Transport in the United Kingdom: Wikis


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Transport in the United Kingdom is facilitated with well-developed road, air, rail, and water networks. A radial road network totals 29,145 miles (46,904 km) of main roads, 2,173 miles (3,497 km) of motorways and 213,750 miles (344,000 km) of paved roads. The National Rail network of 10,072 route miles (16,116 km) in Great Britain and 189 route miles (303 route km) in Northern Ireland carries over 18,000 passenger and 1,000 freight trains daily. Urban rail networks are also well developed in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds and Liverpool. Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport,[1] and the UK has a considerable network of ports which received over 558 million tonnes of goods in 2003–2004.


Transport trends

Since 1952 (the earliest date for which comparable figures are available), the UK has seen a dramatic growth of car use, increasing its modal share, while the use of buses has significantly declined, and railway use has grown more slowly.[2][3]

In 1952 just 27% of distance travelled was by car or taxi; with 42% being by bus or coach and 18% by rail. A further 11% was by bicycle and 3% by motorcycle. The distance travelled by air was negligible.

By 2003 85% of distance travelled was by car or taxi; with just 6% being by bus and 6% by rail. Air, pedal cycle and motorcycle accounted for roughly 1% each. In terms of journeys, slightly over 1 billion are made per annum by main line rail, 1 billion by light rail, 4.5 billion by bus, and 21 million on domestic air flights.

Passenger transport has grown significantly in recent years. Figures from the DTI show that total passenger travel inside the UK has risen from 403 billion passenger kilometres in 1970 to 797 billion in 2004.[4]

Freight transport has undergone similar changes, greatly increasing in volume and shifting from railways onto the road. In 1953 89 billion tonne kilometres of goods were moved, with rail accounting for 42%, road 36% and water 22%. By 2002 the volume of freight moved had almost trebled to 254 billion tonne kilometres, of which 7.5% was moved by rail, 26% by water, 4% by pipeline and 62% by road.

This shift from rail to road is both caused by, and a cause of, changes in the relative sizes of their networks; whereas the rail network has halved from 31,336 km (19,471 mi) in 1950 to 16,116 km (10,014 mi) today, the motorway network, which today is 3,476 km (2,160 mi) long, did not exist in 1950. It has also been caused by rising economic affluence, the move of the population away from city centres, and changes in industry.

In 2008, the Department for Transport stated that traffic congestion is one of the most serious transport problems facing the UK.[5] According to the government-sponsored Eddington report of 2006, bottleneck roads are in serious danger of becoming so congested that it may damage the economy.[6]

Air transport

Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, which is the world's busiest airport by international passenger traffic.[1]

See also: Busiest airports in the United Kingdom by total passenger traffic

There are 471 airports and airfields in the UK, of which 334 are paved. There are also 11 heliports. (2004 CIA estimates)

BAA is the UK's largest airport operator, its flagship being London Heathrow Airport, the largest traffic volume international airport in Europe and is the world's busiest airports, and London Gatwick Airport, the second largest. The third largest is Manchester Airport, in Manchester, which is run by Manchester Airport Group, which also owns various other airports.

Other major airports include London Stansted Airport in Essex, about 30 miles (48 km) north of London and Birmingham International Airport, in Solihull.

Outside of England, Cardiff Airport, Edinburgh Airport and Belfast International Airport, are the busiest airports serving Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively.

The largest airline in the UK is EasyJet. Others include British Airways, BMI, Bmibaby, Flybe, Jet2, Thomson Airways and Virgin Atlantic.


Main articles: Rail transport in Great Britain, Rail transport in Ireland, Rapid transit in the United Kingdom

The rail network in the United Kingdom consists of two independent parts, that of Northern Ireland and that of Great Britain. Since 1994, the latter has been connected to mainland Europe via the Channel Tunnel. The network of Northern Ireland is connected to that of the Republic of Ireland. The National Rail network of 10,072 miles (16,209 km) in Great Britain and 189 route miles (303 route km) in Northern Ireland carries over 18,000 passenger trains and 1,000 freight trains daily. Urban rail networks are also well developed in London and several other cities. There was once over 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of rail network in the U.K., however most of this was reduced over a time period from 1955 to 1975, much of it after a report by a government advisor Richard Beeching in the mid 1960s (known as the Beeching Axe).

Great Britain

Virgin's Pendolino train at Birmingham's New Street station
Leeds railway station, one of the UK's principal stations

The rail network in Great Britain is the oldest such network in the world. The system consists of five high-speed main lines (the West Coast, East Coast, Midland, Great Western and Great Eastern), which radiate from London to the rest of the country, augmented by regional rail lines and dense commuter networks within the major cities. High Speed 1 is operationally separate from the rest of the network, and is built to the same standard as the TGV system in France.

