Freight transport statistics - modal split
Data extracted in March 2020.
Planned article update: April 2021.
In 2018, road transport accounted for 75.3% of the total inland freight transport, followed by rail and inland waterways transport (18.7% and 6.0% respectively).
Between 2013 and 2018, inland freight transport performance in the EU increased by 10.5%.
In 2018, road is the leading mode of freight transport at intra-EU level (52.4%) followed by maritime transport (30.0%) and rail transport (13.0%).
Modal split of inland freight transport, 2018
Modal split in the EU
Modal split of inland freight transport in 2013-2018: 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 2018, road transport accounted for three-quarters (75.3 %) of the total inland freight transport (based on tonne-kilometres performed). This share increased by 0.1 percentage points (pp) compared with the previous year. The share of road has constantly increased between 2013 and 2018. It was 73.9 % in 2013 and 2014. It increased by 0.2 pp each year in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, the share increased again by 0.8 pp. Compared to 2013, the share of road has increased by 1.4 pp in 2018.
Between 2013 and 2016, the share of rail in the inland transport performance remained relatively stable (between 18.7 % and 18.9 %). In 2017, the share of rail transport decreased by 0.6 pp. In 2018, rail transport accounted for 18.7 % of the EU total, increasing by 0.4 pp to the same level as in 2013. Between 2013 and 2018, the share of inland waterways in EU freight transport constantly decreased from 7.4 % to 6.0 %.
Noticeable changes in the modal split of Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia and Hungary from 2013 to 2018
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 in 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 report freight data on inland waterways. In particular, Cyprus and Malta do not have either railways or navigable inland waterways; 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 evident. This is 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 was in the range 70 % - 85 % in the three Baltic countries. The share of rail in Estonia has constantly fallen between 2013 and 2016, when it dropped below 50 %. In 2017 and 2018, a small rebound was observed with a 1.5 pp increase in 2017 compared with previous year and 1.8 pp increase in 2018. Compared with 2013, it was a 17.5 pp decrease in 2018 (see Table 1). This was mainly caused by a significant fall in transport of petroleum products. As Estonia has no inland waterways transport, the fall in the share of rail was directly reflected in a corresponding rise in the share of road (+17.5 pp). From 2013 to 2018, the decreases in the share of rail were noticeable also in Slovakia (-6.4 pp) and Latvia (-5.4 pp). When looking at the share of road, besides the countries aforementioned, an increase between 2013 and 2018 was also observed in Hungary (+5.6 pp).
Inland waterways freight transport has a very important role in the Netherlands (43.2 % in 2018), but still below the share of road (50.4 % in 2018). The comparatively high shares of inland waterways freight transport in Romania (27.1 % in 2018) and Bulgaria (24.5 % in 2018) are in part explained by the extensive traffic on the Danube and in part by the ‘territorialisation’ of the road data. (An explanation of this adjustment is given in the Data sources section below.)
Table 1 shows that between 2013 and 2018, the share of road in total inland transport performance dropped by 1.5 pp in Portugal, making it the largest decrease among the Member States. Such falls in the share of road were observed in eight other Member States, with the most noticeable in Italy and Lithuania (-1.3 pp). There was also a fall in the share of road in the EFTA country Norway (-2.2 pp) over the period 2013-2018. For these countries, the fall in the share of road in the modal split was mainly caused by a substantial increase in the tonne-kilometres performed by rail (+26.5 % in Lithuania, +20.7 % in Portugal and +15.9 % in Italy) over the period 2013-2018 (see Table 2). In contrast, between 2013 and 2018, the tonne-kilometres performed by road increased in all countries, except Luxembourg (-6.3 %). Increases, of more than 10 % were observed in 18 Member States and the United Kingdom. Amongst them, 8 countries registered increases of more than 25 % and 4 countries more than 30 %: Cyprus (+40.0 %), Hungary (+34.6 %), Slovakia (+34.4 %) and Slovenia (+32.8 %).
When looking at the two most recent reference years, Poland showed the strongest decrease in the share of road with -2.9 pp from 2017 to 2018, followed by Luxembourg (-2.7 pp), Estonia (-1.8 pp), Finland (-1.7 pp) and Belgium(-1.5 pp). In contrast, the share of road increased the most in Hungary (+6.2 pp), followed by Romania (+1.6 pp) and the Netherlands (+1.0 pp) (Table 1).
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 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, for example, where a sharp drop in 2017 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 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 presented 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 section below.
Inland freight transport performance in the EU increased by 10.5 % in 2018 compared with 2013
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 (+10.5 %) in the total inland freight transport performance in the EU between 2013 and 2018.
The aggregated EU transport performance figures show that total inland transport performance increased by around 978 billion tonne-kilometres during the period 2013-2018, reaching 2 269 billion tonne-kilometres in 2018. Road transport performance was 12.7 % higher in 2018 than in 2013. In contrast, over the same period the transport performance decreased by -11.5 % for inland waterways but increased by 10.5 % for rail.
Looking only at the two most recent reference years at EU level, the total freight transport performance remained stable between 2017 and 2018 (-0.04 %), with road stagnating (+0.1 %), rail increasing by 2.3 % and inland waterways substantially decreasing by 8.3 %.
At country level, the largest decreases in total transport performance of inland modes between 2017 and 2018 were observed in Luxembourg (-12.9 %), Bulgaria (-6.7 %), Denmark and Hungary (both -4.8 %). The fall in total transport performance in these countries, except Hungary, was mainly caused by a sharp decrease in road transport. In Hungary, it was mainly caused by a sharp decrease in rail transport (-20.8 %), the highest decrease amongst the Member States.
