Transport in the United Kingdom

Transport in the United Kingdom

The transport systems in the United Kingdom are the responsibility of each individual country: The UK Department for Transport is the government department responsible for the English transport network (as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are not devolved.) In Scotland, the Scottish Government's Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department is responsible for the Scottish transport network with Transport Scotland being the Executive Agency that is accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. cite web|url= |title=Scottish Cabinet |accessdate=2007-05-26 |work=Scottish Executive ] For details about transport in each country, see;

*Transport in England
*Transport in Northern Ireland
*Transport in Scotland
*Transport in Wales

Overall, UK transport systems are well developed. A radial road network of 29,145 miles (46,632 km) of main roads is centred on London, Edinburgh and Belfast, whilst, in Great Britain, a motorway network of 2,173 miles (3,477 km) is centred on Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and London. There are a further 213,750 miles (342,000 km) of paved roads. The National Rail network of 10,072 route miles (16,116 route 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 and several other cities. Heathrow Airport is the world's busiest international airport, and the UK has a considerable network of ports which received over 558 million tonnes of goods in 2003-04.

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.cite web
url =
title = EU Transport in Figures; Statistical Pocketbook
year = 2007
publisher = European Commission Directorate-General for Energy and Transport; Eurostat

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 bn are made per annum by main line rail, 1 bn by London Underground and other metro systems, 4,5 bn by bus, and 21 million on domestic air flights.

Passenger transport has grown significantly in recent years. Figures from the DTI [ Passenger kilometres by bus, rail, air, motorcycle, pedal cycle, 1970 to 2004, URN No: 06/453, DTI] show that total passenger travel inside the UK has risen from 403 billion passenger kilometres in 1970 to 797 billion in 2004.

Freight transport has undergone similar changes, greatly increasing in volume and shifting from railways onto the road. In 1953 89 bn 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 bn 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; wheareas the rail network has halved from 31,336 km in 1950 to 16,116 km today, the motorway network, which today is 3476 km 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. cite web
title = Tackling congestion on our roads
url =
publisher = Department for Transport
] 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. [ cite web
title = Delivering choice and reliability
url =
publisher = Department for Transport


:"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 (nowrap|16,116 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 convert|30000|mi|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

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 being offset by concerns over safety, punctuality, network capacity and the overall cost to the taxpayer, though it has caused some less profitable lines to be badly neglected, and a general focus of getting as many customers into the smallest train that is possible so that the companies profits are optimised. This is a reduce in quality of the service for the customer, though it has ensured that the businesses have become more profitable. 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), most of which are franchises awarded by the UK 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 1435 mm 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 (200 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 convert|10072|mi|km now), during successive administrations.


London – Glasgow: 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. [cite journal|title=Government’s five-year plan|journal=Railway Magazine|volume=153|issue=1277|month=September | year=2007|pages=6–7] Another high speed link is being planned between Glasgow and Edinburgh but there is no settled technology for it. [cite web| url=| title=UK Ultraspeed| accessdate=2008-05-23| ] [cite news| url=,2763,1545279,00.html| title=Hovertrain to cut London-Glasgow time to two hours| work=Guardian| date=2005-08-09| author=Wainwright, Martin| accessdate=2008-05-23| ] [cite news| url=| title=Japan inspires Tories' land of rising green tax| work=Financial Times| author=Blitz, James| date=2006-08-31| accessdate=2008-05-23| ]

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 1600 mm 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. Also in London are the separate Docklands Light Railway (though this is integrated with the Underground in many ways), and the North London Line, operated by Silverlink (formerly by British Rail). Outside of London there is the Glasgow Subway and the Tyne and Wear Metro.However, many other cities in the UK have rapid transit systems combined of local or light rail with bus and tram systems.

Trams and Light Rail

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 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:
*Docklands Light Railway in East London
*Manchester Metrolink in Greater Manchester
*Sheffield Supertram in Sheffield
*Midland Metro in the West Midlands
*Tramlink in Croydon
*NET in Nottingham
*Edinburgh Tram Network (currently under construction)
*Merseytram in Merseyside (planned, but currently suspended)


The road network in Great Britain, in 2006, comprised 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. [cite paper |title=Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2007 Edition |date=September 2007 |publisher=UK Department for Transport |url= |accessdate=2008-03-02] cite paper |title=Motoring towards 2050: Roads and Reality |author=Banks, Bayliss and Glaister |date=December 2007 |publisher=RAC Foundation]

Road is the most popular method of transportation in the UK, carrying over 90% of motorised passenger travel and 65% of domestic freight. 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.

