of foreign lorries active on each territory, 2015
Source: Eurostat computations
Figure 3: Freight transport in the EU-28: modal split based on five transport modes (% of total tonne-kilometres)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport, air and maritime transport)
Table 5: Freight transport performance in the EU-28 (million tkm, adjusted for territoriality)
Source: Eurostat, (rail_go_typeall) (rail) (iww_go_atygo) (inland waterways) (road_go_ta_tott) (national road transport) (road_go_ca_c) (cabotage road transport) and Eurostat computations (international road transport, air and maritime transport)

Main statistical findings

Modal split in the EU

Modal split of inland freight transport in 2010-2015: road transport continues to carry three quarters of freight in the EU

Road transport continues to have the largest share of EU freight transport performance among the three inland transport modes. Figure 1 shows that in 2015, road transport accounted for just over three-quarters (75.3%) of the total inland freight transport (based on tonne-kilometres performed). This share has remained almost unchanged since 2010, although a slight decrease in the share of road was noted over the period from 2010 to 2014. However, in 2015 this share increased slightly from the previous year (0.4 percentage points (pp)).

Since 2010, the share of rail in the transport performance of the inland modes has increased. From 2011 onwards, the share of rail has remained stable at around 18.5%. In 2015, rail transport accounted for 18.3% of the EU total, almost unchanged compared to the previous year (-0.1 pp). The share of inland waterways in EU freight transport fluctuates between 6% and 7%, in 2015 recording a share of 6.4% of the total inland transport performance.

Noticeable changes in the modal split of Estonia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Sweden and Italy from 2010 to 2015

Even though the modal split between the different modes of transport does not tend to change radically from year to year at EU level, changes are sometimes more noticeable at country level. As can be seen from Figure 2, the modal split at country level varies considerably. In particular, the modal split obviously depends on the availability of a given mode. Only 17 of the Member States have navigable inland waterways. In addition to not having navigable inland waterways, Cyprus and Malta do not have railways; thus, for these two Member States the share of road freight transport is 100% by default.

The importance of rail transport in the Baltic States is quite evident (essentially linked to the transport of Russian energy products to the Baltic Ports). For several years, the share of rail in the total transport performance used to be in the range of 70%-80%. In 2012, the share of rail fell below 70% in Estonia, and in 2013 also in Lithuania (66.6%). In 2015, this negative trend continued in both countries, and when compared to 2014, the share of rail was falling by another 2.8 pp to 52.4% for Estonia and by 2.2 pp to 65.9% for Lithuania (see Table 1).

Inland waterways have a very important role in freight transport in the Netherlands. Despite a slight fall (-0.5 pp) from the year before, the share of inland waterways freight transport (45.5%) almost matched the share of road (48.3%) in the Netherlands in 2015. High traffic on the Danube also explains the comparatively high shares of inland waterways in Romania (30.4%) and Bulgaria (27.4%).

Table 1 shows that between 2010 and 2015, the share of road in total inland transport performance dropped by 4.2 pp in Italy. There were noticeable falls in the share of road also in Portugal (-3.3 pp), Slovenia (-3.2 pp) and France (-2.0 pp), as well as in the EFTA country Switzerland (-3.5 pp). For Italy, the fall in the share of road in the modal split over the period was mainly caused by a strong fall in the tonnes-kilometres performed by road. This was only marginally countered by a slight increase in transport performance by rail, thus the total transport performance for Italy fell by 23.5% from 2010 to 2015 (see Table 2). The development was similar for Portugal and France, where the falls in transport performance by road (in tonnes-kilometres) were partially countered by increases in transport performance by rail, resulting in a fall in total transport performance over the period. In contrast, for Slovenia the share of road in the modal split was reduced, despite increase in transport performance both by road and in total, as the transport performance by rail grew more strongly (Slovenia has no navigable inland waterways).

A special case is Estonia, where there has been a sharp fall (-53.0%) in rail transport performance from 2010 to 2015 (see also Table 2), mainly caused by a fall of around 50% in transport of petroleum products. As a consequence, the relative share of rail in total inland freight transport performance fell by 23.0 pp seen over the period 2010-2015; as Estonia has no navigable inland waterways, the fall in the share of rail was directly reflected by a corresponding rise in the share of road. Other countries that recorded noticeable increases in the share of road 2010-2015 were Luxembourg (+10.1 pp), Lithuania (+6.9 pp), Sweden (+6.2 pp) and Bulgaria (+5.3 pp).

When looking at the two most recent reference years, Finland showed the strongest increase in the share of road with 3.8 pp from 2014 to 2015. Interestingly, this rise in road transport performance was almost completely compensated by a decrease in the transport performance by rail, with total transport performance by the inland modes remaining almost unchanged. Other Member States that recorded clear increases in the share of road from 2014 to 2015 were Slovakia (+2.9 pp), Estonia (+2.8 pp, for reasons explained above) and Lithuania (+2.2 pp).

