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Global traffic keeps rising

22 May 2008

INTERNATIONAL: The strong Asian market is continuing to drive up railway traffic across the world, according to the International Union of Railways' analysis of 2007 statistics published on March 31. Collation of passenger and traffic figures submitted by 62 UIC member railways around the world highlights the relationship between rail trends and 'economic and demographic developments' as well as 'the globalisation of trade links', according to UIC's Senior Advisor, Olivier Georger.

Allowing for the inevitable problems of obtaining comprehensive returns and ensuring that railways report their performance on a truly comparable basis, the UIC figures show a continuing upward trend in total volumes, if not always reflected in market share.

In the passenger sector, Indian Railways reported the strongest year-on-year growth in passenger-km; at 12·9% this is well ahead of the 8·5% rise at Chinese Railways. Both operators are close to achieving 700 billion passenger-km per year, having doubled their traffic in less than 12 years according to UIC. UK train operators reported a 10·8% increase in passenger journeys, and a similar rise in passenger-km to 48·4 billion - the highest figure attained since World War II.

More modest increases in passenger traffic were recorded in Europe and Japan, at 1·5% and 2% respectively. Russian Railways saw a 2·4% fall in passenger-km after recording 4% growth in 2006.

India also saw the biggest growth in freight tonne-km, up by 9·4% compared with 7·6% in China and 7·2% in Russia. Average growth in Europe (excluding the CIS countries) was just 1%, compared with 4% between 2005 and 2006. With international traffic in Europe rising by 3·5%, the lower average suggests a decline in domestic rail freight flows.

The downturn in the US economy was reflected by a 1% fall in freight traffic reported by the AAR, after a 3% increase in 2006. Nevertheless the USA remains the largest rail freight market, with the Class Is handling 2 820 billion tonne-km compared to 2 211 billion in China and just 412 billion in the whole of Europe.

Table I. Top 10 rail operators in 2007

Passenger-km (million)
India IR 694 764
China CR 689 618
Japan JR Group 253 121
Russia RZD 173 411
France SNCF 81 981
Germany DB AG 74 790
UK (ATOC) 48 448
Italy FS 45 223
Spain RENFE 19 990
Poland PKP 17 081
Freight tonne-km (million)
USA (AAR Class Is) 2 820 061
China CR 2 211 246
Russia RZD 2 090 337
India IR 480 993
Germany DB AG 98 790
Belarus BC 47 933
Poland PKP 43 548
France SNCF 40 632
Japan JR Freight 23 076
Italy FS 21 197