Nearly 7 percent more rail freight transport in 2021

Railway locomotive, riding through nature.
© Hollandse Hoogte / Dolph Cantrijn
In 2021, 42.6 million tonnes of goods were transported over Dutch railways. This is 6.5 percent up on the previous year. Inbound and outbound rail freight transport increased by 10.1 and 9.5 percent, respectively. Declines were recorded in both domestic transport and rail transit. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports this on the basis of newly released figures.

Rail freight transport, by direction of transport
Richting2021 (x million tonnes)2020 (x million tonnes)

In Q1 2021, the volume of goods transported by rail fell by 1.4 percent year on year. This was partly due to the wintry conditions in February 2021, which caused major disruptions to train traffic. Rail freight transport rose by 27.3 percent in Q2 and by 9.7 percent in Q3. The volume decreased again in Q4, by 4.9 percent year on year. This was partly caused by protracted works at various border crossing points. Transit in particular was affected by this, declining by 35.5 percent in Q4.

More containers transported by rail

In 2021, the volume of rail transport in containers – accounting for nearly 44 percent of the total transported volume – fell by 6.7 percent to 18.7 million tonnes year on year. At the same time, the total number of TEUs rose by 9.8 percent.

Increase in coal and metal ore transport

After containers, most commonly carried through the Netherlands by rail are the bulk goods coal and metal ores. These are predominantly destined for Germany, where they are used inter alia in metal manufacturing and energy supply. In 2021, transport of coal (including crude oil and natural gas) and metal ores (including other minerals) increased by 6.5 and 7.1 percent respectively on the previous year. Transport of metals (including steel) rose by 16.6 percent. On the other hand, transport of chemical products by rail declined (-8.4 percent).

Rail freight transport by type of goods
Goederensoort2021 (x million tonnes)2020 (x million tonnes)
Container goods18.717.5
Coal and lignite, crude petroleum
and natural gas
Metal ores and other minerals5.35.0
Chemical products and
synthetic or man-made fibres
Basic metals, fabricated
metal products, except machinery and equipment
Other goods4.94.5

Lower outbound volume for Germany, inbound volume unchanged

More than 84 percent of total rail freight transport consists of inbound and outbound flows. The bulk of these goods travel between the Netherlands and Germany. In 2021, rail transport to Germany grew by 10.1 percent on the previous year, to 17.7 million tonnes. Not only coal and metal ore transport increased, but there was also more container transport to Germany (+9.2 percent). At 3.9 million tonnes, the inbound volume of freight from Germany was the same in 2021 as in 2020. Inbound transport from the other major partner countries increased: from Italy by 13.2 percent and from Belgium by 22.8 percent.

Rail transit mainly between Belgium and Germany

As for transit trade, which accounts for over 8 percent of total rail freight transport, most of the goods are carried from Belgium to Germany via the Netherlands and vice versa. In 2021, transit trade from Belgium to Germany grew by 8.4 percent to 1.4 million tonnes year on year. The growth was mainly seen in container transport. In the reverse direction, i.e. from Germany to Belgium via the Netherlands, the volume fell by 14.2 percent to 0.9 million tonnes. Transport of food, beverages and tobacco fell in particular.

Rail freight transport by direction and destination
RichtingLand2021 (x million tonnes)2020 (x million tonnes)