World Facts

Highest Railway Cargo Traffic In The World

The United States, China, and Russia go unmatched in terms of cargo movements along railroads.


Railroad systems stretch the length of countries all over the world, connecting people and places that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Over time, these trains have morphed from steam locomotives to diesel-electric to high-speed electric ones. Railways have always been key components of development and have helped form the modern society. Whether or not a country has a stable railway system is an indicator of economic advancement. Trains carry either people or products, the latter referred to as cargo or freight.

Cargo Trains

Cargo trains transport goods ranging from bulk materials to shipping containers (used for ships, trains, and trucks) and sometimes have specialized freight cars for special materials. Cargo trains are often a preferred method of transport to maximize economic efficiency of the product being carried. Freight trains are utilized to move bulk commodities (like coal, minerals, and agricultural products) from the internal parts of a country to seaside ports. Some countries have particularly high railway cargo traffic. These countries are listed below.

US Railway Cargo Traffic

The US hauls 2.525 trillion tonne-kilometers annually. The railroad industry provides over 220,000 jobs throughout the nation. Of all the rail cargo, approximately 91% is made up of agriculture and energy products, vehicles and parts, construction materials, coal, chemicals, food, metal, minerals, and paper. These goods are referred to as bulk commodities. Consumer goods make up the remaining 9%. The majority of goods are moved from rural areas, manufacturing centers, and coastal ports to urban areas and factory locations. The railways connect to Canada and Mexico at several gateways.

China Railway Cargo Traffic

China has the second heaviest freight traffic in the world at 2.518 trillion tonne-kilometers every year. The primary use of railways in this country is to transport bulk commodities, specifically coal. This natural resource makes up roughly 58% of all products shipped via train, an additional 20% consists of ore and minerals. Remaining cargo includes grains and fertilizers. Nearly all of the products hauled by trains are for domestic use.

Russian Railway Cargo Traffic

The third heaviest in cargo traffic, Russia transports 2.222 trillion tonne-kilometers on a yearly basis. This cargo runs over much farther distances than that of China or the US; this is because Russia is larger than both countries. Much like the first two railway systems, coal is the major commodity being transported here. After coal the major cargo is metal.

Less Than 1 Trillion Tonne-Kilometers

The top 3 countries on the list each move over 1 trillion tonne-kilometers every year, an extremely high figure. The remaining countries move in the billion ton range, an equally impressive number. These places (and their cargo sizes) are India (625.7 billion), Canada (352.5 billion), Brazil (267.7 billion), Ukraine (237.7 billion), Kazakhstan (235.8 billion), South Africa (113.3 billion), and Germany (104.3 billion).

Although the majority of cargo sent across these lines is similar and includes products like those sent in the top three countries, each country does have distinct differences. In India, for example, the cost of transportation by railway is relatively expensive, and the rail lines need to be updated. Whereas, in Canada, cargo can be sent for just a few cents per ton per kilometer. Brazil connects with only four surrounding countries. The Ukraine, however, which is smaller than Brazil, connects with seven surrounding countries.

Effect On The Economy

Freight railroad systems are a critical piece to economic development. In fact, no other transportation method or industry has brought about as much change within nations as the railway. It has made the movement of huge quantities of food products, raw goods, and building materials over long distances possible in short times. This availability of goods has allowed markets to grow within these countries as well as promoted development.

Highest Railway Cargo Traffic In The World

RankCountryTons of Cargo Times Kilometers Traveled
1United States2.525 Trillion
2China2.518 Trillion
3Russia2.222 Trillion
4India625.7 Billion
5Canada352.5 Billion
6Brazil267.7 Billion
7Ukraine237.7 Billion
8Kazakhstan235.8 Billion
9South Africa113.3 Billion
10Germany104.3 Billion

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