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Transport in Europe

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Transport networks in Europe
E-Road Network over 1990 borders
Operational high-speed railway lines
Busiest airports as of 2007
Navigable rivers and canals

Transport in Europe provides for the movement needs of over 700 million people[1] and associated freight.


The political geography of Europe divides the continent into over 50 sovereign states and territories. This fragmentation, along with increased movement of people since the Industrial Revolution, has led to a high level of cooperation between European countries in developing and maintaining transport networks. Supranational and intergovernmental organisations such as the European Union (EU), Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have led to the development of international standards and agreements that allow people and freight to cross the borders of Europe, largely with unique levels of freedom and ease.

EU freight transport in 2016[2]

  Road (51%)
  Sea (33%)
  Rail (12%)
  Inland waterways (4%)
  Air (0.1%)

Road, rail, air and water transportation are all prevalent and important across Europe. Europe was the location of the world's first railways and motorways and is now the location of some of the world's busiest ports and airports. The Schengen Area enables border control-free travel between 26 European countries. Freight transportation has a high level of intermodal compatibility and the European Economic Area allows the free movement of goods across 30 states. Of all tonne-kilometres transported in 2016, 51% were by road, 33% by sea, 12% by rail, 4% by inland waterways, and 0.1% by air.[2]

A review of critical success factors for the delivery of transport infrastructure projects in Europe is presented in a 2017 report.[3]

Rail transport[edit]

A German ICE 3, a French Thalys and a French-British Eurostar at Brussels South railway station.

Powered rail transport began in England in the early 19th century with the invention of the speed train. The modern European rail network spans the entire continent and provides movement of passengers and freight. There are significant high-speed rail passenger networks, such as the TGV in France and the LAV in Spain. The Channel Tunnel connects the United Kingdom with France and thus the whole of the European rail system, and it was called one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.[4]

Various method of rail electrification are used as well as much unelectrified track. Standard gauge is widespread in Central and Western Europe, Russian gauge predominates in parts of Eastern Europe, and mainline services on the Iberian Peninsula and the island of Ireland use the rarer Iberian gauge and Irish gauge, respectively. The European Rail Traffic Management System is an EU initiative to create a Europe-wide standard for train signalling.

Rail infrastructure, freight transport and passenger services are provided by a combination of local and national governments and private companies. Passenger ticketing varies from country to country and service to service. The Eurail Pass, a rail pass for 18 European countries, is available only for persons who do not live in Europe, Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia. Inter Rail passes allow multi-journey travel around Europe for people living in Europe and surrounding countries.

Rapid transit[edit]

A geographic map of London's rapid transit service, known as the London Underground.

Many cities across Europe have a rapid transit system, commonly referred to as a metro, which is an electric railway. The world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, was opened in London in 1863. It is now part of London's rapid transit system that referred to as the London Underground, the longest such system in Europe. After London, the largest European metro systems by track length are in Moscow, Madrid and Paris.

Coach transport[edit]

In the early 2010s, many countries in Europe decided to liberalize the market for medium/long distance coach (intercity bus) transportation, obliged to do it by the EC directive 1370/2007[5] (Public Service Obligations in Transport). This move has already proven to be helping both the economies and the Europeans.

The bus is the cheapest method of transportation and slower than the train in countries that have high-speed rail. However, many companies have made adjustments so that their coach fleets can be as comfortable as trains. Toilets and power have been added to the coaches, and some are equipped with WiFi.

Air transport[edit]

Aircraft from LOT Polish Airlines, Brussels Airlines, airBaltic and Air Europa at Barcelona Airport.

Despite an extensive road and rail network, 43% of international travel within the EU was by air in 2013.[6] Air travel is particularly important for peripheral nations such as Spain and Greece and island nations such as Malta and Cyprus, where a large majority of border crossings are by air.[6] A large tourism industry also attracts many visitors to Europe, most of whom arrive into one of Europe's many large international airports – major hubs include London Heathrow, Istanbul, Paris-Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol. The advent of low cost carriers in recent years[when?] has led to a large increase in air travel within Europe. Air transportation is now often the cheapest way of travelling between cities. This increase in air travel has led to problems of airspace overcrowding and environmental concerns. The Single European Sky is one initiative aimed at solving these problems.[7]

Within the European Union, the complete freedoms of the air and the world's most extensive cabotage agreements allow budget airlines to operate freely across the EU.[8] Cheap air travel is spurred on by the trend for regional airports levying low fees to market themselves as serving large cities quite far away. Ryanair is especially noted for this, since it primarily flies out of regional airports up to 150 kilometres away from the cities they are said to serve. A primary example of this is the Weeze-Skavsta flight, where Weeze mainly serves the Nijmegen/Kleve area, while Skavsta serves Nyköping/Oxelösund. Ryanair however, markets this flight as Düsseldorf-Stockholm, which are both 80–90 kilometres away from these airports, resulting in up to four hours of ground transportation just to get to and from the airport.

Sea and river transport[edit]

Ships on the Rhine at Cologne.

The Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands is the largest port in Europe and one of the busiest ports in the world, handling some 440 million metric tons of cargo in 2013. When the associated Europoort industrial area is included, Rotterdam is by certain measurements the world's busiest port. Two thirds of all inland water freight shipping within the E.U., and 40% of containers, pass through the Netherlands.[9] Other large ports are the Port of Hamburg in Germany and the Port of Antwerp in Belgium. They are all a part of the so-called "Northern Range".

The English Channel is one of the world's busiest seaways carrying over 400 ships per day[10] between Europe's North Sea and Baltic Sea ports and the rest of the world.

As well as its role in freight movement, sea transport is an important part of Europe's energy supply. Europe is one of the world's major oil tanker discharge destinations. Energy is also supplied to Europe by sea in the form of LNG. The South Hook LNG terminal at Milford Haven, Wales is Europe's largest LNG terminal.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision". United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 11 March 2009. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  2. ^ a b European Commission. Directorate General for Research Innovation (November 2018). Final Report of the High-Level Panel of the European Decarbonisation Pathways Initiative (PDF). European Commission. p. 59. doi:10.2777/636. ISBN 978-92-79-96827-3.
  3. ^ Locatelli, Giorgio; Invernizzi, Diletta Colette; Brookes, Naomi J. (1 April 2017). "Project characteristics and performance in Europe: An empirical analysis for large transport infrastructure projects" (PDF). Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice. 98: 108–122. doi:10.1016/j.tra.2017.01.024.
  4. ^ "Seven wonders of the modern world". Archived from the original on 2 April 2010.
  5. ^ The Regulation (EC) No 1370/2007 (Public Service Obligations in Transport) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
  6. ^ a b "Tourism statistics - intra-EU tourism flows". Eurostat. June 2015. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
  7. ^ "The Single European Sky". European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation. 13 January 2009. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
  8. ^ Havel, Brian F. (31 March 2014). The Principles and Practice of International Aviation Law. Cambridge University Press. pp. 50–53. ISBN 9781107020528. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Seaports - Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency". www.nfia.com. Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency. c. 2010. Archived from the original on 17 July 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2014.
  10. ^ "The Dover Strait". Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 2007. Archived from the original on 31 August 2010. Retrieved 8 October 2008.
  11. ^ "Port awaits liquid gas delivery". BBC News. 20 March 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009.

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