Top 10 global rail networks
The rail freight industry is currently enjoying somewhat of a renaissance after a period of decline, but on a broader scale the size and breadth of a country’s rail network for passengers and freight is a continuing source of national pride. Therefore we present to you our Top 10 collated with the latest available data, which means the track length are meant as a best possible guide only and not purported to be exact.
Operating in a similar fashion to Canada’s network, the USA’s rail system is the only other privatised network in this countdown and again, consists mostly of freight shipments rather than passenger services.
Continuously under pressure from other modes of transport, the commuter world seems to have left the old-timer behind but in supply-chain terms, the US’s rail network is still streets ahead of the rest of the world.
Boasting the longest average haul of any country, even ahead of Russia, America’s domestic routes extensively cover all states, and many operate on countrywide voyages. Will the US rail network ever be toppled by another country? Not any time soon, by this reckoning. (250,000km)
The Russian rail network has been hailed as an economic wonder since the 19th century, and it continues to be a world leader in that regard. Because it is much more sparsely populated than China and the USA, the rail freight in Russia is transported over much longer distances. It is one of the most freight-dominant railways in the world, behind only Canada, the United States and Estonia in the ratio of freight tonne-kilometres to passenger-kilometres. (128,000km)
China's rail network, with a route length of about 100,000km, ranks as the third biggest rail network in the world. The extensive network, operated by state-owned China Railway Corporation, carried 2.08 billion passengers (the second highest after Indian Railways) and 3.22 billion tonnes of freight (the second highest after the US railway network) in 2013. The huge amounts of investment to increase the network in China over recent years was a consequence of a need to increase freight capacity in the country. (100,000km)
In stark contrast to Canada, the 65,000km of network in India is the most congested on a population scale with nearly 19,000 people living per kilometre of track. Despite this though, the country’s lines still transport an incredible 921 million tonnes of freight per annum, covering the whole country as well as venturing into Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. (65,000km)
The first of only two privatised rail networks in the world, Canada’s system operates in a similar fashion to Australia’s with a relatively small population-to-network ratio. This makes the network prime for freight operations via the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway lines which cross much of the beautiful North American terrain. (48,000km)
Carrying more than 415 million tonnes via Deutsche Bahn alone, Germany’s trademark rail company dominates the entire chain of routes around the country, from both a commuter and freight perspective. DB control 80 percent of the total freight traffic and 99 percent of the long-distance passenger traffic. Known for its efficiency, Deutsche Bahn is also a key operator in Europe as a whole, connecting countries from its central location. (42,000km)
Pacific National, QR National and Genesee and Wyoming Australia are the three main rail freight network operators who make up the majority of the nearly-40,000km extent of tracks in Australia. The Australian railway network does not have a high-speed line yet. One connecting Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne is proposed to be built costing approximately $114bn, but the first phase of the 1,748km network will not be realised before 2035. (39,000km)
In 2012 the government in Argentina announced that it was renationalising large parts of the freight industry across the country, in-keeping with the wider rail system for passenger services. With Buenos Aries at the core of the entire network, the country’s network is widely regarded as one of the most sophisticated for commuters and freight looks set to follow that trend. (37,000km)
The second largest European rail network is largely operated by the French national railway company, SNCF. Since 2007, the network has been under EU jurisdiction, accepting all agreements under the governing body to conform to continent-wide connections. But in reality, rail freight is a shadow of what it was in its 1980’s pomp. (30,000km)
Not quite as comprehensive as Argentina, but Brazil stills comes in as the second biggest rail network in South America. It has very good links throughout all regions of Brazil as well as helpful connections to Uruguay, Bolivia and of course Argentina too.
Connecting the continent has been pivotal in optimising trade and freight arrangements between the core South American nations, especially in regards to the agricultural sector. (28,500km)
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Top 10 air freight carriers
10. Cargolux Group
The Luxembourgish freight carrier Cargolux Group (comprised of Cargolux Airlines and Cargolux Italia, established in 2008) remained in the number 10 spot, with a total reported FTK (Freight Tonne Kilometer) equaling 7.45 bn, which represents a 7.7% expansion year-over-year. The carrier group currently operates a fleet of 30 aircraft (26 through Cargolux Airlines and an addition four through Cargolux Italia), primarily variants of the Boeing 747.
9. Korean Air
Headquartered in Seoul, Korean Air provides cargo and passenger services to over 100 destinations in 44 countries. The carrier fell from eighth place in the previous year’s rankings, with a total FTK of 7.66 bn, representing a 7.1% decrease year-over-year. Korean Air reported a net revenue of $10.7bn in 2017, also reporting a return to profitability for the first time in five years, according to Forbes.