The world's first intercity railway was the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, designed by George Stephenson and opened by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington on 15 September 1830. The network grew rapidly as a patchwork of literally hundreds of separate companies during the Victorian era, which eventually was consolidated into just four by 1922, as the boom in railways ended and they began to lose money. Eventually the entire system came under state control in 1948, under the British Transport Commission's Railway Executive. After 1962 it came under the control of the British Railways Board; then British Railways (later British Rail), and the network was reduced to less than half of its original size by the infamous Beeching cuts of the 1960s when many unprofitable branch lines were closed.

In 1994 and 1995, British Rail was split into infrastructure, maintenance, rolling stock, passenger and freight companies, which were privatised from 1996 to 1997. The privatisation has delivered very mixed results with healthy passenger growth, mass refurbishment of infrastructure and investment in new rolling stock, and safety improvements being offset by concerns over punctuality, network capacity, and the overall cost to the taxpayer, though it has caused some minor lines to be badly neglected. It has also led to some confusion as to who looks after different aspects of the rail service among the general public. This is because for example, different companies run the tracks to those that run the trains and locomotives.

In Britain, the infrastructure (track, stations, depots and signalling chiefly) is owned and maintained by Network Rail, a not for profit company. Network Rail replaced Railtrack, which became bankrupt in 2002 following the Hatfield rail crash in 2000. Passenger services are operated by train operating companies (TOCs), which are franchises awarded by the UK Government or the Scottish Government. Examples include First Group, National Express East Coast and Virgin Trains. Freight trains are operated by Freight Operating Companies, such as EWS, which are commercial operations unsupported by government. Most Train Operating Companies do not own the locomotives and coaches that they use to operate passenger services. Instead, they are required to lease these from the three Rolling Stock Operating Companies (ROSCO’s), with train maintenance carried out by companies such as Bombardier and Alstom.

In Great Britain there is 16,536 km of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) gauge track. 4,928 km of track is electrified and 12,591 km is double or multiple tracks. The maximum scheduled speed on the regular network has historically been around 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) on the InterCity lines. On High Speed 1, trains are now able to reach the speeds of French TGVs. There was once over 30,000 route mile of rail network in the U.K., however this was reduced by two-thirds (to 10,072 miles (16,209 km) now), during successive administrations.


The proposed UK Ultraspeed line map.

A Maglev line was recently proposed in the United Kingdom from London to Glasgow with several route options through the Midlands, Northwest and Northeast of England and was reported to be under favourable consideration by the government. But the technology was rejected for future planning in the Government White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway published on 24 July 2007.[7] Another high speed link is being planned between Glasgow and Edinburgh but there is no settled technology for it.[8][9][10].

A low speed Maglev was operated between Birmingham International Railway Station and Birmingham Airport between 1984 and 1995, a distance of 620 m, but shut due to high operating and maintenance costs.

Rail link(s) with adjacent countries

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) both owns the infrastructure and operates passenger rail services. The Northern Ireland rail network is one of the few networks in Europe that carry no freight. It is publicly owned. NIR was united in 1996 with Northern Ireland's two publicly owned bus operators — Ulsterbus and Metro (formally Citybus) — under the brand Translink.

In Northern Ireland there is 342 km of track at 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) gauge. 190 km of it is multiple track.

Rapid transit

Three cities in the UK have rapid transit systems. Most well known is the London Underground (commonly known as the Tube), the oldest and longest rapid transit system in the world. Another in London is the separate Docklands Light Railway (though this is integrated with the Underground in many ways). Outside of London there is the Glasgow Subway and the Tyne and Wear Metro.

Urban rail

Local rail networks in the UK

Urban commuter rail networks are focused on many of the country's major cities:

They consist of several railway lines connecting city centre stations of major cities to suburbs and surrounding towns. Train services and ticketing are fully integrated with the national rail network and are not considered separate.

Trams and Light Rail

A vintage British tram from the Leeds Tramway, preserved at the National Tramway Museum

Tram systems were popular in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th century. However, with the rise of the car they began to be widely dismantled in the 1950s. By 1962 only the Blackpool tramway and the Glasgow Corporation Tramways remained; the final Glasgow service was withdrawn on 2 September 1962.

Recent years have seen a revival the UK, as in other countries, of trams together with light rail systems. Examples of these second generation of tram and light rail systems include:


An aerial shot of the M25 motorway, which encircles London.

