Next up is rail transport?

For years, we’ve been hearing that rail transport (or more broadly, multimodal transport) should replace road transport. However, there are still no real signs of these changes. Why?

The latest report from the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Managers (CER) points out several problems faced by road transport that rail transport doesn’t necessarily have to deal with.


Road transport has its drawbacks, as we have previously discussed on our blog. Its emissions are significantly higher than those of rail transport. Heavy trucks wear down road infrastructure much faster than cars, and accidents involving trucks can be devastating.

The CER report also indicates that rail transport is seven times more energy-efficient, thanks to the physical parameters of trains, such as lower rolling resistance.

There is also a human factor – Europe is already facing a shortage of about half a million truck drivers, and demographic changes suggest that real problems in this field are still ahead of us. In this situation, rail transport could be a solution. After all, it is estimated that one train driver can transport as much cargo as about 40 truck drivers!


If rail has been dominating road transport for years, it should be on the right track to reduce its significance, right? And here we get to the crux of the matter. Still, about 3/4 of freight transport in the EU is carried out by trucks.

Perhaps new EU countries are inflating the results, and Western Europe is already transitioning to rail? Not at all. The only countries where the share of rail transport in the total freight work performed exceeds 50% are Latvia and Lithuania.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not trying to be ironic. We’re simply pointing out that saying rail transport will become more important than road transport for the European economy within a few years is a far-reaching misunderstanding. We all want its significance to grow, and it certainly will. However, there is still a long way to go to compete with freight trucks.


Rail transport has the disadvantage that it is not door-to-door for most customers. We need to load the cargo onto a truck, transport it to the rail terminal, reload it onto a train, deliver it to the destination station, reload it onto a truck again, and deliver it to the recipient. This complex logistics operation is more profitable the longer the distance the cargo has to travel by rail. Therefore, it is crucial to expand the rail infrastructure so that it is as close as possible to key production and warehouse centers.

The specificity of rail infrastructure means that the market for rail freight transport is dominated by large state-owned companies. The introduction of the Third-Party Access (TPA) principle on European tracks brings in external players. Their share in transports increased from 25% in 2010 to 51% in 2021. However, 15 percentage points here are still accounted for by transports carried out by state-owned companies operating beyond their borders.

If private companies are to invest in rail, further deregulation and a reduction in formal requirements for logistics operators wanting to enter this market are necessary. However, there is no indication that even in such a situation, rail transport will be able to replace road transport within the next decade.

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