Indicator: Environmentally friendly freight transport

A graph shows the shares of rail and inland shipping in freight transport volume between 1999 and 2019. The share of rail transport first increased and then began to stagnate, while the share of inland shipping declined.Click to enlarge
Share of rail freight and inland waterways transport to overall freight transport volume
Source: Federal Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure Figure as PDF

Table of Contents


At a glance

  • The rail share in freight transport fluctuated between 17 % and 19 % over the past years.
  • The share of inland waterways transport fell almost continuously from 13.5 % to 7.3 % since 1999.
  • According to the Federal Government, the rail freight transport share should have been rising to 25 % by 2015, while the share of inland waterways should have reached 14%. Both targets were clearly missed.
  • The 2016 update of the sustainability strategy replaced these individual targets with an overarching goal to reduce energy consumption in transportation.

Environmental importance

Around three quarters of the total freight transport is managed by road. However, shifting transport to more environmentally friendly modes such as ships and trains is a prerequisite for sustainable mobility.

It has to be said that trains and ships pose their own environmental challenges. Rail freight transport causes noise pollution, while inland waterways transport require well maintained waterways. Extending waterways is often associated with a decline in water quality and a burden on the natural environment, but energy consumption per tonne-kilometre is significantly lower in rail and ship transport than in heavy goods vehicle transport. The same applies to greenhouse gas emissions (in German only).

For short distances under 50 kilometres, motorised freight transport is almost unrivalled. Trains and ships are unsuitable for extensive distribution of goods. This is why for this indicator, only goods transport over distances above 50 kilometres was taken into account.


Assessing the development

The long-term development of rail freight transport was positive. Between 1999 and 2019, it increased considerably. In inland waterways transport, the trend has been clearly negative. Between 1999 and 2019, its freight transport market share fell almost continuously. Overall, the share of freight transport by rail and inland waterways in total freight transport volume has declined slightly due to the strong growth of road freight transport.

In the Strategy for Sustainable Development of 2002 the Federal Government set the target of increasing the rail share in freight transport volume to 25 % and the inland waterways shipping share to 14 % by 2015. These targets were clearly missed. In the most recent update of the German Sustainable Development Strategy (BReg 2016), the individual targets were replaced by an overarching target to reduce energy consumption in transport (see indicator 'Final energy consumption of transport').

Measures taken by the Federal Government could not prevent the ever-increasing dominance of road based freight transport. Clearly, more efforts must be made. It must be also taken into consideration that from an environmental perspective, goods traffic as such should be reduced. At present, however, an ongoing increase is to be expected.



The figures on which this indicator is based are published annually by the Federal Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure in its series ‘Verkehr in Zahlen’ (BMVI 2020, in German only). They are largely based on data that have been published by the Federal Statistical Office of Germany in its paper ‘Verkehr im Überblick’ (Destatis 2020, in German only). Descriptions on the methods used are found in the quality reports of the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (Destatis n.d., in German only). Figures on road freight transport are based on data collected by the Federal Motor Transport Authority.

More detailed information: Fahrleistungen, Verkehrsleistung und 'Modal Split' (in German only).