After a drop of 2.2% and 6.1% in 2019 and 2020 (compared with the previous year), the European Union’s rail freight transport is now looking up. It is on the path of recovery after it went up by 8.7% in 2021, reaching almost the high level of 2018, at 399 billion tonne-kilometers (tkm) said Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU.
The fourth quarter of 2020 showed the first sign of recovery 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.
It was in the second quarter of 2021, that the highest growth rate in rail freight transport was recorded 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 quarter in 2020.
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.
The rail freight transport in seven EU member states 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%).
The remaining member state’s rail transport performance witnessed growth 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%), according to Eurostat.
In absolute terms, Germany was the member state with the highest increase: +14.7 billion tkm between 2020 and 2021. Following right after was France with a growth of 4.2 billion tkm over the same period.
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.