Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Rail Transport

A train is a vehicle that runs on guide rails: a railway track. Miners have used simple ‘wagon-ways’ since the 1500s for transporting coal. 1803 saw the first ever public railway in London, England, that transported goods using horses to pull on a 14km line. Trains were commercialised and made the ‘go-to’ form of transporting goods and people well before cars, trucks and planes due to the simple technology and cost-efficient technology. Two parallel rails made of steel act as guides for wheels meaning there is no need for steering, only throttle and brake. In Australia, rail transport is still the most common method of transporting bulk freight, moving approximately 1.34 billion tonnes. It also is the most environmentally efficient releasing less emissions per tonne and per passenger moved. It is also widely known as the most cost-effective mode of transport goods over large distances, hence it is widely used in the logistics industry. In metropolitan areas, electric trains are widely used as the preferred more of transport for commuters to travel to and around the CBD.

Before the mass implementation of railways, non-powered/steam powered boats and horse carts were the main mode of transport for people and freight. Commutes used to be slow and postage could take months to arrive at their destination, even in the same country. In the case of non-powered boats, the current of the stream or river would carry the boat to where it needs to go only when heading downstream but heading back upstream was a hopeless situation. This is when powered boats would be used. Horse carts had limitations on the weight they could transport purely because horses are only so strong and can suffer from fatigue and injuries. It could be argued that engines need basic maintenance too, but not to the same depth and extent as a living, breathing horse. The invention of rail transport shifted the mindset of a lot of people because it could now be possible to rapidly transport goods and people across country in a matter of hours, not days.

The early trains were pulled by horses up until 1804 after James Watt’s steam engine patent lapsed in 1800, allowing engineers and inventors to vigorously improve the incredible design. Matthew Murray was the first to showcase his simple locomotive, however, Richard Trevithick gathered more attention as his design was able to pull 25 tons and 70 people on its maiden ride. This opened a door of opportunity for other engineers to start work on locomotives as they saw the possibilities. Trains were only commercialised in the late 1820s thanks to George Stephenson who won a competition for the simplest, most reliable design. After this, the designs soon made their way into the US which resulted in a boom of railway networks across the USA.

Over the years, rail technology saw some major improvements as London based engineers formulated plans for an underground-based railway network. The now famous “London Underground” began work in 1863 and even with a vast number of complaints about smoke in the tunnels, it continued to expand until 1890, when they switched from steam engines to electric across the entire fleet. This marked the beginning of a new era or urban rapid transit systems and other cities followed in London’s footsteps, developing their own metro systems. This development now not only served the commercial transportation businesses but also efficiently transported people.

Mentioned above was the early development of the steam engine locomotive. This came about only when James Watts patent on the stationary engine had lapsed in 1800, even though it had been developed in 1774. If the steam engine had been accessible earlier to the pioneers, technology would have advanced much quicker. This is one of the drawbacks to patenting technology, it may be innovative and excel in one area, but may also halt development in other areas. Nevertheless, from figure 1, it took about 35 years for 250 million passengers to use the British rail. The next 250 million took just 10 years and continued that growth until it hit about 1.5 billion passengers per year in 1910. Due to nationalisation of the train system, numbers fell

Some issues arose, especially in Australia with each state having different rail gauge widths that meant that passengers travelling interstate had to disembark at the state border, cross the border on foot and board another train. That lead to inefficiency and in the 1930s, the process began to standardise all tracks to a standard 1435mm gauge. This was a mammoth task and took approximately 60 years to complete in 1995. Today, Australia lacks a much-needed high-speed rail (HSR) service which is present in many developed nations with reliable results. Emphasis is made more on connecting more people to the metropolitan network rather than improving travel times as can be seen by the recent investments in transport infrastructure such Sydney Metro and Melbourne Metro.

Trains have been around for almost 200 years and has seen many technological advancements. The methods of power have changed with the basic principle of pulling/pushing freight or people has remained the same for it’s entire timeline. All other formats of transport have opened an opportunity for motorsport such races including yachts, planes, motorbikes and cars, rail transport is the only mode that has no such commercialised sport.