In this article we will discuss about the uses of land transport and its forms.
The earliest form of land transport was Man himself. Hunters carried home the animals they killed; when a family moved, their possessions had to be carried by hand or on their backs; people carried their goods to nearby or distant markets on foot. They used narrow paths, beaten out and maintained only by use and rarely specially constructed except at bridges.
In some parts of the world human porterage is still important today, e.g. in thickly-forested regions or rugged mountains where roads are difficult to build and in sparsely-populated regions where the cost of construction is not warranted by the amount of traffic to be expected.
After animals had been domesticated a wide range of beasts of burden was employed, including dogs, horses and donkeys, cattle, yaks, camels, llamas and elephants among others. Animals were probably used first for riding and as pack animals, having loads tied on to their backs.
While a man can carry only 32—36 kg (70—80 lb) over a distance of about 16—24 km (10—15 miles) per day, most animals can carry larger loads over greater distances. The camel, for instance, can carry about 360 kg (800 lb) of baggage in addition to a man, over 24-32 km (15-20 miles) per day.
The invention of the wheel was another major step forward in the development of transport. The use of carts and wagons, drawn by animals, allowed far larger loads to be carried, or enabled several people to ride in a carriage compared with one on horseback. In some regions, however, the sledge, which slides easily over snow or ice, is more useful. Sledges drawn by huskies are still an important form of transport in the polar regions.
The type of animals used for transport varies from region to region, depending on the climate or the terrain. In the rugged Tibetan highlands, sure-footed, warm-coated yaks are more efficient than horses or cattle, and are very important pack animals in the region. Similarly in the Andes the llama is well- adapted as a pack animal. Camels make ideal desert carriers for men and goods because of their hardiness and ability to subsist on very little water.
Buffaloes, oxen and elephants are important in tropical regions. Not all these animals can be ridden or can be trained to pull vehicles and some have a much wider usefulness than others. Generally speaking, however, none is as important as the horse, which originated in the rolling temperate grasslands of the Eurasian steppes. It is the most efficient animal for riding, carrying loads or drawing carts and carriages.
The horse is swift, sure-footed, strong and hardy and can be kept and fed economically. Many inventions such as the bit, bridle, saddle and stirrup were devised primarily for use on horses. Horses have not only provided a means of transport through the ages but have also been used for riding, for agriculture, in coal mines, for racing, for military purposes and for pulling canal barges as well as land vehicles.
Horses remained the most efficient and versatile agent of transport until the mid- nineteenth century, and are still used in many parts of the world for many of the purposes listed above.
The use of animals greatly improved the speed and efficiency of transport but, by modern standards, travel before the mechanization of transport was both slow and arduous. It took several days to cover distances which would take only hours today.
The first break-through in the mechanization of transport was the application of the steam engine, developed in the late eighteenth century, to railway transport. Given suitable terrain, railway locomotives can haul numerous coaches or goods wagons over very long distances and often at great speeds.
Similarly, they are capable of carrying hundreds of passengers at once. The development of railways played an essential role in the development of industry. With the mechanization of industry, the factory mass-production system, the need for large supplies of raw materials from beyond the local area, and the need for finished goods to reach distant markets, some form of cheap, bulk transport was required.
Animal-based transport was unable to cope efficiently with this need, though horses, especially, retained a very important role in passenger transport.
Horses were eventually displaced, even for passenger transport, by the development of the internal combustion engine. This was applied first to the private automobile, replacing the private carriage and the riding horse, but was later used for commercial vehicles, military vehicles, agricultural equipment and many other uses.
The versatility of the internal combustion engine was its chief advantage, for it could be used for private and public vehicles, large and small loads, over a wide range of terrain and without special tracks. Moreover it could carry goods or passengers from door to door rather than to stations in fixed positions. The use of the motor engine has greatly expanded during the twentieth century and it is probably the most important transportation agent today.
Another modern development in transport on land, though as yet of more limited use than the automobile or railway, is the use of pipelines for carrying liquid commodities of many kinds, e.g. water, milk, but especially for oil and natural gas. The use of pipelines can be expected to increase in future.
