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Transport Systems

For a discussion about cycles go to the Cycles page

Transport systems may be classified into three main groups according to the load they normally carry: passenger, freight, and military. Some are shared by more than one of these groups; for example during the war some passenger ships were used for troop and weaponry transport, and trains carry both passengers and freight.

We have at our disposal a variety of transport systems for use over land, sea and air - and, although still in its infancy, into space.
Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on its application.
Aircraft can travel over both land and sea and access places that are difficult or impossible to reach by other means, very quickly.
Ships are much slower and are more limited in their access but can carry enormous loads.
Rail services can also handle heavy loads, but are limited to accessing places to which rail lines have been provided.
Road transport is very flexible and can handle reasonably heavy roads, but delivery at times may be slow or unreliable due to traffic and other conditions.
Each of these systems has undergone changes over the years, and some of these changes will be discusssed here.


Click here to see some old cars,  or here to read about some of the exciting events in My Life With Cars.
Go here to read about the features of cars in bygone days, or here to read some surprising facts about famous English car brands.

Picture of an old-style bus stop Picture of old timber-truck

Road transport vehicles have changed immensely since the '40s. Cars are much faster, more comfortable, safer, and have many features that were never dreamed of back then. Trucks and buses carry much greater loads, and other forms, like cycles and scooters are barely recognizable as descendants of the older ones.
Even our stations and bus stops are unrecognizable from those of our youth.

Picture of an ultra-modern bus stop in Canada Picture of a modern road train transporting a load of cars

Roads are the oldest and by far the largest of the transport systems, and allow personal travel (pedestrian, cycle and car), community travel (buses and coaches), and service travel (emergency, commercial and heavy goods vehicles).
As roads became more numerous, and traffic speed and numbers increased, ways were invented to make road traffic safer and more convenient.
One of these was the prioritising of roads, with highway and super-highway traffic being allowed unimpeded access, while intercepting-road traffic was obliged to give them right-of-way. Lesser roads were controlled by various signs indicating their need to stop or slow down to allow major-road traffic to pass. Traffic lights were invented in 1912, using only red and green indicators. Since then, several systems have been used at various times. All allow for a "preparation time" when drivers are cautioned, usually by a yellow or amber light, that the lights are about to change from green to red or vice-versa. In some areas, a clock-face type of indicator was used, where a sweep-hand rotated over a face with red, yellow and green segments. Roundabouts, with a central unused area, are often used instead of traffic indicators where traffic is light. These allow traffic in all directions to pass unimpeded if no other traffic is present. Many other signs are used to warn of dangerous sections, and speed limits are imposed according to the area through which the road passes.

Road surfaces tend to become slippery at times from oil or chemical spills, loose gravel or sand, or rain or ice, causing braking problems for vehicles. Various methods have been used to reduce this problem. Salt is sometimes applied to icy road surfaces, to melt the ice. Road surfaces are given a "camber" or slope to the sides to allow water to drain away. Road surface materials that give better braking assistance are used.


Steam trains were once the major bulk land transport available Picture of Japanese Shinkansen high-speed train

For information about some famous old trains, go to the Steam Trains page, and for explanations of some of the terminology related to trains, see the Train Terminology page.

Since mechanised railways first appeared in the early 20th century, there have been significant changes in their design, construction and function.

Rail tracks have both advantages and disadvantages over road tansport. The most obvious disadvantage is that the vehicles are confined to points along the rail route, and other points must be serviced by alternative means - most often buses for passengers, trucks for freight.
Another, associated problem is that if there is a breakdown or accident on the track, the route is unusable for some time. This is often remedied by trains travelling from both directions to their nearest access point, swapping loads and returning along their own secion.
A big advantage is that much heavier loads can be transferred quickly and securely from point to point. Rails can be more readily examined and maintained than roads due to their structure and defined routes.

