The importance of inland waterways as a transport mode is especially significant in the area of freight, with the movement of passengers extremely limited compared to other transport modes.
As far as freight is concerned, while around 140 billion tonne‐kilometres (tkm) are transported over EU inland waterways every year, this mode represents only a marginal share of the freight transported by all modes, which in 2011 was estimated to be 3 824 billion tkm3 in the EU 27.
Inland waterways account for 3.7% of freight transport based on tonne‐kilometres, compared with 45.3% for road transport, 36.8% for sea transport and 11% for rail transport. In 2011, the Member States in which most freight was transported via inland waterways were Germany, with 55 billion tkm, the Netherlands (46.3 billion tkm), Romania (11.4 billion tkm), Belgium (9.3 billion tkm) and France (9 billion tkm).
Though increasing in absolute terms from 122 billion tonne‐kilometres in 1995 to 141 billion tkm in 2011, the share of inland waterways in the modal split slightly decreased over the same period of time (from 4% to 3.7%) while road transport saw its share increase (from 42.1% to 45.3%) at the expense of all other transport modes. Over a longer‐term perspective, it is considered that the inland waterway sector has experienced a steady decline in its modal share.