Wednesday 30 June 2021

Rail traffic trends in 2020 among UIC member companies

Provisional results

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The traffic data for 2019 and 2020 provided by passenger and freight operators, all members of UIC, shows the strong impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on passenger rail transport trends in UIC regions (Figure 1). In contrast, freight transport shows heterogenous trends, with positive or negative values depending on the company and the region (Figure 2).

As previously observed, rail passenger transport (passenger-kilometres, Figure 3) fell sharply between February and April 2020 according to traffic data reported by companies. The decline was faster and around one month earlier for CR [1] in China in comparison with companies based in Europe. From May 2020, passenger traffic increased for the majority of companies but decreased again from October.

Over the full year 2020, most companies recorded a contraction in traffic of between -40 and -60% compared to 2019. There was relatively strong contraction in the EU 27 region, with an average of -46%. This result is consistent with statistics provided by Eurostat (i.e. -47% for the same perimeter of EU 27 countries [1]) [2].

For Indian Railways (Figure 3), the monthly evolution in passenger transport followed the same pace as companies in Europe but with a sharper decline between February and April and a very slow recovery during the subsequent months, resulting in a decline of around 70% over the year 2020 compared to 2019. A decrease of the same proportion was recorded for North American companies Amtrak and VIA Rail, at -65% and -78%, respectively. Conversely, EJR in Japan and companies in Chinese Taipei recorded a limited decline of around -31% and -16%, respectively.

Regarding the transport of goods by rail (Figure 2), the slowdown in 2020 compared to 2019 was less marked than for passenger transport (Figure 3) and the trends (i.e. positive or negative) are more heterogenous from one company to another. It should be noted that some railways in Europe, such as BDZ in Bulgaria, TCDD in Turkey and Gysev Cargo in Hungary, even recorded a positive trend during 2020: between +4 and +10%. The same observation can be made for a number of companies in Africa, such as ONCF (MA) at +1%, SNCC (CD) at +8%, SNTF (DZ) at +10% and Setrag (GA) at +29%, and in Asia with +0.5% for DSVN (VN), +3.5% for KTZ (KZ) and +6.9% for RAI (IR). RZD in Russia and CR in China recorded a negligible decline of -2.5% and -1%, respectively. The same trend is seen for Indian Railways, with a relatively weak slowdown of -3% recorded for goods transported by rail. In contrast, the decline was more significant for many companies based in Europe, and in the EU 27 in particular, at -7 and -9% on average (more or less in line with Eurostat’s publication, which cites -6% for the EU 27 [1]). Unfortunately, the decline was more significant for Class 1 companies in the US, at -12%. However, for most of the companies that experienced a slowdown, traffic was more or less back to normal for the last quarter of 2020.


[3] Download UIC data:

UIC Statistics webpage:


Many thanks to all the correspondents who cooperated actively in providing the data used for this brief note from the UIC Statistics Group.

[1Passenger traffic data from China Railways includes intercity and high-speed services (i.e. commuter and regional traffic is not included)

[2According to Eurostat, the UK recorded a strong decline, with a reduction in passenger traffic of more than 60% in 2020 [1]

Contact the UIC Statistics Unit:

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Figure 1. Passenger-kilometres (millions) for 2019 (grey bar) and 2020 (black bar). The y axis is a logarithmic scale. Railway companies are grouped by region with values in percentages showing the average change between 2019 and 2020. Please note that not all railways took part in the survey. The overview of the railway market presented here is thus a partial one.
Figure 2. As with Figure 1 but for freight traffic, i.e. tkm in millions. The y axis is a logarithmic scale. Again, please note that some European railways did not take part in the survey. The overview of the European railway market presented here is thus a partial one. AAR data relates only to traffic carried by Class 1 companies in the United States.
Figure 3. The left-hand graph shows the monthly passenger traffic index for the period from January 2019 to December 2020. The reference for the index is January 2019, equal to 100. Aggregates of UIC railway members for which data is available are represented by region: “EU” and “Other Europe”, plus Russian Railways (RZD), China Railways (CR), Indian Railways (IR) and East Japan Railways (EJR). The list of railways included in the “EU 27” and “Other Europe” aggregates is shown in Figure 1. The right-hand graph shows the same data for freight traffic. Aggregates of UIC railway members for which data is available are represented by region: “EU” and “Other Europe” (see Figure 2 for the list of railways), plus Russian railways (RZD), China Railways (CR), Indian Railways (IR), Kazakhstan Railways (KTZ) and Class 1 companies from the Association of American Railroads in the US. EJR and AAR data was originally provided by quarter and has been adjusted monthly in the left- and right-hand graphs, respectively. Data from Indian Railways has been calculated using monthly passengers/tonnes carried multiplied by the mean distance covered by one passenger/one tonne.