In contrast, the share of road fell for six Member States from 2014 to 2015. Amongst these, Romania stood out with a decrease in the share of road by 2.8 pp. This happened despite the transport performance by road actually remaining stable; the decrease in the share of road was instead a reflection of increases in the transport performance of both rail and inland waterways.

It should be kept in mind that the modal split and the associated shares of each transport mode are calculated with the total transport performance by the inland transport modes as denominator. This means that an increasing share of one mode does not necessarily express a higher transport performance for that mode. Instead, this may be a result of noticeable drops in other modes. The development in Estonia, where a sharp drop in rail transport performance is reflected directly in a steep increase in the share of road transport, is a case in point. This is the main reason why the tonne-kilometres data used for calculating the modal split are also presented in this article (Table 2).

Inland freight transport performance - the need to adjust road transport

The modal split outlined in this publication is based on the total inland freight transport performance expressed in tonne-kilometres. Complying with the relevant EU legal acts, data on rail and inland waterways transport are reported according to the ’territoriality principle’ (transport on the national territory, regardless of the nationality of the haulier). However, road transport data is reported according to the nationality of the haulier (regardless of where the transport took place). Therefore, road transport has to be adjusted according to the ’territoriality principle’. More information on how this is done is available in the ’Data sources and availability’ section below.

Inland freight transport performance in the EU remains stable with increase of 1.3% since 2010

Table 2 shows the transport performance data used for the calculation of the modal split (modal shares are shown in Table 1). As mentioned above, the data referring to road transport have been adjusted to reflect on which country’s territory the transport took place, regardless of who performed this transport. The tonne-kilometres series used for calculation of the modal split showed an increase (1.3%) in the total inland freight transport performance in the EU between 2010 and 2015.

The aggregated EU-28 transport performance figures show that total inland transport performance has remained relatively stable at between 2.2 and 2.3 billion tonne-kilometres during the period 2010-2015. In 2015, total inland transport performance reached 2 287 billion tonne-kilometres, compared to 2 259 billion tonne-kilometres in 2010. By 2015, road transport performance was only 0.7% higher than in 2010. In contrast, over the same period it had increased by 6.1% for rail transport but fallen by 5.1% for inland waterways.

Looking only at the two most recent reference years at EU level, the freight transport performance of rail and road registered a growth of 1.6% and 2.8% respectively between 2014 and 2015, while that of inland waterways transport fell by 2.2%.

At national level, the largest decreases in total transport performance of inland modes 2010-2015 were observed in Cyprus (-48.6%), Greece (-36.5%), Estonia (-32.4%) and Italy (-23.5%). As Cyprus has no railways or inland waterways, the fall in transport performance was caused exclusively by the decrease in road transport. Greece experienced sharp falls in both road (-36.1%) and rail transport (-52.1%) over this period; however, it should be noted that very little freight is transported by rail in Greece. As mentioned, the fall in total transport performance in Estonia was mainly caused by a sharp decrease in rail transport. In Italy, the fall in total transport performance was due to a large drop in road transport (-27.1%). While rail freight transport performance in Italy increased by 11.6% over the period, it fell by 42.6% for inland waterways. However, inland waterways have only a marginal role for freight transport in Italy.

Looking specifically at road freight transport over the two most recent reference years, tonne-kilometres dropped significantly in Luxembourg (-9.1%). Other Member States that noted larger falls in road tonnes-kilometres from 2014 to 2015 included France (-3.6%), Denmark and Portugal (both -2.0%), while the EFTA country Switzerland registered a fall of 4.1%. Significant increases in road transport performance over this period were recorded in the Czech Republic (14.1%), the United Kingdom (11.0%), Croatia (8.6%), Lithuania (8.4%) and Bulgaria (7.9%).

Who drives where in international road freight transport?

Whereas both national and cabotage road freight transport are inherently territorial and need no adjustment, the ’territorialisation’ of international road freight transport, done for the purpose of establishing the modal split between the different modes of transport for each country, generates some interesting findings.

Table 3 shows the ranking of the countries according to the territories where international transport performance took place, i.e. where hauliers drove most (regardless of who was performing the transport) in 2015. Due to the size of the country and its location in the middle of Europe, but also due to its importance as a country with large manufacturing industries, German roads continue to top the European-wide international road freight transport: 27.2% of all tonne-kilometres performed in international road freight transport (corresponding to 150 billion tonne-kilometres) took place in Germany, decreasing slightly from the year before. France followed next, although far behind, with a share of 18.3%. Between 7% and 8% of international road transport performance in the EU took place in Poland and Spain, while Italy and Belgium had shares of around 5%.

