Historical developments in transport systems


Due to the long, uncomfortable and often dangerous enterprise of travel up until the eighteenth century, a new means of transportation systems needed to be invented. The rails transportation system demonstrated the qualities needed to overcome these issues in terms of historical and technological change.
From the ancient horse powered wagons until the revolutionary steam engines in 1804, there was a struggle for a structured and efficient means of transportation. A breakthrough in the world of engineering was present at the introduction of the steam engine introduced initially by Richard Trevithick. Being the part of the first and continued locomotive designs in history they were known for their high pressure mechanical performance built to run across long distances carrying great loads. It was not until 1813 however, when Hedley demonstrated that a specifically engineered locomotive could run on steel rails without falling off. Improvements on the steam engine were the preliminary pathway to efficient and powerful trains used for centuries to come. This included low mass and skid-free implementations of slow but steady transportation. Other designs and improvements were based on the single requirement of “quick transport”. The “rocket” by Stephenson in 1829 started an epoch in train construction through the multi-tubular boiler which allowed a water flow system running by a firebox to efficiently generate steam. As well as improving the exhaust system which made for more efficient and effective heat transfer between the exhaust gases and the water. The most apparent advantage it offered was its ability to pull a fourteen tonne train at a velocity of 46km/h. Further developments based around the late 1800s offered innovative additions to the steam engine such as compound steam engines encapsulating multiple cylinders and superheating which reduced moisture content produced by the boiler and concurrently increased the efficiency of the motor.
The design and development of the railway tracks were influenced by the availability of certain materials in the time period. Timber material initial material of choice due to the familiarity of engineers with its properties however its drawbacks related to maintenance such as its susceptibility to rot and borer attack along with flammability. Later on in 1728 England iron rails were implemented and based as a new standard in railway design. Today, to ensure that each material across the system is being utilities, a Life cycle assessment (LCA) is undertaken.
Engineered transformation of the physical terrain allowed for traction control over rail grades as well as implementation of maps for a system of railway tracks. This however had an effect on the environment where the production of large sweeping curves of rails and cutting into hills for tunnels damaged the natural shape of the terrain through tree felling and the levelling of land as well as ongoing steam pollution now being carried over the terrain on a daily basis. The implementation of these rails also resulted in the social and ethical issue of changing gauge lengths in regards to private ownership of certain regions where the rails existed however overtime a standard became a necessary consideration in the design of railway tracks and the trains which occupy them.
A major advancement in railway transport was the introduction of an electrical locomotive which through the use of on-board energy storage such as batteries and fuel cells allowed the system to take advantage of the high efficiency of electrical motors resulting in higher performance, lower maintenance costs while simultaneously eliminating issues of environmental pollution in their use. However the use of electrical locomotives means that a requirement for specific electrically optimized, copper overhead railway lines is necessary. Conversion of coal to electricity away from the railway tracks and on the power stations means they are quieter to operate and less polluting. A practical application of electrical locomotives is seen in modern maglev trains.


  1. Bicycles:

The invention of the bicycle marked the beginning of a new style of transportation being the first machine to be mass-produced for personal transport. The first bicycles consisted of a simple frame with wooden beams connecting two wheels front and back with means of moving the device was through pushing off the ground with the legs.
Countless experimentations were trialled to overcome several issues such as lack efficiency and ergonomically fit system in earlier models such as the Draisine (1818), Velocipede (1863) and Penny-Farthing (1830-81). The results became known shortly after the introduction of Mechanical propulsion which was introduced in 1821 by Lewis Compertz with the initial “rock and pinon” system allowing the arms to assist feet in pushing the bicycle across the ground. Further advancements included pedal power in 1839 leading to an era of gearing and mechanical advantage that allowed users to function the bicycle without having to push the device with their feet on the ground. This is shown in the functionality of front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive, improved crank fitting and pedals which were used as the primary input to the prototype safety bicycles (rover safety bicycle of 1885) which revolutionised the design and performance of bicycles by creating a social standard for wheel sizes as well as ergonomic improvements such as seat positioning and handle mounts. Advanced bicycle frames were the result of newly discovered materials which added to the frames stiffness, flexibility, formability, corrosion resistance and strength to weight ratio.
Aluminium alloys were used in the construction of brakes and gears in an attempt to save weight. Steels were also used in chains and gear clusters to provide for strength, ease of fabrication and cost effectiveness however the advancement and implementation of steel alloys such as Chromium-Molybdenum in frames allowed for a better strength to weight ratio. Production techniques such as TIG and MIG welding allows quicker, lighter and cheaper fabrication of body frames. Wheels were generally steel rims with aluminium spokes arranged in a tangential pattern however materials were chosen dependent on the requirements of the user. Innovations into faster sporting models allowed the use of carbon fibre which allowed for a tough and strong material with little or no plastic deformation and thus resilience and elasticity in the body frame for minimal deformation.

