Recovery on track: rail freight up 8.7 % in 2021




After decreases of 2.2 % and 6.1 % in 2019 and 2020 (compared with the previous year), EU rail freight transport performance saw some recovery in 2021. To prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Member States put in place restrictive measures that had a significant impact on rail freight transport, although rail passenger transport was more affected. In 2021, there was an indication of some recovery, with rail freight transport up 8.7 % compared with 2020, reaching almost the high level of 2018, at 399 billion tonne-kilometres (tkm).

The first signs of recovery were observed in the fourth quarter of 2020 when data pointed to a 5.1 % increase compared with the same quarter of the previous year. This trend gradually continued in all quarters of 2021.

The highest growth rate in rail freight transport was recorded in the second quarter of 2021, with a 20.5 % boost, followed by the third quarter (+8.0 %). The first and fourth quarters increased by 3.4 % each, compared with the same quarters in 2020.

This information comes from data on railway transport published by Eurostat today. The article presents a handful of findings from the more detailed Statistics Explained article on railway freight transport statistics.

Rail freight falls in seven Member States and increases in the remaining ones

Germany was the largest contributor to the rail freight transport performance in the EU, with 123 billion tkm in 2021, representing around 31 % of the EU total. Poland and France followed with 54 and 36 billion tkm, respectively. At the other end of the scale, Greece, Luxembourg and Ireland registered less than 1 billion tkm in 2021.

In seven EU Member States, rail freight transport decreased between 2020 and 2021: Denmark (-18.9 %), Portugal (-18.3 %), Lithuania (-8.2 %), Latvia (-7.7 %), Ireland (-5.2 %), Croatia (-3.3 %) and Hungary (-2.1 %).

In the remaining Member States, rail transport performance grew in the same period. The highest increase was observed in Estonia (+22.9 %), followed by Spain (+20.3 %), Slovakia (+18.6 %), Italy (+15.0 %), Germany (+13.5 %), France (+13.3 %) and Romania (+10.9 %).

In absolute terms, Germany was the Member State with the highest increase: +14.7 billion tkm between 2020 and 2021. France followed with a growth of 4.2 billion tkm over the same period.


For more information:

Methodological notes: 

  • Belgium data not included due to confidentiality.
  • There are no railways in Cyprus and Malta.
  • Main undertakings are defined as those with a total volume of goods transport of at least 200 million tonne-kilometres or at least 500 000 tonnes or total volume of passenger transport of at least 100 million passenger-kilometres. Railway undertakings that are below the thresholds may be included for some countries.