Inland freight transport in Spain: Comparative

Inland freight transport in Spain: Comparison between rail and road transport

The data shown by the studies that have been carried out on the inland transport of goods in Spain in recent years, show a clear predominance of road transport over rail transport.

According to statistical data, although in land transport of people, trains are used much more than roads, this trend changes when it comes to freight. In fact, according to the latest report presented by the National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC), in 2016, the railways had a specific weight of 5% on the total land transport of goods in Spain, accumulating a decrease in the first six months of 2017 of 9.5% of activity. This gives the supremacy to road transport, which accounts for the remaining 95 per cent.

Road Freight Transport of Goods

In order to understand why road freight transport takes precedence over rail freight transport, it is necessary to analyse the main characteristics of road and rail transport.

Characteristics of inland rail freight transport


  • It allows the transport of a very high volume of goods when the journey is very long
  • The costs of each operation are reduced as fixed costs are spread over a larger volume of goods.
  • It allows the transport of very different types of goods on the same route.
  • The incidence of accidents is very low, as modern trains have many safety measures.
  • They produce low pollution, especially modern electric trains.
  • The problems of traffic congestion that do occur on the roads are avoided.
  • It offers the alternative of intermodal coordination with other modes of transport.


  • It depends on the railway infrastructure you have installed, not reaching all places. This limits the capillarity of the service, requiring the complement of road transport to reach the centers where the train does not reach.
  • There is a limitation when it comes to international rail transport, since the track gauge in Spain is different from the rest of Europe, so it is necessary to make a transhipment when the destination is Europe.
  • It is not possible to access the final destination of the goods, such as warehouses or other delivery points. In these cases, road transport support is still required to complete the journey.
  • The costs of having to transship goods are quite high, so, in general terms, the cost per operation is higher.

In reality, land transport by rail is a means of transport that will always or almost always require the support of road transport.

Characteristics of the inland transport of goods by road


  • Above all, the cost of this means is the most economical, which is why the vast majority of goods are transported by road.
  • It allows great flexibility when transporting any type of goods, even dangerous goods, in compliance with the relevant requirements.
  • It is the most direct means, precisely because of the enormous road infrastructure that exists, which reaches anywhere in the country.
  • Highly recommended for transporting dangerous goods or for transporting special goods.


  • The accident rate is higher than in other media, precisely because it is the most widely used.
  • There may be congestion problems, which slow down delivery times, although with modern route planning systems alternative routes can be found in real time.
  • Historically, it has been the most polluting means of transport, although in recent years research has been carried out in this direction, with the development of new truck engines that are much more efficient and less polluting.

The volume of cargo that fits on a truck is smaller than what a train can hold.

The European panorama and the new challenges for land freight transport in Spain

Undoubtedly, in Spain we still have some unresolved issues to resolve in land freight transport.

According to statistical data, in the rest of Europe rail freight accounts for 15-18% of total land transport. Factors such as the extensive rail infrastructure network are probably one of the most important arguments for understanding this figure.

For its part, road freight transport must take advantage of the current boom and apply the latest advances in innovation and development to make it a more efficient and cleaner means of transport.

In short, no medium is 100% good or 100% bad. The important thing, and what is really interesting, is to try to take advantage of the synergies that can be found between them. In fact, as we pointed out earlier, inland freight transport by rail is highly intermodal, which is precisely why it is a good option for covering large parts of the journey which then ends with road transport to the final destination.

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