Table 4 lists the five main countries of origin of foreign hauliers performing international transport in each country in 2015. For instance, Belgium’s road network was most used for international transport by hauliers registered in the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, France and Slovakia. Hauliers from these five countries, taken together, were responsible for 67.7% of the international transport tonne-kilometres performed by foreign hauliers on Belgian territory in 2015.

A regional pattern can be detected when looking at the individual countries. Hauliers from the surrounding countries are often the most important foreign hauliers in a given country. Good examples of this are Austria and Finland. The only exception seems to be hauliers registered in Poland, which appear among the top foreign hauliers in every other Member State in 2015. Poland is thus one of the most active haulier countries in international road transport in Europe. Polish hauliers take top place for the most important foreign hauliers in 12 Member States and second place in another 9 Member States and the 2 EFTA countries Norway and Switzerland. The share of Polish hauliers among the foreign hauliers is as high as 61.8% in Lithuania, 57.1% in Slovakia, 44.9% in the Czech Republic and 39.8% in Germany. Even in geographically distant countries, Polish hauliers remain active: for instance, 29.9% of all tonne-kilometres forwarded by foreign hauliers in the United Kingdom were carried by Polish hauliers.

It should be noted that the overall road transport performance in the EU-28, Norway and Switzerland remains underestimated, as only transport activities of hauliers registered in the EU-28, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein (until 2013) are considered. Moreover, transport performance of road freight journeys to non-EU countries (apart from the EFTA countries, Turkey, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) has not been taken into account.

Modal split based on five transport modes: road competes with maritime at intra-EU level

Figure 3 shows modal split calculated on the basis of transport performance, measured in tonne-kilometres, of five transport modes: road, rail, inland waterways, air and maritime. When adding intra-EU air and maritime transport to the inland modes, road still keeps its leading position, followed by maritime transport. In 2015, road accounted for just over half of all tonne-kilometres performed in the EU-28. Maritime transport came next, with close to a third of the total transport performance, followed by rail (12.3%) and inland waterways (4.3%). In terms of tonne-kilometres performed, air transport plays only a marginal role at EU level, with a share of 0.1%.

Table 5 presents the transport performance in tonne-kilometres for the five transport modes road, rail, inland waterways, maritime and air between 2010-2015. The total intra-EU-28 transport performance by these five modes of transport increased by 1.8% during this period. Air and rail transport performance increased significantly over this period, by 10.7% and 6.1% respectively. However, air transport is of only marginal importance for the total transport performance. There was also a certain rise in the tonne-kilometres performed by maritime transport (2.9%). The rise in transport performance for road amounted to less than 1% over the period. Despite the importance of road in the total transport performance, the marginal increase in road transport when compared to the other transport modes, explains why the relative share of road transport has decreased slightly (-0.6 pp) while the shares of maritime transport (+0.4 pp) and rail transport (+0.5 pp) have increased slightly from 2010 to 2015 (see Figure 3).

Data sources and availability

The sources for the statistics in this article are from Eurostat. Statistical data have been reported to Eurostat by EU Member States in the framework of various EU legal acts. The essential legal acts are the following:

This article also includes data for inland transport modes from two EFTA countries, which participate in EU data collections: Norway (NO) and Switzerland (CH). Iceland (IS) and Liechtenstein (LI) (for LI since 2013) both are granted derogations for road freight transport.

According to Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road, Malta is granted derogation from reporting road freight data to Eurostat. However, since Malta does not have any railway or inland waterways, the share of road in inland freight transport is 100%.

Data presented here and calculated on the basis of the inland transport modes (road, inland waterways and rail transport) are not comparable with the currently existing table in Eurostat's database (Eurobase) on ‘Modal split of freight transport’ (tran_hv_frmod) due to conceptual differences for road transport. Road data used for the Eurobase table are reported on the basis of the nationality of the haulier, while road data used for this publication were computed according to the ‘territoriality principle’ in order to reach coherence across the modes of transport.

Adjustment of road freight data according to the ‘territoriality principle’

Road freight transport, and particularly the part of international (including cross-trade) transport, needed to be ‘territorialised’ as it is reported by the countries on the basis of the nationality of the haulier, not on the basis of where the transport was carried out. For example, a haulier from the Netherlands might undertake a journey to Portugal. Though only a small part of this journey is in the Netherlands, the entire transport performance is accounted for by the Netherlands, as the vehicle carrying out the transport is registered there.

