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Transport industry in the United Kingdom - statistics & facts

The transport industry in the United Kingdom faced a challenging period amid Brexit negotiations and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the heavy goods vehicle driver shortage rattled road freight in the country, in part due to the UK leaving the European Union. This increased pressure on the rest of the UK freight industry, particularly rail freight. Passenger transport also shrank during the pandemic, with passenger journeys on the London Underground nose-diving to 296 million in 2021 due to various national lockdowns.

Despite these setbacks, the transport industry—including rail, road, air, and waterways—is a sizeable sector in the country, with a total turnover of over 202.8 billion British pounds in 2019. Investment in inland transport infrastructure in the UK has also been steadily growing, reaching 22.9 billion euros in 2019. Most of this infrastructure spending was generated to meet the growing transportation needs of the population, which is becoming increasingly motorized.

A move toward road freight

The UK boasts the oldest rail network in the world, both for freight and passenger transport. Until its privatization in 1995, the rail network experienced a huge slump under British Rail, which inefficiently made use of resources and investments. In 2019, that network amounted to just under 16,300 kilometers of rail lines, utilized for both freight and passenger transport.

The UK relies heavily on rail, road, and air cargo for its inland transportation of goods. Despite the large history of its rail industry, road freight became the leading mode of cargo transport in the country as privatization did not boost rail freight. By 2020, some 15.2 billion tonne-kilometers of freight were transported by rail, compared to 144.2 billion tonne-kilometers of freight transported by road that same year. The Royal Mail was the leading industrial transportation company in the UK, with 2021 revenue well over 12.6 billion British pounds.

Passenger transportation boosted by a motorization growth

Since the early 2000s, passenger road transport in the UK has increased by over 85 billion passenger-kilometers, reaching over 770 billion passenger-kilometers in 2019. Passenger travel by bus and coach declined during recent years, down to 32.6 billion passenger-kilometers in that same year. These recent trends pair with increasing motorization in the country. The UK was one of the European countries recording the highest number of cars in operation per 1,000 inhabitants in 2020, all while passenger car and motorcycle registrations steadily grew. Car sales were further boosted by an increasing interest in new energy vehicles, with alternative fuels steadily gaining market share.

UK passenger air transport also grew exponentially over recent decades. Consequently, the aviation market expanded rapidly in size and capacity. This enabled various airlines to enter the market and provide differentiated services to better fulfill the market demand, especially for lowcost carriers. The dominant UK-based airlines include EasyJet, British Airways, and Jet2.Com.

Interesting statistics

In the following 4 chapters, you will quickly find the 24 most important statistics relating to "Transport industry in the United Kingdom".

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