© 2021 Elsevier LtdStarting in 2013, a reform process in the Turkish rail freight sector resulted in liberalisation in 2017. This paper assesses the state of the demand before the liberalisation using rail commodity flow data of 2011–2016 period. With the GIS-based analyses, the study discusses the demand characteristics for city-based and station-based production/attraction values to detect important load centres and corridors for rail freight demand. The results include major rail commodity flows and origins-destinations in terms of transported net weights and revenue earnings. The evaluation of the relationship between city-based rail freight demand and gross domestic product (GDP) values showed that the origins/destinations of significant rail freight are not necessarily the most industrialised cities, but those are either port or mineral ore producing ones. Furthermore, analysis of the international rail freight traffic, mainly on the European borders, showed a decreasing trend in recent years. The findings of the study are expected to help new entrants and incumbent companies, including domestic or international ones, to compete in the freight market and offer competitive and reliable service to existing rail customers. This will attract new customers and thus, will hopefully contribute to the modal shift to rail from other modes of transport.