Passenger and Freight Rail Trends Mixed, High-Speed Rail Growing

Michael Renner | Sep 02, 2014


According to the International Union of Railways (the UIC—from its name in French, the Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer), people traveled an estimated 2,865 billion passenger-kilometers (pkm) worldwide in 2013 by intercity rail.1 The 2013 value is virtually unchanged from 2012 and confirms a slowing down since 2008.2 From 1980 to 2008, passenger rail travel rose from 1,413 billion pkm to 2,687 billion pkm—3.2 percent per year—but from 2008 to 2013 the annual pace slowed to 1.3 percent.3 (See Figure 1.)

Rail Figure 1

Freight rail movements worldwide amounted to some 9,789 billion ton-kilometers (tkm) in 2013.4 Freight rail expanded by 4.8 percent annually between 2000 and 2008.5 Reflecting the impacts of the economic crisis, however, the 2013 figure is down about 4 percent from the peak value of 10,208 billion tkm reached in 2008.6 (See Figure 2.)

Rail Figure 2

Even though more people and goods travel by rail, the length of the world’s railway lines has not expanded nearly as much. UIC data indicate a total length for passenger and freight lines of 909,000 kilometers in 2000.7 Growth during 2000–05 led the world’s rail network to peak at 1.03 million kilometers.8 Since then, however, the numbers have been flat.9

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