  1. Motor Vehicles:

Demands of better roads by cyclists allowed for roads of suitable quality and quantity for motor vehicles to become available. Companies such Ford, Holden and American and British motor suppliers through advertisement of technological advances allowed for others to begin production and soon these developments cast society into the era personal and public transportation such as rickshaws, taxis and buses. Soon issues begun to emerge with fuel such as the Oil crisis of the 1970’s which steered the automotive industry into the research of weight reduction which included materials such as aluminium and plastic as well as high strength and low alloy grades of steel that allowed for thickness reductions while maintaining strength. This also led in the implementation of glass fibre to provide for several high performance vehicles, galvanizing to reduce corrosion of the chassis and use of aluminium in parts such as the engine block as a replacement for heavier cast iron. The increased applications of castability, machinability, high temperature strength, impact resistance, thermal conductivity, dimensional stability, vibration dampening and lightweight to include for components such as the pistons, crankshaft, body panels, frames, windscreens, non-structural components, wheels and tyres resulted as effects on people’s lives as transportation increased in capacity and efficiency, the barriers to trade and communication between villages and nations were reduced. Reliable means of transportation brought vast changes to the performance of commerce and trade as well as social and cultural perceptions and practices and eventually war. Research is now focusing on ensuring urban mobility while minimising traffic and environmental impacts such as cleaner vehicle technologies including the road toll and collection system in response to coal dependent methods of transportation being the largest source of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants as well as ozone-forming contaminants. Furthermore, attitudes to transport choices have been encouraging people to shift from coal dependent models to electrical hybrid vehicles or non-motorised transport.


Flight has revolutionised transport in a way that we have not seen before. Since their creation aircrafts have allowed passengers to reach a destination at a much quicker rate than any other means of transportation. With no airtime traffic encountered during flight as well as optimal use of the fundamental principles of flight through surrounding air particles to manoeuvre the aircraft dynamically and at great speeds, they have become an ever-increasingly powerful, reliable and economical choice of travel at long distances.
Composite materials such as polymer, ceramic and matrix composites like fibreglass reinforced polymers (FRP) have been used in the construction of aircrafts for some time due to their superior mechanical and physical properties which allow improvements in their stiffness-to-density ratios, fatigue resistance and fracture toughness as well as reductions in airframe weight translating into better fuel economy, greater payload capacity and increased speed and range. These materials need to be thoroughly tested for flaws the likes of fatigue identification before they can be used. This prevents disasters where even the slightest defect may cause a ripple effect to other components ultimately failing the aircrafts internal and external systems. The implications associated with aircraft transportation methods on the environment include climate change, stratospheric ozone reduction, leading to increased surface UV radiation, noise pollution and regional pollution as well as local air pollution where the engine emits carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur as well as hydrocarbons and soot particles which alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere in a variety of ways. However improved engines and airframe designs as well as alternative fuels such as liquid and hydrogen have allowed air travel to have greater fuel efficiency. Furthermore, policies and regulations, including more stringent engine emission certification standards and higher load factors with optimisation of aircraft speed have been implemented as measures to reduce emissions from aircrafts.