The road network in Great Britain, in 2006, consiste of 12,226 km of trunk roads (including 3,503 km of motorway), 38,085 km of principal roads (including 55 km of motorway), 114,657 km of "B" and "C" roads, and 233,383 km of unclassified roads (mainly local streets and access roads) — totalling 398,350 km.[11][12]

Road is the most popular method of transportation in the UK, carrying over 90% of motorised passenger travel and 65% of domestic freight.[12] The major motorways and trunk roads, many of which are dual carriageway, form the trunk network which links all cities and major towns, these carry about one third of the nation's traffic, and occupy about 0.16% of its land area.[12]

The motorway system, which was constructed from the 1950s onwards, is stated by the British Chambers of Commerce to be, by virtually every measurement of motorway capacity, well below the capacity of other leading European nations.[13] They give comparative figures for a selection of nations of (units = km/million population): Luxembourg 280, Spain 225, Austria 200, France 185, Belgium 165, Denmark 165, Sweden 165, Netherlands 140, Italy 115, Finland 100, Germany 140, Portugal 80, United Kingdom 60, Greece 45 and Ireland 30.[13]

The Highways Agency (an Executive Agency of the Department for Transport) is responsible for maintaining motorways and trunk roads in England. Other English roads are maintained by local authorities. In Scotland and Wales roads are the responsibility of Transport Scotland, an Executive Agency of the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Assembly Government respectively.[14] Northern Ireland's roads are overseen by the Roads Service Northern Ireland, a section of the Department for Regional Development.[14][15] In London, Transport for London is responsible for all trunk roads and other major roads, which are part of the Transport for London Road Network.[14]

Toll roads are rare in the United Kingdom, though there are many toll bridges such as the Severn crossing. Road traffic congestion has been identified as a key concern for the future prosperity of the UK, and policies and measures are being investigated and developed by the government to ameliorate its effects.[5] In 2003 the UK's first toll motorway, the M6 Toll, opened in the West Midlands area to relieve the congested M6 motorway.[16] Rod Eddington, in his 2006 Transport’s role in sustaining the UK’s productivity and competitiveness report, recommended that the congestion problem should be tackled with a "sophisticated policy mix" of congestion-targeted road pricing and improving the capacity and performance of the transport network through infrastructure investment and better use of the existing network.[3][17] Congestion charging systems do operate in the cities of London[18] and Durham.[19] In 2005, the Government published proposals for a UK wide road pricing scheme. This was designed to be revenue neutral with other motoring taxes to be reduced to compensate.[20] The plans have been extremely controversial with 1.8 million people signing a petition against them.[21]

Driving is on the left.[22] The maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) on motorways and dual carriageways.[23]

Road passenger transport


Local bus services cover the whole country. Since deregulation the majority (80% by the late 1990s[24]) of these local bus companies have been taken over by one of the "Big Five" private transport companies: Arriva, First Group, Go-Ahead Group, National Express Group (owners of National Express) and Stagecoach Group. In Northern Ireland coach, bus (and rail) services remain state-owned and are provided by Translink.


Coaches provide long-distance links throughout the UK: in England & Wales the majority of coach services are provided by National Express. Megabus run no-frills coach services in competition with National Express and services in Scotland in co-operation with Scottish Citylink.


Map of the UK showing its Exclusive Economic Zone and applicable jurisdictions; the territorial sea extends to no more than twelve nautical miles (22 km) from land.

Due to the United Kingdom's island nature, before the Channel Tunnel and the advent of air travel the only way to enter or leave the country was on water, except at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Ports and harbours

Approximately 95% of freight enters the UK by sea (75% by value). Three major ports handle most freight traffic:

There are many other ports and harbours around the UK, including the following towns and cities:

Aberdeen, Avonmouth, Barry, Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Dover, Edinburgh/Leith, Falmouth, Glasgow, Gloucester, Grangemouth, Harwich, Heysham, Holyhead, Hull, Kirkwall, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milford Haven, Peterhead, Plymouth, Poole, Port Talbot, Portishead, Portsmouth, Scapa Flow, Stranraer, Sullom Voe, Swansea, Tees, Tyne.

Merchant marine

For long periods of the last millennium Britain had the largest merchant fleet in the world, but it has slipped down the rankings. There are 429 ships of 1,000 gross register tons (GRT) or over, making a total of 9,181,284 GRT (9,566,275 metric tons deadweight (DWT)). These are split into the following types: bulk carrier 18, cargo ship 55, chemical tanker 48, container ship 134, liquefied gas 11, passenger ship 12, passenger/cargo ship 64, petroleum tanker 40, refrigerated cargo ship 19, roll-on/roll-off 25, vehicle carrier 3. There are also 446 ships registered in other countries, and 202 foreign-owned ships registered in the UK. (2005 CIA estimate)

Mersey ferry


Ferries, both passenger only and passengers and vehicles, operate within the UK across rivers and stretches of water. Gosport and Portsmouth are linked by the Gosport Ferry; Southampton and Isle of Wight are linked by ferry and fast Catamaran ferries; North Shields and South Shields on Tyneside are linked by the Shields Ferry; and the Mersey has the Mersey Ferry.

