Archive:Transport infrastructure at regional level
- Data from March 2010. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Database.
This article takes a look at the transport infrastructure in the European Union (EU). The recognition by the EU and its Member States of the huge importance of modern high-capacity transport links and hubs for all modes of transport has led them to define the trans-European transport corridors making up the trans-European networks (TENs), a key component for developing the single market and promoting economic and social cohesion within the EU.
Main statistical findings
In general, the density of the motorway network is closely correlated with population density and, thus, with the degree of urbanisation. The densest motorway networks can therefore be found in the Netherlands, Belgium, the western regions of Germany and the United Kingdom. At country level, the Netherlands has the highest motorway infrastructure density with 77 km/1 000 km², followed by Belgium (58 km/1 000 km²) and Luxembourg (57 km/1 000 km²). Trailing some distance behind Luxembourg, Germany comes fourth with 35 km/1 000 km², followed by Slovenia, Cyprus and Spain. The countries with the lowest motorway density are Romania (1 km/1 000 km²) and Estonia, Finland and Poland (2 km/1 000 km²). Bulgaria, Sweden, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic also all have motorway densities below 10 km/1 000 km².
A closer look reveals that the highest motorway density is found around European capitals and other big cities, in large industrial conurbations and around major seaports. It is fair to say that, historically, the motorway infrastructure in these specific regions was a product of regional development rather than the driving force behind it.
Major industrialised areas with high motorway density include the north-western part of England (Greater Manchester: 138 km/1 000 km² and Merseyside: 100 km/1 000 km²) and, in Germany, the Ruhrgebiet (Düsseldorf: 121 km/1 000 km²) and the Rhein-Main region (Köln: 76 km/1 000 km²; Darmstadt: 64 km/1 000 km²).
Most European capitals and large cities are surrounded by a ring of motorways in order to meet the high demand for road transport originating from these metropolitan areas. Dense motorway networks can be found around the capitals: Wien (107 km/1 000 km²), Amsterdam (Noord-Holland: 106 km/1 000 km²), Madrid (94 km/1 000 km²), Berlin (86 km/1 000 km²), København (Hovedstaden: 61 km/1 000 km²), Luxembourg (57 km/1 000 km²) and Paris (Île de France: 51 km/1 000 km²). Since the motorways are concentrated in a ring close to the cities, the reported density decreases as the area of the NUTS 2 region concerned increases. As a result, the motorway density reported for the small NUTS 2 region of Wien is higher than for the much larger NUTS 2 region of Île de France, even though the motorway network of Paris is actually larger.
Other densely populated regions with high motorway density include the Randstad region in the western part of the Netherlands (Utrecht: 128 km/1 000 km², Zuid-Holland:125 km/1 000 km² and Noord-Holland: 106 km/1 000 km²) and the area around Birmingham in the United Kingdom (West Midlands: 90 km/1 000 km²).
High motorway density is also found around the major seaports of northern Europe: the motorway density of the NUTS 2 regions of Bremen (186 km/1 000 km²) with the port of Bremerhaven, of Zuid-Holland with the port of Rotterdam (125 km/1 000 km²) and of Hamburg (107 km/1 000 km²) is among the highest of all European regions. Another reason for the high density of the motorway network in central European countries (such as Germany) is the proportionately high and growing volume of transit freight traffic.
In addition to the regional structure described above, coastal regions with a thriving tourism industry have noticeably denser motorway networks than other peripheral regions. This is especially true of the País Vasco in Spain (71 km/1 000 km²) and of Liguria in Italy (70 km/1 000 km²), the two peripheral coastal regions with the densest motorway networks in Europe. Unsurprisingly, the density of motorways on islands is generally low, since islands cannot be reached directly by road but rely on sea or air for access. However, the motorway density of the Canarias is still relatively high at 29 km/1 000 km².
While ready accessibility for goods and passengers may be an important factor in shaping a region’s ability to compete, this does not mean that all regions with a high GDP necessarily have a high motorway density. While high accessibility is generally a prerequisite for a region’s economic performance, this can be achieved by means of transport other than road, such as air or rail.
The regional distribution of railway infrastructure is shaped by economic development, specific historical developments and the geographical characteristics of the regions. As a legacy from the socialist era, the countries in central and eastern Europe have been left with a more concentrated rail network than their western neighbours, but at the same time with a substantially less developed motorway network. Although these countries have made substantial changes to their transport policy since the beginning of the 1990s — with the support of the EU (e.g. under the Phare programme and the Structural funds) in addition to their national efforts — their infrastructure still reveals differences.
Map 2 illustrates the density of railway lines per 1 000 km² of territory in Europe.
In general, the national network-to-area ratio for railway lines is high in western and central parts of Europe (including the Benelux countries, Germany, the Czech Republic and Hungary) and lower in the peripheral countries (including Scandinavia, the Iberian peninsula, Greece, the Baltic Member States, Turkey and Bulgaria). The highest network density can be found in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany (above 100 km/1 000 km²), followed by the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and Poland (65 to 86 km/1 000 km²). At the lower end of the range are Turkey, Norway, Finland and Greece, with values of 20 km/1 000 km² and below.
While the significant differences in population density account for most of the differences observed between the individual countries, the relatively high values for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland exemplify the persisting strong influence of the socialist heritage on Europe’s infrastructure today.
Measuring rail network density by population instead of territory changes the overall picture. The highest density of railway infrastructure per inhabitant is in the Scandinavian countries, Latvia and the Czech Republic. The new Member States in central Europe follow some way behind, while by far the lowest values are found in Turkey, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In Scandinavia, the sheer vastness of the countries requires high levels of investment per inhabitant in railway lines in order to ensure sufficient accessibility by rail for their population. Another point which has to be remembered is that the way in which the railways are operated differs significantly between countries with low and high population density. While the level of service is comparatively low in countries with high rail infrastructure density per inhabitant, countries with a high population density, like the Netherlands and Germany, use highly complex rail traffic management systems to operate their rail infrastructure in order to meet the high level of demand on their heavily used railway network.
