Document Type

Book Chapter


This chapter will describe the process of transport growth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then focus more closely on its political, organisational and developmental impact. Transport systems (including communications) move people, goods and information. This chapter will look at each of these functions in order to reveal the pervasive role of the transport industry in modern British history. The tendencies for transport infrastructure to take the form of a public good, open to all users, and for some transport services to operate in a manner similar to a monopoly explain the interest shown in the industry by governments seeking to assess the private and public costs and benefits involved. The large size and capital-intensive nature of many operating units caused unprecedented organisational challenges for transport companies. The identification of transport as a form of social overhead capital, supporting production across the economy, helps account for its broad-ranging impact on economic development that has been the focus of much of the historiography. In this role transport contributed to the efficient allocation of resources over space, thereby promoting competition between producers, and providing information about alternative consumption possibilities to consumers.