Inland waterways - statistics on container transport
Data extracted in September 2021.
Planned article update: October 2022.
Inland waterways transport of containers, EU, 2010-2020
This article presents the latest statistical data on inland waterways transport of containers in the European Union (EU) and other countries connected to the EU inland waterways network. 12 Member States have a legal obligation to provide data for inland waterways transport, where transport of goods by containers is one category of cargo classification. Eurostat disseminates data on container transport by type of goods (annual data) and on container transport by nationality of vessels (quarterly data). This article is based on annual data.
Transport of containers by inland waterways decreased in 2020
In the EU, the share of container transport in total inland waterways transport performance (in tonne kilometres) increased constantly between 2010 and 2017, exceeding 10 % (see Figure 1) in 2014 and reaching 11.3 % in 2017. In 2018 and 2019, this share lost 0.6 and 0.8 percentage points respectively, falling to 9.8 % in 2019. A slight rebound was observed in 2020, with a share of 10.0 %
Movements of empty containers in the EU in terms of twenty-foot equivalent unit kilometres (TEU-km) increased continuously between 2010 and 2015, reaching a peak of 620 million TEU-km (see Figure 2). In 2016, a substantial fall by -5.4 % was observed, immediately followed by a rebound in 2017 (+2.3 %). In 2018, 2019 and 2020, three consecutive sharp declines were registered (15.5 %, -10.6 % and -6.3 % respectively), resulting in 2020 (425 million TEU-km) under the levels observed in 2011. When looking at movements of loaded containers, the picture is slightly different. Transport performance of loaded containers dropped in 2011, and then rebounded with three consecutive years of growth. In 2015, movements of loaded containers fell by -5.7 %. Then, a positive trend was observed in 2016 and 2017, to reach a peak of 1.1 billion TEU-km in 2017. Similarly to empty containers, a downturn was registered in 2018, 2019 and 2020 (-6.8 %, -3.3 % and -5.2 % respectively). Altogether, the transport performance of containers in TEU-km decreased by -5.5 % in 2020 (1.4 billion TEU-km).
For the most part, the international transport of containers dominates domestic or transit traffic (see Figure 3). It accounted for over half the containers (in TEU-km), every year since 2010 except in 2016 (49.5 %). The highest share was observed in 2010 with 55.6 %. National transport of containers, which increased every year since 2010, except in 2018 (-2.1 %) and 2020 (-4.2 %), came second closely followed by transit transport. International transport evolution was more erratic with several drops observed since 2010 when comparing with the previous year. The most noticeable decrease was registered in 2018, with -10.1 % decline compared with 2017. This downwards trend continued in 2019 (-2.2 %) and 2020 (-3.8 %). When looking at transit transport, there was a steady increase between 2010 and 2014, followed by a strong fall in 2015 (-7.2 %). In the two subsequent years, a rebound was observed. However, in 2018, 2019 and 2020, significant falls were registered (-17.8 %, -23.6 % and -13.1 % respectively).
Whilst the transport performance of loaded containers (in TEU-km) decreased by 5.2 % in 2020 (see Table 1), there was a growth of 3.1 % when looking at TEUs (see Table 2). Movements of empty containers also fell sharply by 6.3 % (Table 3) in terms of TEU-km but in a lesser extent by 0.8 % (Table 4) in terms of TEUs.
At country level, the Netherlands and Germany were by far the main contributors to the inland waterway transport performance of containers (in TEU-km). When looking at transport of containers in TEUs, Belgium also played a substantial role. This reflects the significance of these countries as hosts for major transit ports (Rotterdam and Antwerp) or as a major source or destination for container movements (Germany). Thus, in 2020, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands together represented more than 94 % of total movements of loaded and empty containers in the EU.
For the EU, 69.2 % of TEU-km counted for shipment of loaded containers in 2020 (see Figure 4) . France (72.3 %) and Germany (70.7 %) exceeded the EU level in 2020. Belgium and the Netherlands reported just below the EU level with 68.5 % and 68.0 % respectively; Luxembourg 31.8 %, Croatia and Bulgaria below 1 % . Hungary, Austria and Romania reported only empty containers. Countries with exclusively or very high levels of empty containers transported on inland waterways reported methodological clarifications related to the structure of their transport: the empty containers are brought on inland waterways from one port to another to be loaded and then taken further by road or rail. In some cases, for instance in Austria, the empty containers themselves are considered as a good.
40-feet containers are predominant on EU inland waterways
In terms of the size of loaded containers being transported, 40-feet freight units were dominant at EU level, accounting for 74.4 % of all loaded containers (Figure 5). 20-feet containers were the next most commonly-used type with 23.7 %, while intermediate containers (> 20-feet and <40-feet) accounted for just 1.2 % of the total and containers over 40-feet only 0.7 %. Only Bulgaria and Germany reported movements of containers over 40 feet. The 40-feet freight unit is the most popular in all reporting countries(more than 70 %), except in Bulgaria, which. reported only containers over 40-feet.
