Mode of transport

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Mode of transport (or means of transport or transport mode or transport modality or form of transport) is a term used to distinguish substantially different ways to perform transport. The most dominant modes of transport are aviation and land transport, which includes rail, road and off-road transport, and ship transport. Other modes also exist, including pipelines, cable transport, and space transport. Human-powered transport and animal-powered transport are sometimes regarded as their own mode, but these normally also fall into the other categories.

Each mode of transport has a fundamentally different technological solution, and some require a separate environment. Each mode has its own infrastructure, vehicles, and operations, and often has unique regulations. Each mode also has separate subsystems. A subsystem is a group of many parts that make up one part. All modes of transportation have 6 subsystems. They are: Propulsion, Suspension, Control, Guidance, Structural, and Support. Transport using more than one mode is described as intermodal. Transportation that carries around many people and can be used by the public is known as Mass Transportation.

The EU VAT directive refers means of transport to the actual physical vehicles of transport, referred to in this article.


Main article: Aviation

A fixed-wing aircraft, typically airplane, is a heavier-than-air flight vehicle, in which the special geometry of the wing generates lift. A gyroplane is both a fixed-wing and rotary-wing. Fixed-wing aircraft range from small trainers and recreational aircraft to large airliners and military cargo aircraft.

The angle of the wing (or blade) relative to the direction of flight (or rotation in a rotary-wing) deflects air downward, generating lift. Wings (or blades) are shaped in a complex fashion to help reduce friction and drag on the aircraft, which rob fuel efficiency and can create turbulence or noise. (See more at angle of attack.)

Air transport is the second fastest method of transport, after space travel. Commercial jets can reach speeds of up to 955 kilometres per hour (593 mph), (note that an aircraft's groundspeed can sometimes reach over 1,000 kilometres per hour (620 mph), depending on the tailwind on a given altitude) while single-engine piston aircraft may reach up to 555 kilometres per hour (345 mph). Aviation is able to quickly transport people and limited amounts of cargo over longer distances, but incur high costs and energy use; for short distances or in inaccessible places, helicopters can be used.[1] WHO estimates that up to 500,000 people are on planes at any time.[2]


Main article: Ground transportation


Main article: Rail transport

Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail track, known as a railway or railroad. The rails are anchored perpendicular to railroad train consists of one or more connected vehicles that run on the rails. Propulsion is commonly provided by a locomotive, that hauls a series of unpowered cars, that can carry passengers or freight. The locomotive can be powered by steam, diesel or by electricity supplied by trackside systems. Alternatively, some or all the cars can be powered, known as a multiple unit. Also, a train can be powered by horses, cables, gravity, pneumatics and gas turbines. Railed vehicles move with much less friction than rubber tires on paved roads, making trains more energy efficient, though not as efficient as ships.

Intercity trains are long-haul services connecting cities;[3] modern high-speed rail is capable of speeds up to 350 km/h (220 mph), but this requires specially built track. Regional and commuter trains feed cities from suburbs and surrounding areas, while intra-urban transport is performed by high-capacity tramways and rapid transits, often making up the backbone of a city's public transport. Freight trains traditionally used box cars, requiring manual loading and unloading of the cargo. Since the 1960s, container trains have become the dominant solution for general freight, while large quantities of bulk are transported by dedicated trains.


Main article: Road transport
Traffic on the Eastshore Freeway (Interstate 80) near Berkeley, California, United States

A road is an identifiable route of travel, usually surfaced with gravel, asphalt or concrete, and supporting land passage by foot or by a number of vehicles.

The most common road vehicle is the automobile, a wheeled passenger vehicle that carries its own motor. As of 2002, there were 590 million automobiles worldwide.[citation needed] Other users of roads include buses, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Automobiles offer high flexibility, but are deemed with high energy and area use, and the main source of noise and air pollution in cities; buses allow for more efficient travel at the cost of reduced flexibility.[4] Road transport by truck is often the initial and final stage of freight transport.


Main article: Ship transport

Water transport is the process of transport that a watercraft, such as a barge, boat, ship or sailboat, makes over a body of water, such as a sea, ocean, lake, canal or river. If a boat or other vessel can successfully pass through a waterway it is known as a navigable waterway. The need for buoyancy unites watercraft, and makes the hull a dominant aspect of its construction, maintenance and appearance. When a boat is floating on the water the hull of the boat is pushing aside water where the hull now is, this is known as displacement.

In the 1800s, the first steamboats were developed, using a steam engine to drive a paddle wheel or propeller to move the ship. The steam was produced using wood or coal. Now, most ships have an engine using a slightly refined type of petroleum called bunker fuel. Some ships, such as submarines, use nuclear power to produce the steam. Recreational or educational craft still use wind power, while some smaller craft use internal combustion engines to drive one or more propellers, or in the case of jet boats, an inboard water jet. In shallow draft areas, hovercraft are propelled by large pusher-prop fans.

Although slow, modern sea transport is a highly effective method of transporting large quantities of non-perishable goods. Commercial vessels, nearly 35,000 in number, carried 7.4 billion tons of cargo in 2007.[5] Transport by water is significantly less costly than air transport for transcontinental shipping;[6] short sea shipping and ferries remain viable in coastal areas.[7][8]

Other modes[edit]

Pipeline transport sends goods through a pipe, most commonly liquid and gases are sent, but pneumatic tubes can also send solid capsules using compressed air. For liquids/gases, any chemically stable liquid or gas can be sent through a pipeline. Short-distance systems exist for sewage, slurry, water and beer, while long-distance networks are used for petroleum and natural gas.

Cable transport is a broad mode where vehicles are pulled by cables instead of an internal power source. It is most commonly used at steep gradient. Typical solutions include aerial tramway, elevators, escalator and ski lifts; some of these are also categorized as conveyor transport.

Space transport is transport out of Earth's atmosphere into outer space by means of a spacecraft. While large amounts of research have gone into technology, it is rarely used except to put satellites into orbit, and conduct scientific experiments. However, man has landed on the moon, and probes have been sent to all the planets of the Solar System.

Unmanned aerial vehicle transport, (or drone transport), is currently being tested by and other transportation companies. This method will allow short-range small-parcel delivery in a short time frame.

Components of a mode of transport[edit]

A transport mode is a combination of the following:

Worldwide comparison of the most important transport modes[edit]

Worldwide, the most widely used modes for passenger transport are the Automobile (16,000 bn passenger km), followed by Buses (7,000), Air (2,800), Railways (1,900), and Urban Rail (250).[9]

The most widely used modes for freight transport are Sea (40,000 bn ton km), followed by Road (7,000), Railways (6,500), Oil pipelines (2,000) and Inland Navigation (1,500).[10]

EU 15 USA Japan World
GDP (PPP) per capita (€) 19,000 28,600 22,300 5,500
Passenger km per capita[11]
Private Car 10,100 22,700 6,200 2,700
Bus/ Coach 1,050 870 740 1,200
Railway 750 78 2,900 320
Air (domestic except World) 860 2,800 580 480

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cooper et al., 1998: 281
  2. ^ Swine flu prompts EU warning on travel to US. The Guardian. April 28, 2009.
  3. ^ Cooper et al., 1998: 279
  4. ^ Cooper et al., 1998: 278
  5. ^ United Nations Conference on Trade and Development 2007, p. x and p. 32.
  6. ^ Stopford, 1997: 4–6
  7. ^ Stopford, 1997: 8–9
  8. ^ Cooper et al., 1998: 280
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^