Forms of Land Transport:
Roads and pathways have been stamped out by men since the earliest times. They are the most universal form of communication and also the most varied. Roads of one kind or another, ranging from forest paths to the latest motorways have several important features.
Firstly, wherever a demand exists for a route from place to place a path or road is soon established.
Secondly, roads can be used by a very wide range of transport agents. People can walk on them, animal-transport can use them, motor vehicles, bicycles and so on can all be driven on them.
Very few roads, and generally only the largest and most modern restrict their use to motor vehicles. In most parts of the world, therefore, roads are characterized by a very wide range of traffic, both for passengers and goods.
The earliest roads were the paths and tracks worn out by the constant passage of men and animals. Some of these linked places fairly close together while others crossed wide areas as major trade routes e.g. the Central Asian caravan routes. Some such ancient routes, e.g. across the Sahara, are still used in much the same way by traders who depend on camel transport.
The development of wheeled vehicles made wide roads and a better surface essential, for earth roads became muddy in the winter, dusty in summer, and were worn into deep ruts. The Romans were the earliest road builders as they realized that, without an effective means of communication, it would be impossible for them to control their huge Empire. They built fine, stone-surfaced roads which allowed speedy and easy transport from place to place, but these fell into disrepair after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Even in Roman times, however, only the main roads necessary for administrative and military purposes were maintained in peak condition and other paths and tracks were simply of earth or gravel.
It was not until the eighteenth century that roads were systematically built and surfaced. The pioneers of road building were Telford, Metcalfe and McAdam, in Britain. The need for better roads arose from the rapid increase in traffic, due to the improvement of agriculture, the growth of industry, and the need for moving about large quantities of goods quickly and cheaply. However, it was not until the widespread use of the motor car that the majority of roads were widened, surfaced and improved.
Methods of road-making have been greatly improved. Deep foundations are laid with several layers of stones and then covered with a smooth surface of concrete or asphalt. Such roads can stand up to constant use by heavy traffic for several years. Tarred roads are water-tight and rain-water runs off instead of sinking in and ruining the road as it did with the ancient tracks.
The smooth surface, too, enables cars and lorries to travel at great speed. However, the increasing speed of motor vehicles has in turn affected road construction. The older roads were relatively narrow and often very winding. Nowadays the major highways and trunk roads have been straightened and improved.
Great expense is often entailed in terms of both money and labour. Forests have to be cleared, hills removed, bends eliminated and when necessary tunnels dug, embankments and cuttings made and round abouts and fly-overs constructed. Modern highways are often dual-carriageways with several traffic lanes, reaching a width of as much as 61 metres (200 ft).
Among the first countries to establish a nationwide highway network of this kind was Germany. Before the Second World War Hitler realized, like the Roman generals, that for speedy military movement and the rapid movement of goods essential to the economy, an efficient communication network was vital. He was responsible for the initiation of nearly 3,200 km (2,000 miles) of highways in Germany, called autobahns.
The autobahns are straight, cutting directly across country, and have a good surface. The variations of the terrain are reduced by cuttings and viaducts, to allow traffic to maintain a constant speed. Nowadays the early autobahns appear narrow and are congested by comparison with modern highways. They have been widened and improved and the network has been enlarged.
The other European nations such as Belgium, France, Italy and Britain have also constructed major highway networks known by various names such as autoroutes (French), auto- strade (Italian) and motorways (English) to facilitate modern high-speed motoring, though for economic rather than military reasons. In the United States, even more elaborate highways have been built to cater for the vast numbers of motor vehicles.
The great importance of an efficient and speedy road system is realized all over the world today. The building of good roads can encourage trade, boost the economy and aid administration, and many developing countries place great reliance on the development of a good road network.
Road-building and improvement accounts for a large share of national budgets in many countries, and has a very great effect on the economy. The density of communication lines is often a useful indicator of a country’s economic well-being.
Roads are important routes for both passenger and freight transport. Not only can they be used by a very wide range of vehicles but they have the great advantage of carrying goods or people from door to door. Unlike railways, which follow fixed routes, and often do not extend to the centres of towns or to the smaller settlements in rural areas, roads lead every-where and are thus much more flexible.
