Looking back at transport development

Apprentice Economist Maisie Darby introduces new data on historic transport development in Britain.

Published: 12 Mar 2021

By: Maisie Darby

Tagged: ,

A Princess Coronation (Duchess) class express steam locomotive steaming fast up the west coast main line on the fringes of the English Lake District. A car travelling in the opposite direction is on the adjacent M6 motorway.

If you’re reading this, you’ll probably know we recently launched our data pages, an area of our website which provides you with easy access to the data we have used, and data we think you’ll find interesting.

As promised in our launch blog, we have now added our historic transport datasets which you can find here. Some of the data has been brought to life by our visualisations, making the data easier to relate to, and viewable instantly.

Ever wondered about the total length of roads in Britain? One of our sets of visualisations reveals the answer, and consists of data from 1922 to 2019 (the most recent data courtesy of the Department for Transport). There were 70,000 miles of road added over the last one hundred years – an increase of 40% – which is the equivalent distance to travelling almost three times round the Earth. However, the rate of increase has slowed in recent years.

We’ve also highlighted how the number of passengers using the railway has changed. As you can see below, this shows how rail use has varied considerably over time.

Perhaps you are interested in how the type of vehicle use has changed over time. Our second set of visualisations show the number of private cars, goods vehicles, motorcycles, and tramcars in use from 1904 to 1964.

Interested in the history of British civil aviation? The civil aviation visualisations consist of three datasets from the early twentieth century: the total aircraft miles flown, the number of passengers carried, and the weight of cargo carried, between 1919 and 1938. The miles travelled by British airlines increased ten-fold between 1930 and 1938, while the amount of cargo carried increased almost 7-fold.

This is the first time that this historic transport data has been published online in one place and made widely available; it provides an interesting insight into the evolution of the transport sector in Britain and provides a context within which to view current data. Let us know if you’ve found it interesting, or plan on using it in your work or studies.

We will continue to add more data and more interactive visualisations to these pages, so make sure to bookmark the data pages and regularly check for updates!

Maisie Darby is an apprentice economist at the National Infrastructure Commission.

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