There are also other differences between rail transport systems that are due to the spatial distribution of population within countries. For example, the French system can be described as a ‘hub-and-spoke’ system, with Paris at its centre, while in Germany the proportion of direct connections between population centres is significantly higher, reflecting Germany’s more even population distribution. This results in a more complex railway network.
In many central and eastern European countries, there has been a significant drop in rail freight since 1990, in terms of both total volume and of modal share. By contrast, road transport volumes have soared. This development can be regarded as part of the economic and social transformation undergone by the countries which joined the EU in the last two enlargements. As a result, the density of the railway network decreased in some countries — a phenomenon not seen in any national motorway network. A particularly striking reduction in rail infrastructure was seen in Poland, where the railway density dropped from 84 km/1 000 km² in 1990 to 74 km/1 000 km² in 1998 and then to 65 km /1 000 km² in 2008. Data on regional rail infrastructure in Poland have been available since 1998. The most striking reductions between 1998 and 2008 were in Dolnoslaskie (down by 14 % to 88 km/1 000 km² in 2008), Lubelskie (down by 24 % to 43 km/1 000 km²), Warminsko-Mazurskie (down by 70 % to 50 km/1 000 km²) and Wielkopolskie (down by 46 % to 69 km/1 000 km²), compared with a decline of 13 % for Poland as a whole over the same period. Most of these regions had high-density networks in 1990. One exception is the Slaskie region, where the high-density rail network inherited has actually been significantly extended since 1998 (up by 16 % to 174 km/1 000 km² in 2008).
In the case of passenger transport, the most significant recent development is the continuing expansion of the high-speed rail network. While this is not reflected in the railway density indicator, it does account for major recent investment in railway infrastructure.
Turning to the individual regions, the densest rail networks are in the capital regions: Berlin (708 km/1 000 km²) and Praha (507 km/1 000 km²). While these central European capitals have indeed had traditionally strong ra ilway infrastructure, the strikingly high values are due to the small size of these regions within the NUTS 2 classification and the fact that the density of urban infrastructure tends to be much higher than the density of inter-urban roads and railway lines. Other capital regions with relatively dense rail networks are Bucuresti (Bucuresti - Ilfov: 159 km/1 000 km²), Paris (Île-de-France: 154 km/1 000 km²) and Amsterdam (Noord-Holland: 134 km/1 000 km²).
Next in the ranking come Bremen (423 km/1 000 km²) and Hamburg (373 km/1 000 km²), two smaller NUTS 2 regions where extensive freight lines to and from the seaports contribute to the high density. Like the capital cities mentioned above, these two hanseatic cities, which are also German federal states, are much smaller than regions like Zuid-Holland and Antwerpen, with their competing ports of Rotterdam and Antwerpen. These differences make it hard to draw direct comparisons with the infrastructure at the North Sea ports.
Freight lines also play a leading role in some regions with traditional coal and steel industries, like the Saarland in western Germany (135 km/1 000 km²) and Slaskie in south-west Poland (174 km/1 000 km²). Interestingly, Slaskie is, as mentioned above, also the only Polish region with significant recent net additions to its rail network. Consequently, the development of rail infrastructure in Slaskie bucks the general trend in Poland, although this can probably be attributed to the strong economic development in this region. Further regions with high railway density are Severozápad and Severovýchod in the Czech Republic and the regions making up Randstad in the western part of the Netherlands: Utrecht, Zuid-Holland (with the port of Rotterdam) and Noord-Holland (with Amsterdam).
Data sources and availability
Regional transport statistics contain data at NUTS level 2. Data from various national sources (not only National statistical institutes) are sent to the specialised Eurostat Transport unit, based on a series of different Regulations, Decisions and Directives.
The major importance for economic integration in Europe of modern high-capacity transport links and hubs for all modes of transport has been recognised by the European Union and its Member States.This has led them to define major trans-European transport corridors forming part of the trans-European networks (TENs). These have been a key component for developing the single market and promoting economic and social cohesion within the EU.
Constructing these priority transport corridors involves enhancing and extending existing regional transport infrastructure to include the trans-European corridors identified. However, removing transport bottlenecks, particularly on cross-border sections of the networks, is also important for improving access to regions. The capacity of cross border links has not always been a priority in national transport planning. However, the cross-border capacity is important for the free flow of freight and passengers within the single market, across national borders. The EU is therefore putting particular emphasis on future development of such cross-border links. In many cases transport bottlenecks are caused not only by insufficient provision of physical infrastructure, but also by organisational constraints. This is especially true of rail transport, where the inherited organisation of the national railway companies, each with their own technical standards, hampers international traffic flows. However, in recent years, progress has been made. Extension of the Schengen area to include the eastern European countries in 2007 was a major step towards improving the mobility of goods and passengers on the roads.
From the regional perspective, an extensive network of roads, motorways and railway links is a prerequisite for economic development and interregional competitiveness.
Further Eurostat information
- Eurostat regional yearbook 2009
- Regional road and rail transport networks - Statistics in focus 28/2008 (available in English, French and German)
- Illustrated Glossary for Transport Statistics
- Regions and cities, see:
- Regional statistics
- Regional transport statistics (reg_tran)
- Road, rail and navigable inland waterways networks at regional level (tran_r_net)
- Regional transport statistics (reg_tran)
Methodology / Metadata
- Regional transport statistics (ESMS metadata file - reg_tran_esms)
- European Commission - Transport - Transport Infrastructure
- Trans-European Transport Network Executive Agency