8. Air France-KLM
The Air France-KLM freight carrier group was founded in 1947. The group is comprised of Air France, KLM, and Martinair, and is based in Paris, France. Falling from seventh place in the Freight 50 rankings, the carrier reported a total FTK of 8.13 bn, which represents a 9.2% decrease in traffic year-over-year. The group reported a net revenue of $29.08bn at the end of 2017 and is ranked #28 on Forbes Magazine’s list of Best Employers.
7. Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways, the nationally owned airline of the Kingdom of Qatar is based in Doha, and ascended two places in the Freight 50 rankings, with a total FTK of 9.22 bn, representing a 19.6% increase in comparison to the previous financial year. The carrier’s Cargo division recently launched facilities at its hub in Doha to provide a “Seamless Cool Chain”, comprised of a “2,470 square metres Climate Control Centre situated at the airside… equipped with segregated temperature-controlled sections for storing pharmaceuticals and perishables.” This end-to-end supply chain control is expected to further improve Qatar’s standing as a leader of Middle Eastern air freight.
6. Lufthansa Group
Based in Cologne, Germany, the Lufthansa Group (comprised of Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, and Brussels Airlines) fell from the fourth position in the Freight 50, with a combined FTK of 9.46 bn. While this represents a 1.6% increase in traffic, year-over-year, the carrier was forced down the list by drastic growth from other German freight company, DHL. According to Forbes, Lufthansa’s revenue and net profits ($41.5 bn and $2.78 bn, respectively) in 2017 are both the highest reported by the company over a ten-year period.
5. Cathay Group
The Cathay Group (composed of Cathay Pacific Airlines and Dragonair) is headquartered in Hong Kong and its Cargo division accounts for 21% of the airline’s total revenue. The company’s first dedicated cargo flight between Hong Kong, Frankfurt, and London, was established in 1981, according to the official site. Now, Cathay Pacific’s Cargo Division services over 47 destinations worldwide. The carrier fell from the fourth position on the Freight 50 ranking, as its total FTK fell by 3.6%, to 10.21 bn. According to Forbes, Cathay Pacific experienced a second year of unprofitability, although the airline’s asset portfolio reached a record high in 2017, with a net value of $24.1bn.
4. DHL Express Group
Operating as the largest European carrier group, DHL Express Group (composed of DHL Air, DHL International, Air Hong Kong, Polar Air Cargo, ABX Air, Southern Air, Aerologic, and EAT Leipzig) rose two positions in the Freight 50 rankings. The carrier reported a total FTK of 10.56 bn, which represents an increase of 15.1% year-over-year. In 2018, at the Farnborough Air Show, DHL Express announced the purchase of 14 Boeing 777s, part of a new strategy to modernise its fleet.
3. UPS Airlines
Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, UPS Airlines is part of United Parcel Service, Inc. Founded in 1908, UPS is the oldest company in the Top Ten, and retained third place in the Freight 50 rankings, with a total FTK of 11.26 bn. This represents a 3.9% increase year-over-year. The Company as a whole reported a net revenue of $67.7 bn, according to Forbes, representing a continuation of a ten-year trend of continuous growth. Forbes also ranks UPS among the world’s top 100 most-innovative companies, and the world’s top 50 most-valuable brands.
2. Emirates Skycargo
The state-owned air freight carrier for the UAE, Emirates Skycargo remains in second place on the Freight 50, with a total FTK of 12.27 bn, representing a 0.4% decrease year-over-year. The carrier’s central hub in Dubai allows its 259-strong fleet to reach over 1.5 bn consumers in under eight hours. Current purchasing plans are underway for Emirates Skycargo to almost double its fleet size. According to Albawaba, “In response to increasing demand from its customers, Emirates SkyCargo introduced a range of air transport solutions specific to industry verticals including Emirates Pharma, Emirates Wheels and Emirates Fresh.” Emirates Wheels has transported close to 150 cars per month since the program’s inception.
1. FedEx Express
Founded in 1998, FedEx Express is both the youngest and largest air freight carrier worldwide, with a total FTK of 15.71 bn. Haulage decreased by 0.9% year-over-year, while revenue increased to $60.5 bn in 2016, and again to $63.8 bn in 2017, continuing an eight-year growth trend. FedEx employs 395,000 members of staff, with FedEx Express operating across twelve transport hubs globally. The carrier purchased an additional 24 Boeing 777 variants in 2018, maintaining their company’s position as the largest airline in terms of cargo haulage.