French reports show fall in rail freight market share and frustration over strike disruption 26/03/24

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Author: Gregor Gowans



French reports show fall in rail freight market share and frustration over strike disruption


Official government report shows a fall in the use of rail freight and inland shipping, while an industry survey indicates frustration over strike disruption.



Two significant reports have been published in France that shed light on the country’s logistics sector, particularly with regard to modal preferences.

The most recent data comes from the report titled ‘Baromètre de perception des chargeurs sur le transport ferroviaire et combiné 2024′ (Barometer of shippers’ perception of rail and combined transport 2024). Produced by Eurogroup Consulting, it is based on a 2023 survey of shippers and distributors.

The responses were primarily from shippers, who represented a substantial 88% of the respondents, with an additional 8% coming from distributors.

94% of the respondents were French entities, with 66% of their companies now reporting revenues over 500 million euros.

Meanwhile, in the same week, an official French Government report “Chiffres clés des transports” (Key transport figures), was also released. It contains a myriad of data on all the different modes of freight and passenger transport, with the most recent data pertaining to 2022.

Here, we bring you some of the key takeaways and observations from both reports.

Modal preferences

Eurogroup Consulting report shows how modal preferences vary by sector

When it comes to the use of different transport modes, the Eurogroup Consulting report found rail freight to be particularly prominent in the agriculture and construction sectors.

Despite this, road transport retained its lead in the survey as the dominant mode across all sectors.


Rail freight satisfaction levels

Notably, 54% of those surveyed by Eurogroup Consulting said that they’d engaged with railway freight companies about their transport flows in 2023, though this represents a 4% decline since the 2022 survey.

When assessing service quality across these modes, the survey data presents a somewhat nuanced picture. For rail freight transport, 41% reported stability in service quality, while 35% perceived an improvement. However, a notable minority of 14% felt that the quality of rail freight had greatly deteriorated.

Despite the above, in terms of overall satisfaction, only 32% of the respondents believe that rail freight transport met their needs.

When it comes to factors bringing about modal shift, 51% of the respondents noted the strong influence of energy costs, with one-third indicating a durable shift in modal choices due to this factor.

Impact of strikes on rail freight; optimism for inland shipping

Meanwhile, the Eurogroup Consulting survey data from 2023 also indicates that strikes have notably affected the transportation of goods by rail, with a 56% majority reporting a substantial impact. In addition, 53% said that they had shifted their freight away from rail to other modes in 2023.

As regards what could be done to encourage modal shift back to rail, 81% of the respondents said improvements to the offer, including better reliability.

Looking ahead, the potential for development appears brighter for inland shipping compared to rail freight, with the former seen as the more likely to experience significant improvements in the coming years.

When asked to rate their level of optimism for the future of various transport modes on a scale of 1-7, 79% of respondents gave inland shipping a score of 4 or above. Short sea shipping came second on 64%, followed by intermodal combination of road/inland shipping, 62% of whom provided an optimism score of 4 or more.

French Government report shows fall in both inland shipping and rail freight since 2015

The second of the aforementioned reports, titled, ‘Chiffres clés des transports’, also contains a myriad of data on all things transport, and offers observations on modal preferences too.

In 2022, the land transport of goods, excluding oil pipelines and light utility vehicles, remained almost stable with a total of 338 billion tonne-kilometres. This comes after a recovery in 2021, which saw a 4.3% increase. The amount of road transport was also stable at 296.2 billion tonne-kilometres. However, rail transport saw a decline of 1.4% (down to 35.3 billion tonne-kilometres), while inland shipping saw a significant decrease of 9.3% (to 6.6 billion tonne-kilometres).



In terms of market share, the figures in the report also show that little has changed in the way goods have been moved around the country in recent years, with road freight’s share of land transport largely stable between 2019 and 2022.

Looking back further, a modest decline in the share of rail and inland shipping can be observed, with road freight benefiting as a result.