In order to calculate modal split shares on the basis of coherent data sets, as rail and inland waterways follow the ‘territoriality principle’, the international road freight transport data have been redistributed according to the national territories where the transport actually took place. This redistribution involved modelling the likely journey itinerary and projecting it on the European road network. The international road freight journeys’ tonne-kilometres have been taken from the ‘Tables on transport operations at regional level', computed by Eurostat on the basis of the detailed national survey data. There is a time lag before these tables become available and the territorialisation of international road freight data makes sense only when the datasets of all reporting countries have been received.

It order to redistribute the tonne-kilometre data proportionally to the countries concerned by the journey, the TERCET tool (territorial typologies) has been used. This tool allows the calculation of the total distance between the NUTS level 3 region of origin and the NUTS level 3 region of destination and breaks down the total distance into sections according to the countries in which this transport took place. With the help of this tool, the distances driven on the territories of the individual countries were calculated and the declared tonne-kilometres were proportionally attributed to the countries concerned. However, the likely routes used and their corresponding distances defined by the tool were revised in 2013 and were applied to the previous years. Revisions were such that comparing statistics processed with the previous version of the tool would have resulted in a break in series. Therefore, data of the previous years have been re-processed in order to ensure comparability and continuity. The consequence of this re-processing using the revised routes/distances is that the Modal Split figures published in an earlier Eurostat publication Statistics in Focus 13/2012 have become obsolete.

Furthermore, transport performance of road freight journeys to non-EU countries (apart from the EFTA countries, Turkey, Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) has not been taken into account. Therefore the cumulated values of the territorialised transport performance will always be lower than those declared in compliance with relevant EU legal acts. Some journeys have their origin or destination in regions that are not covered by the TERCET tool (which is notably the case for islands such as the Canary Islands, Madeira, Greek Islands, etc.). In such cases, the region of origin/destination have been given the NUTS 3 region code where the main freight ferry terminals are located in order to avoid further underestimation of the data.

Data on total road freight transport for the reference period 2005-2015, calculated on the basis of the territorialised international transport, are included as an annex in the Excel file downloadable under 'Source data for tables and graphs' below.

Calculation of tonne-kilometres for air and maritime freight transport

Within the framework of the relevant legal act, Eurostat collects maritime data of goods transported in tonnes between port pairs (port of loading and port of unloading). Nevertheless, these data cover only defined ‘main ports’, i.e. ports handling more than 1 million tonnes of goods annually. In order to calculate transport performance in tonne-kilometres for maritime transport, Eurostat has developed a distance matrix on the basis of the most likely sea routes taken by vessels. Multiplying tonnes transported between a pair of ports by the relevant distance has allowed the calculation of the maritime transport tonne-kilometres at EU level.

In order to exclude double counting of the same goods being reported as inwards transport by one port and as outwards transport by another port within the EU, all such records identified in the data have been excluded. However some uncertainty in the recording of the partner ports of loading or unloading may influence the results. Due to some degree of uncertainty in the outwards data, all outgoing goods with an ‘unknown’ partner port have been excluded from the tonne-kilometres calculations on the assumption that this transport has been correctly reported as incoming goods by the partner country.

Similarly to maritime transport, Eurostat collects air transport data of cargo (expressed in tonnes) forwarded between airport pairs according to the relevant legal act. The legal act defines categories of airports according to the passenger units handled per year. Passenger unit is equivalent to either one passenger or 100 kilograms of freight and mail. Three datasets are defined according to different concepts: ‘Flight Stage’; ‘On Flight Origin Destination’; ‘Airport’). Air transport data used for the calculation of tonne-kilometres are based on the ‘Flight Stage’ concept. Air transport, as analysed in this article, covers transport to and from any airports in the reporting countries with more than 150 000 passenger units annually. In order to calculate transport performance in tonne-kilometres for air transport, Eurostat is using a distance matrix that contains great circle distances (minimum distance on a spherical line) between airport pairs.

Since inland freight transport (road, rail and inland waterways) is essentially performed on the territory of the European continent, it has been considered appropriate to limit maritime and air freight transport to national and international intra-EU-28 transport. Thus, distortions in the overall picture of the European transport market, which would appear by including deep sea shipping and inter-continental air transport, are avoided.

Definitions of terms used within transport statistics are available in the transport glossary and in the 'Illustrated Glossary for transport statistics' (Fourth edition, 2009).

Context

The European Commission’s White Paper “Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area — Towards a competitive and resource efficient transport system”, adopted in March 2011, states that the transport sector in the EU should use less and cleaner energy, and that there should be efficient networks. The White Paper adds that shifting transport to more environmentally sustainable transport modes should be encouraged.

There is a need for EU-wide data to monitor progress towards this goal. Recording modal shifts over time is therefore very important, and enables policy guidelines to be tailored more accurately.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Main tables

Transport, volume and modal split (t_tran_hv)

Database

Multimodal data (tran)
Transport, volume and modal split (tran_hv)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and graphs (MS Excel)

Other information

External links