For empty containers at EU level, the picture looked very similar with intermediate and very large containers accounting for 2.0 % and 0.8 % of the total, respectively (Figure 6). 40-feet containers were the most commonly reported for transport of empty containers in all countries, with the exception of Luxembourg, where there was a high level of 20-feet containers (66 %).
Country-to-country flows in 2020 illustrated the dominance of the three main inland waterways countries: Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The top five flows were between these three countries, and they accounted for more than 81 % of the total flows in TEU-km (see Table 5). When looking at TEUs, these countries covered the top six flows, accounting for 93 % of the total flows in TEUs (see Table 6). However, the ranking of these flows varied depending on whether they are measured in TEU or in TEU-km. Thus, because of their proximity, the Netherlands/Belgium moves in the ranking from position two in country-to-country flows by TEU to position five when measured by TEU-km.
France and Switzerland integrated in the top ten flows. In particular, the flow between the Netherlands and Switzerland made it into the top 10 when analysed by TEU-km due to the long distances to be travelled.
Source data for tables and graphs
All figures presented in this article have been extracted from the Eurostat online inland waterways transport database. The related datasets are collected according to Regulation (EU) No 2018/974 of the European Parliament and of the Council on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways. Regulation (EU) No 2018/974 consolidated the initial Regulation (EC) No 1365/2006 on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways and all its implementing and amending legal acts: Commission Regulation (EC) No 425/2007 (implementing regulation), Commission Regulation (EC) No 1304/2007 (amending regulation) and Regulation (EU) No 2016/1954 (amending regulation).
Regulation (EU) 2018/974 states that data must be supplied by all Member States for which the total volume of goods transported annually by inland waterways exceeds 1 million tonnes. Currently, 17 Member States provide data on a mandatory or voluntary basis: Belgium (BE), Bulgaria (BG), Czechia (CZ), Germany (DE), France (FR), Croatia (HR), Italy (IT), Lithuania (LT), Luxembourg (LU), Hungary (HU), the Netherlands (NL), Austria (AT), Poland (PL), Romania (RO), Slovakia (SK), Finland (FI) and Sweden (SE). The legal act requires only the provision of a reduced annual dataset for countries exceeding the one million tonnes threshold but where no international or transit traffic exists.
National inland waterways transport: Inland waterways transport between two ports of a national territory irrespective of the nationality of vessel.
International inland waterways transport: Inland waterways transport between two ports located in different national territories.
Transit inland waterways transport: Inland waterways transport through a national territory between two ports both located in another national territory or national territories provided that in the total journey within the national territory there is no transhipment.
TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) is a statistical unit based on an ISO container measuring 20 feet (6.10 m) to provide a standardised measure for counting containers of various capacities and for describing the capacity of container ships or terminals. One 20-feet ISO container equals 1 TEU.
EU includes data for all Member States that provide data.
Calculation of EU aggregates: In Tables 2 and 4, the EU international and total goods transport in TEUs is calculated excluding double counting. In order to achieve that, the EU total international transport is calculated by adding the international unloadings declared by the EU countries plus the international loadings for which the unloading country is not in the EU. Then, the EU total transport is calculated by adding the national transport and the total international transport.
For transit transport measured in TEUs, an EU aggregate equal to the sum of the country figures is not valid because volumes of freight transported are reported by all transit countries through which the transport takes place before reaching the unloading destination. Therefore, the same volume may be reported two, three, or more times without the possibility to eliminate multiple counting. At the same time, figures for transit transport are included in the EU national or international transport as they are reported not only by the transit countries but also by the loading and unloading countries. So, for the EU total volume, it is enough to sum the total national and international figures.
Country specific notes
Belgium: a break in time series can be observed in 2018 due to an improvement of the data collection system.
The Netherlands: due to a methodological change, data on containers were underestimated in 2009 and cannot be compared with other years.
- ":" not available
- "-" not applicable
- "0" real zero
The content of this statistical article is based on data collected within the framework of Regulation (EU) No 2018/974 of the European Parliament and of the Council on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways.
Direct access to
- Transport, see table under 'Inland waterways transport':
- Inland waterways transport (t_iww)
- Goods transport by inland waterways (ttr00007)
- Transport, see datasets under the following categories:
- Inland waterways transport (iww)
- Inland waterways transport infrastructure (iww_if)
- Inland waterways transport equipment (iww_eq)
- Inland waterways transport - Enterprises, economic performances and employment (iww_ec)
- Inland waterways transport measurement - goods (iww_go)
- Inland waterways - accidents (iww_ac)
- Regulation (EU) No 2018/974 of the European Parliament and of the Council on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways
- Summaries of EU legislation: EU statistics of goods transport by inland waterways
- Regulation (EC) No 1365/2006 on statistics of goods transport by inland waterways
- Commission Regulation (EC) No 425/2007 (implementing regulation)
- Commission Regulation (EC) No 1304/2007 (amending regulation)
- Regulation (EU) No 2016/1954 (amending regulation)