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 leadingEuropean nations.cite paper |title=The ROAD to SUCCESS?: Transport Manifesto 2004 |publisher=The British Chambers of Commerce |year=2004] 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.

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.cite web |url= |title=How roads are managed in the UK |publisher=Department for Transport |accessdate=2007-11-18] Northern Ireland's roads are overseen by the Roads Service Northern Ireland, a section of the Department for Regional Development. [cite web |url= |title=What We Do |publisher=Roads Service Northern Ireland |accessdate=2007-11-18] 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.

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. In 2003 the UK's first toll motorway, the M6 Toll, opened in the West Midlands area to relieve the congested M6 motorway. [cite web |url= |title=M6 Toll (formerly Birmingham Northern Relief Road) |work=The Motorway Archive |publisher=The Motorway Archive Trust |accessdate=2007-11-18] 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.cite web |title = The Eddington Transport Study |author = Rod Eddington |year = 2006 |month = December |url = |publisher = UK Treasury] [ cite web |title = Speech by Rod Eddington to the Commonwealth Club in London on 1 December 2006 |author = Rod Eddington |year = 2006 |month = December |url = |publisher = Department for Transport] Congestion charging systems do operate in the cities of London [cite news |url= |title=Smooth start for congestion charge |publisher=BBC News |date=2003-02-18 |accessdate=2007-05-26] and Durham. [cite news |url= |title=Toll road lawyers in award hope |publisher=BBC News |date=2006-04-09 |accessdate=2007-11-23] 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. [cite news |url= |title='Pay-as-you-go' road charge plan |date=2005-06-06 |publisher=BBC News |accessdate=2007-11-18] The plans have been extremely controversial with 1.8 million people signing a petition against them. [cite news |url= |title=PM denies road toll 'stealth tax' |date=2007-02-21 |accessdate=2007-11-18]

Driving is on the left. [cite web |url= |work=The Highway Code |title=159-161: General rules |publisher=HMSO |accessdate=2007-11-25] The maximum speed limit is 70 miles per hour (113 km/h) on motorways and dual carriageways. [cite web |url= |title=117-126: Control of the vehicle |work=The Highway Code |publisher=HMSO |accessdate=2007-11-18]

Road passenger transport


Local bus services cover the whole country. Since deregulation the majority (80% by the late 1990s [] ) 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.


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:
*Port of Felixstowe on the east coast - the fourth largest seaport in Europe.
*Port of Tilbury, on the River Thames.
*Southampton on the south coast.

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

Aberdeen, Avonmouth, Barry, Belfast, Cardiff, Dover, Falmouth, Glasgow, Gloucester, Grangemouth, Harwich, Holyhead, Hull, Kirkwall, Leith, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milford Haven, Peterhead, Plymouth, Poole, Port Talbot, 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 GRT|1,000|metric|first=yes or over, making a total of GRT|9,181,284|metric (DWT|9,566,275|metric|first=yes). 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)"

Other shipping

Passenger ferries operate internationally to nearby countries such as France, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Norway. Ferries also operate within the UK, connecting Scotland with Northern Ireland, Southampton with Isle of Wight and many smaller routes.

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 (3200 km) of waterways in the United Kingdom, and the primary use is recreational. 385 miles (620 km) is used for commerce. "(2004 CIA estimate)"

Air transport

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

There are 471 airports 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 one of 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 thirty miles (50 km) north of London and Birmingham International Airport, in Solihull.

Outside of England,Cardiff International 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 British Airways, who operate long-distance flights from the UK to all over the globe. Others include bmi, bmibaby, easyJet, Flybe and Virgin Atlantic.

External links

* [ Tom Harris will be delivering the keynote speech at Rail 2007 - Developing our rail network which will take place on the 17th May at the Birmingham ICC]

ee also

*United Kingdom
*Transport in the Republic of Ireland
*Air transport of the Royal Family and executive of the United Kingdom
*Royal Train
*Transport Direct


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