Looking specifically at rail freight transport over the two most recent reference years, tonne-kilometres increased significantly in several countries among which Latvia (+18.9 %), Greece (+14.1 %), Estonia (+11.3 %), Lithuania (+9.5 %) and Sweden (+9.3 %).
Who drives where in international road freight transport?
Whereas both national and cabotage road freight transport are territorial and need no adjustment, the ’territorialisation’ of international road freight transport, done to establish the modal split between the different modes of transport for each country, generates some interesting findings.
Figures 3 and 4 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 2018. 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 list for European-wide international road freight transport: 27.0 % of all tonne-kilometres performed in international road freight transport (corresponding to around 163 billion tonne-kilometres) took place in Germany, with a decrease of 4.5 % compared with the year before. France followed next, although far behind, with a share of 18.3 %. With 7.8 % of international road transport performance in the EU, Poland comes third, followed by Spain (7.2 %) and Italy (5.4 %).
Table 3 lists the five main countries of origin of foreign hauliers performing international transport in each country in 2018. For instance, Belgium’s road network was most used for international transport by hauliers registered in the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, France and Luxembourg. Hauliers from these five countries, taken together, were responsible for 68.2 % of the international transport tonne-kilometres performed by foreign hauliers on Belgian territory in 2018.
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 2018. Poland is thus one of the most active haulier countries in international road transport in Europe. Polish hauliers take top place as the most important foreign hauliers in 11 Member States, the United Kingdom and the 2 EFTA countries Norway and Switzerland, as well as second place in another 8 Member States. The share of Polish hauliers among the foreign hauliers is as high as 64.5 % in Slovakia, 59.9 % in Lithuania, 48.3 % in Romania, 47.6 % in Germany and 45.8 % in Czechia. Even in geographically distant countries, Polish hauliers remain active: for example, 20.9 % of all tonne-kilometres forwarded by foreign hauliers in Italy were carried by Polish hauliers.
It should be noted that the overall road transport performance in the EU, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland remains underestimated, as only transport activities of hauliers registered in the EU, the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein (until 2013) are considered. Moreover, transport performance of road freight journeys to non-EU countries (apart from the United Kingdom, the EFTA countries, Turkey, Montenegro and North Macedonia) has not been taken into account.
Modal split based on five transport modes: road competes with maritime at intra-EU level
Figure 5 shows the 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 air and maritime transport to the inland modes, road still keeps its leading position, followed by maritime transport. In 2018, road accounted for just over half of all tonne-kilometres performed in the EU. Maritime transport came next, with almost a third of the total transport performance, followed by rail (13.0 %) and inland waterways (4.1 %). In terms of tonne-kilometres performed, air transport plays only a marginal role in intra EU freight transport, with a share of 0.4 %.
The relative shares of road and maritime transport have increased by 0.3 pp and 0.9 pp from 2013 to 2018, while the share of rail and inland waterways transport have decreased (-0.2 pp and -1.1 pp, respectively) and the share of air transport remained unchanged.
Figure 6 presents the transport performance in tonne-kilometres for the five transport modes road, rail, inland waterways, maritime and air between 2013 and 2018. The total transport performance by these five modes of transport increased by 12.0 % during this period. This significant increase over this period was observed for all modes of transport, with the exception of inland waterways (-11.5 %). Transport performance for maritime increased by 15.6 %, for road by 12.7 %, for rail by 10.5 % and for air by 12.0 %, respectively. However, air transport is of only marginal importance for the total intra EU transport performance.
Source data for tables and graphs
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:
- Road: Regulation (EU) No 70/2012 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of goods by road (recast);
- Rail: Regulation (EU) No 2018/643 recast of Regulation (EU) No 2016/2032;
- Inland waterways: Regulation (EU) No 2018/974 of the European Parliament and of the Council on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways.
- Air: Regulation (EC) No 437/2003 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of passengers, freight and mail by air
- Maritime: Directive 2009/42/EC on statistical returns in respect of carriage of goods and passengers by sea
This article also includes data for inland transport modes from the United Kingdom, 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%.
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.
Furthermore, transport performance of road freight journeys to non-EU countries (apart from the United Kingdom, the EFTA countries, Turkey, Montenegro and North 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 from 2005 onwards, 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. 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 freight transport to national and international intra-EU transport. Thus, distortions in the overall picture of the European transport market, which would appear by including deep sea shipping, are avoided.
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. The distance matrix contains as well a so-called 'territorialisation tool' that allows attributing the calculated tonne-kilometres to the countries overflown on the route. The distance for each country is based on its national airspace, which includes territorial waters of 12 nautical miles off its coast. The calculated ‘territorialised’ air transport performance is a concept intended to be used only for comparing the transport modes' activity at the EU or at a country level for the purpose of modal split. More information can be found in the relevant metadata on Eurostat website, here.
Definitions of terms used within transport statistics are available in the transport glossary and in the 'Glossary for transport statistics - 5th edition - 2019'.
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.
- Transport, see:
- Transport, volume and modal split (t_tran_hv)
- Transport, see:
- Multimodal data (tran)
- Transport, volume and modal split (tran_hv)
- Glossary for transport statistics - 5th edition - 2019
- Modal split of freight transport (ESMS metadata file — tran_hv_frmod_esms)
- Modal split of passenger transport (ESMS metadata file — tran_hv_psmod_esms)
- Volume of freight transport relative to GDP (ESMS metadata file — tran_hv_frtra_esms)
- Volume of passenger transport relative to GDP (ESMS metadata file — tran_hv_pstra_esms)