Passenger transport is undertaken both by the public and private sector. Public vehicles using the roads include buses and taxis. Buses, which carry large numbers of people in a single vehicle are cheaper, but have fixed routes and stopping places, which, though more varied than those of railways, are not always convenient.
Taxis are more versatile and can follow any desired route, but are usually far more expensive. Long-distance buses have drawn passengers away from the railways in many countries and coaches, too, form an ideal method of tourist travel. Generally speaking taxis are more important in towns where they cover fairly short distances, but in many countries, e.g. Malaysia, where taxi fares are cheap and trains are few and slow, long-distance taxis often form a far quicker and more efficient form of transport. In countries with a well-developed train service, a larger number of private cars and usually very high taxi fares, e.g. Britain, long-distance taxi travel is uneconomic.
By far the most numerous road-users are private cars. Nearly 33 million passenger cars alone are produced each year, adding to the tremendous numbers already on the roads. The U.S.A. has by far the largest number of automobiles, one for every two people in the country or over 100 million vehicles. Britain, the European countries and Japan also have large numbers of private cars, but in many other countries there are few private cars on the roads.
China, for instance, has only about one car per 5,500 people. The advantages of private car ownership are not difficult to find. Cars provide a fairly cheap, extremely convenient way of travel for work or pleasure. They can be used as and when required and do not entail waiting or crowding, as on public transport. However, the great number of cars on the roads leads to additional problems such as traffic jams in towns at peak hours, and the increasing rate of accidents and deaths on the roads, brought about by higher speeds and heavier traffic.
Freight transport by road is becoming increasingly important. It is most economical over relatively short distances, and has the great advantage of delivering goods directly to their destinations with fewer changes of vehicle and consequent loadings and unloadings than are necessary with rail transport. Trucks and vans have been developed for specialized purposes, e.g. tankers for liquid commodities such as oil, milk, rubber latex, and refrigerated vehicles for carrying vegetables, fruits, meat or fish.
Under some circumstances long-distance road transport is also economic, because of a lack of alternative means of transport or because road transport is often quicker than rail or water transport. Long-distance trucks carry goods from coast to coast in the U.S.A. or travel right across Europe, and here speed is the main advantage.
In many less developed countries, where railways are few or do not follow the desired routes, road transport is indispensable. The versatility of road routes, combined with the development of commercial vehicles to carry a wide range of goods economically over sometimes very long distances, is creating great competition for the older-established railway networks.
This is particularly true in countries such as the U.S.A. or Britain, where there is a dense network of roads, but less true of areas such as Asiatic U.S.S.R. where railways are still important, partly because of the lack of good roads and also because in a centralized economy, such as the U.S.S.R.’s, there is no free competition between different types of transport and freight can be directed to the railways.
Roads serve a very important purpose in opening up areas not reached by railways for one reason or another, e.g. in rugged terrain, or where the cost of laying a railway is not warranted by the volume of bulk traffic. The construction of good, long-distance roads has also assisted tourism in many countries.
Some of the major roads of this kind have been built in South America, e.g. the Pan-American Highway, and the Brasilia-Belem road across Brazil, affording a link from the south to the Amazon. The world’s current dependence on road transport, accompanied as it has been in many places by a decline in rail transport, is one aspect of the present-day reliance on oil. Cars and trucks are convenient but are costly in terms of fuel.
Now that oil prices are continually rising there is much to be said, for the more economic, in terms of fuel, rail transport. In many cases, however, additional cost is offset by greater convenience.
The first public railway was opened between Stockton and Darlington in northern England in 1825, and railways became the fastest and most popular form of transport for both passengers and goods during the nineteenth century. The subsequent development of the internal combustion engine has reduced their importance in some countries, though railways remain extremely important in others.
The reasons for this may be purely economic, e.g. if the alternative forms of transport are inadequate or more expensive, or they may be linked with government policy. For instance, a government may encourage the use of railways in order to reduce traffic on the roads; or in centralized economies freight may be directed to the railways to maintain their profitability or to recoup the large capital cost of construction.
