Multimodal Traffic

Freight transport splits equally between road and rail in major trade regions while passenger transport is mainly by roads

Multimodal traffic is a key section of IRF World Road Statistics (WRS) and provides data for inland surface freight and passenger transport for over 200 countries. Analyzing two important trade regions- Europe/Central Asia and North America- reveals that inland waterways are trivial in comparison to roads and rails for freight transport and that focus should be almost entirely on roads for passenger transport in both regions.

The WRS calculates the total freight transport for the latest year of available data in each country and breaks that number down into specific sections that include road, rail, and inland waterway. The first analysis of the European/Central Asian region reveals that:

  • Freight transport is almost equally split by road and rail: 46% roads and 50% rail. Russian Federation accounts for 74% of the total freight transport by rail in the European/Central Asia region
  • The final 4% is made up of inland waterway transport
  • 88% of passenger transport is by road and just 12% by rail

The bar chart below displays the latest available data for freight and passenger transport in the European/Central Asian region.

Source: IRF WRS 2018, latest year of available data for countries

If we compare the European/Central Asian region with the North American region, we see that there is even less rail transport for passengers in North America. There is also slightly more inland waterway freight transport in North America, however road and rail are almost equally split in both regions. For the purpose of this analysis, Canada, Mexico, and the United States are the only three countries from which we used data in the North American region (NAFTA trade bloc between countries). The bar chart below displays the latest year of available data for multimodal transport in North America.

What immediately stands out from the data is 99% of passenger transport is by roads. Since passenger transport happens almost exclusively on roads, it is clear where the priorities are for North American countries: safety, accessibility, maintenance, congestion, intelligent transport systems. Researching and developing plans to ensure drivers are on the safest and highest performing roads is incredibly important for the safety of road passengers and for welfare of the economy.

Regarding freight transport, rail and road should be equally prioritized in North America.

  • 47% roads and 42% rail (only 11% inland waterway). United States account for 85% of the total freight transport by rail in the North American region.

Urbanization has been putting pressure on road networks by making them more congested and the growth of the population in urbanized areas has led to an increased demand for goods to be transported. Proper urban planning policies are overall needed to help an economy thrive by providing an excellent level of service to the communities and by ensuring a good quality of life to people.

A very efficient national road network with a weak rail network or vice versa fails to maximize economic growth and sustainability. Both Europe/Central Asia and North America need to place an equal emphasis on their rails and roads as they are equally vital to these regions. Multimodal transport allows a country to combine the best practices of these two forms of transport which increases the economies efficiency.

If you are interested in more detailed information regarding key statistical indicators for the road and transport sector, whether for a specific country or worldwide, we invite you to contact us directly by email or phone +41 22 306 0260