In Scotland, Caledonian MacBrayne provides passenger and RO-RO ferry services in the Firth of Clyde, to various islands from Oban and within the inner and outer Hebrides. Orkney Ferries provides services within the Orkney Isles; and Northlink Ferries provides services from the Scottish mainland to Orkney and Shetland, mainly from Aberdeen although other ports are also used. Ferries operate to Northern Ireland from Stranraer and Cairnryan.

Holyhead, in Wales, is the principal ferry port for Wales and England to Dublin and Dún Laoghaire, in Ireland. Services are provided by Stena Line and Irish Ferries.

Passenger ferries operate internationally to nearby countries such as France, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and Norway.

Waterbuses operate on rivers in some of the country's largest cities such as London (London River Services and Thames Clippers), Cardiff (Cardiff Waterbus) and Bristol (Bristol Ferry Boat).

Other shipping

Cruise ships depart from the UK for destinations worldwide, many heading for ports around the Mediterranean and Caribbean.

The Solent is a world centre for yachting and home to largest number of private yachts in the world.

Inland waterways

Major canal building began in the UK after the onset of the Industrial revolution in the 18th century. A large canal network was built and it became the primary method of transporting goods throughout the country. However, by the 1830s with the development of the railways the canal network began to go into decline.

There are currently 1,988 miles (3,199 km) of waterways in the United Kingdom, and the primary use is recreational. 385 miles (620 km) is used for commerce. (2004 CIA estimate)

Education & Professional Development

The UK also has a well developed network of organisations offering education and professional development in the transport and logistics sectors.

Educational Organisations

A number of Universities offer degree programmes in transport, usually covering transportation planning, engineering of transport infrastructure, and management of transport and logistics services. The Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds is one such organisation.

Professional Development

Professional Development for those working in the transport and logistics sectors is provided by a number of Professional Institutes representing specific sectors, these include

Through these professional bodies, transport planners and engineers can train for a number of professional qualifications, including:

See also

External links

Major Public Transport Companies in the United Kingdom
Arriva Group - ComfortDelGro Group - FirstGroup
Go-Ahead Group - National Express Group
Stagecoach Group - Transdev Group
Translink (Northern Ireland) - Veolia Transport
See also:
Transport for London - Passenger Transport Executive
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport


  1. ^ a b Busiest Airports - The Busiest Airports in the World
  2. ^ "EU Transport in Figures; Statistical Pocketbook". European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport; Eurostat. 2007.  
  3. ^ a b Rod Eddington (December 2006). "The Eddington Transport Study". UK Treasury.  
  4. ^ Passenger kilometres by bus, rail, air, motorcycle, pedal cycle, 1970 to 2004, URN No: 06/453, DTI
  5. ^ a b "Tackling congestion on our roads". Department for Transport.  
  6. ^ "Delivering choice and reliability". Department for Transport.  
  7. ^ "Government’s five-year plan". Railway Magazine 153 (1277): 6–7. September 2007.  
  8. ^ "UK Ultraspeed". Retrieved 2008-05-23.  
  9. ^ Wainwright, Martin (2005-08-09). "Hovertrain to cut London-Glasgow time to two hours". Guardian.,2763,1545279,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-23.  
  10. ^ Blitz, James (2006-08-31). "Japan inspires Tories' land of rising green tax". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-05-23.  
  11. ^ Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2007 Edition. UK Department for Transport. September 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-02.  
  12. ^ a b c Banks, Bayliss and Glaister (December 2007). Motoring towards 2050: Roads and Reality. RAC Foundation.  
  13. ^ a b The ROAD to SUCCESS?: Transport Manifesto 2004. The British Chambers of Commerce. 2004.  
  14. ^ a b c "How roads are managed in the UK". Department for Transport. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  15. ^ "What We Do". Roads Service Northern Ireland. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  16. ^ "M6 Toll (formerly Birmingham Northern Relief Road)". The Motorway Archive. The Motorway Archive Trust. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  17. ^ Rod Eddington (December 2006). "Speech by Rod Eddington to the Commonwealth Club in London on 1 December 2006". Department for Transport.  
  18. ^ "Smooth start for congestion charge". BBC News. 2003-02-18. Retrieved 2007-05-26.  
  19. ^ "Toll road lawyers in award hope". BBC News. 2006-04-09. Retrieved 2007-11-23.  
  20. ^ "'Pay-as-you-go' road charge plan". BBC News. 2005-06-06. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  21. ^ "PM denies road toll 'stealth tax'". 2007-02-21. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  22. ^ "159-161: General rules". The Highway Code. HMSO. Retrieved 2007-11-25.  
  23. ^ "117-126: Control of the vehicle". The Highway Code. HMSO. Retrieved 2007-11-18.  
  24. ^

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the CIA World Factbook.

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