Some of the problems in designing and building railways are

  • The immense weight of rail traffic being supported by the rails means their foundation must be extremely solid and stable.
  • While travelling, a train is constantly adjusting its path, oscillating between the two rails. This, as well as curves in the track, places a huge lateral strain and wear on the rails, so the sleeper-system must control this.
  • Rises and falls in the terrain may need to be dealt with by tunneling or bridging, as the impact of a train on the track at any rise places huge stress on the rails, and falls in levels increase the risk of "floating" and possible derailment.
  • The length of rolling stock - for example passenger carriages - means that they need wide curves where changes in track direction occur. For this reason "bogeys" of four, or sometimes six or eight wheels, are placed at each end of the carriage. But this has the effect of concentrating the weight of the load at these points.
  • Heat causes expansion in metals, and as the rails expand in hot weather their length increases, which could cause the rails to buckle. A small gap is left between lengths of rail to accommodate this. This gap is also a source for impact between the wheel and the rail.


Ships in the olden days were not capable of carrying the great loads carried today Picture of modern cargo ship

Ships today are vastly different and there are many more types than in my younger days.
Modern warships are immensely powerful, with nuclear warheads, rockets that follow changes in a target's location, and aircraft that deploy to protect the ship or other items.
Cruise ships carry thousands of passsengers in absolute luxury, with shops, theatres and swimming pools now the norm, rather than the exception.
Dedicated Service vessels are used to lay and maintain undersea cables, transport oil and other cargo between countries, search for and rescue passengers and crew of other vessels, and perform many more functions.
To see more on this, go to the Ships page.


The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser was a large long-range airliner, first flown on July 8, 1947.[3] Its design included two passenger decks and a pressurized cabin, a relatively new feature on transport aircraft. It could carry up to 100 passengers on the main deck plus 14 in the lower deck lounge.
In 1949, the world's first jet airliner, the Comet appeared. It had four turbojet engines, a pressurised fuselage, and large square windows. For the era, it offered a relatively quiet, comfortable passenger cabin.
In 1947 the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser entered the industry. It had a double deck and pressurized fuselage. Luxury and a 100-passenger capacity distinguished it from its rivals.
Although aircraft had been used for some time in warfare situations, the 1945 invention of nuclear bombs increased the strategic importance of military aircraft. Even a moderate fleet of long-range bombers could deliver a deadly blow to the enemy. Supersonic interceptor aircraft were used for a time, but by 1955 attention shifted to guided surface-to-air missiles. Then once again, a new technology was needed when a new type of nuclear-carrying platform, the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) appeared. This signalled the start of the Space Race between the nations.
Aeroflot, of The USSR, was the first airline in the world to operate sustained regular jet services in 1956 with the Tupolev Tu-104 (81 passengers). The American Boeing 707 and DC-8 (both from 140 to 219 passengers) followed in 1958, establishing new levels of comfort and safety. This ushered in the age of mass commercial air travel, the Jet Age.
The Boeing 747 ("Jumbo") was at one time the largest commercial passenger aircraft ever to fly, capable of carrrying 660 passengers, but was superseded by the Airbus A380, which is capable of carrying up to 853 passengers.
In 1975 Aeroflot introduced the first supersonic passenger plane, the Tu-144, and in 1976 British Airways and Air France began supersonic service across the Atlantic with Concorde.
Picture of World War 2 P47 Thunderbolt fighter plane Picture of F22 Raptor The last quarter of the 20th century saw a change of emphasis, from flight speeds, distances and materials technology to digital applications in both flight avionics, and aircraft design and manufacturing techniques.
Digital "fly-by-wire" systems use computer-techmology to interpret the commands given by the pilot, and apply them to the controls. They are also capable of checking to ensure that the commands will not cause unrecoverable state of flight for the plane, and of initiating control commands without the need for pilot action. Digital technology also allowed subsonic military aviation to begin eliminating the pilot in favor of remotely operated or completely autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In October 2003 the first totally autonomous flight across the Atlantic by a computer-controlled model aircraft was performed. UAVs are now an established feature of modern warfare.

Go here to read about Early Fighter Planes, or go here to read about Modern Fighter Planes

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