Transport users may be encouraged to use the railways in order that the railways remain economic to run, for if traffic on railways falls too low, a line may have to be closed and this could result in the loss of an important service to a certain section of the community, e.g. if a passenger service uses the same route as an uneconomic freight service.
The growth of the railways was brought about by two interrelated factors. Firstly, the steam engine was developed and applied not only to industry but also to transport. Secondly, the rapid rise of industry made it necessary to improve existing transport systems. The roads at that time were not adapted to heavy and constant traffic and transport was slow. Canals, though more efficient, were also very slow.
Locomotives, which could haul loads of up to 10,000 tonnes at a fair speed thus became indispensable to industrial growth, for they were the cheapest and fastest carriers of bulky goods over long distances. Moreover, the cost of railway transport does not increase in proportion with the load carried, for by adding to the number of wagons, additional freight can be hauled by the same locomotive at little additional cost.
In regions with a high traffic density the use of multiple tracks, electronic signalling and automatic control, allows huge volumes of freight to be carried efficiently and cheaply. For long journeys railways are still the best form of freight transport, but over relatively short hauls, road transport is faster because of the ability of trucks and lorries to go direct to their destination.
In the U.S.A. the long distances across the continent and the cheapness of rail transport mean that rail carriage of freight is very important but the length of time taken discourages passenger transport which has greatly declined. However, in Britain, where distances are relatively short, road transport is continually eroding the role of rail freight transport while passenger trains are still fairly popular and compete well with air routes over the short distances involved.
Apart from their importance as freight carriers, railways play a very important role in passenger transport. Railways are by far the most efficient form of transport for commuters who have to come into large cities each day, because they do not contribute to traffic jams on the roads.
Underground trains, too, are ideal for city transport because they take up little valuable space on the surface and can carry huge numbers of people from place to place to regular time-tables, unlike buses or cars which get caught in jams when a large number of people are trying to travel at once. Commuter trains are very important in such countries as Britain, the U.S.A. and Japan, and carry thousands of people each day.
Passenger transport over long distances is no longer as important as in the past because automobiles are quicker and more convenient. However, a great deal depends on such factors as the speed of the trains, the convenience of their running times and the number of stops they have to make. Long-distance rail travel by passengers in the U.S.A. is almost a thing of the past, because air transport is so much faster.
The importance of railways also depends to a large extent on the availability of other forms of passenger transport. Where roads are poor, or where the proportion of people owning cars is small, e.g. in the U.S.S.R. or in India, rail transport is still vital for passenger transport, but in Europe, Britain and the U.S.A. cars have replaced trains for many passenger journeys.
Pipes have been used to transport water from place to place for thousands of years, but pipelines are now becoming an increasingly important form of transport. They can be used to carry many liquid commodities, as well as gases, but apart from their use for water, they are in fact almost entirely associated with the petroleum and petrochemicals industries.
They carry not only crude oil from the oilfields to the refineries but also petroleum products from refineries to markets. A brief comparison with other forms of transport is of value. Pipelines form a relatively cheap mode of transport for liquid commodities, but are expensive to construct and maintain and they are inflexible once laid they must remain in position.
However, they have the important advantage of spanning both sea and land—they can be laid on the sea bed from off-shore wells and linked to on-shore pipes or refineries. They can only be economically justified if there is a constant supply of oil, and a constant demand. Unlike roads, which are usually publicly-owned, or railways, which though often privately owned carry goods from a wide variety of sources as well as passengers, pipelines are usually owned by specific oil companies for their own use.
Thus the use of pipelines is restricted both in the type of commodity carried and in the range of users. However, when it is considered that oil is the largest single commodity in world trade and that the international oil companies are some of the largest concerns in the world, it is clear that these limitations are outweighed by the importance of oil in the world economy.
Pipelines may in future be used for transporting other commodities. Some have already been used for transporting various chemicals, as well as coal, which, if ground up and mixed with water, can be economically moved in this way. In some areas milk is also transported by pipelines. It may be economic in future to transport grains which when mixed with air behave rather like liquids.