Second National Infrastructure Assessment: Baseline Report   |   Call for Evidence

Baseline Report Annex F: Transport

Analysis of the country's transport infrastructure which informs the Baseline Report for the second National Infrastructure Assessment.

Tagged: Transport

Sector overview

Transport infrastructure connects people, communities, and businesses, and is essential to economic growth, productivity and quality of life. Its functions include moving people and goods between different places.

Transport mode share varies according to the length of the trip. Journeys of less than two miles are most likely to be made by walking or cycling (61 per cent of trips), with 35 per cent of trips being made by car. Journeys between two and 25 miles are mostly made by car (80 per cent of trips), with 13 per cent made by public transport (bus, light rail and rail). Longer distance trips of over 25 miles are mostly made by car (79 per cent) and by train (16 per cent).1

Mode also varies by the purpose of the trip. Car remains the dominant mode regardless of purpose with 58 per cent of all trips. However some modes are used much more for some purposes than they are for others. For example 21 per cent of commuting trips are made by public transport compared to nine per cent of trips overall. Walking made up 41 per cent of trips to education compare to 26 per cent of trips in total. Road is dominant for freight, with rail and water also carrying a significant share.2

Transport infrastructure includes the roads and rail used by transport, stations used by passengers to access the network, fueling infrastructure like electric vehicle charging points, and ports and airports. Across Great Britain, road is by far the biggest component of the network with 247,500 miles of roads compared to 10,400 miles of rail (including light rail).3 Surface transport by road (including footways) and rail represents more than 99 per cent of domestic travel, both by number of trips taken and total mileage.4

In 2019, there were 542 billion passenger miles across all modes of transport, up 11 per cent over a decade.5 In addition, 122 billion tonne miles of domestic freight was moved within Great Britain.6

The Covid 19 pandemic has changed travel behaviours dramatically and it is unclear the extent to which transport patterns will revert to previous trends or whether changes in behaviour will be permanent. The Commission has considered how this uncertainty can be reflected in policy making, and some of the different scenarios that policy may need to plan for, in Behaviour Change and Infrastructure Beyond Covid-19.7

Transport infrastructure is capital intensive but tends to have a long lifetime. The total value of road infrastructure in Great Britain is estimated to be £227 billion. Great Britain’s rail network is estimated to be worth £336 billion.8 Asset life varies considerably with well used parts of the network being replaced much more frequently than peripheral connections such as rural roads.

The transport sector is the biggest single contributor to UK carbon emissions as well as emitting other harmful airborne pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.9

Transport and the Commission’s remit

The Commission’s remit covers the economic infrastructure on which transport depends, including road and rail networks for passengers and freight, electric vehicle charging networks, public and active transport networks, ports and airports. However, patterns of transport use determine the demand for this infrastructure, and so the Commission (and this annex) also considers patterns of use of transport such as cars, vans and rail, where this is relevant to infrastructure.

The Commission covers economic infrastructure within the UK Government’s competence. Road and rail transport policy are largely devolved in Scotland and completely devolved in Northern Ireland. Road transport is also largely devolved in Wales, but rail policy is largely reserved. Maritime and aviation are largely reserved. In keeping with the second Assessment’s focus on road and rail, the Commission’s focus in this annex is primarily on transport in England.

Box F.1: History of transport and the urban economy


There is a two way relationship between transport and the urban economy, with each influencing the shape and form of the other. The density of urban centres reflects the benefit of firms locating close to each other.10 Transport infrastructure has a lifespan of several decades and it shapes the location of homes, businesses, and public services.11

In the early twentieth century, motor vehicles became more widespread, and there was a shift to private transport, leading to the closure of many local tramways. From the 1950s onwards, road traffic grew rapidly, and the government started developing the national motorway network. The first section opened in 1958. Private railway companies were nationalised in the 1940s but rail use fell as cars grew in popularity. During the 1950s almost all remaining local tramways closed, cycling fell rapidly, and bus use began a steady decline.12

In the 1960s, rising levels of car ownership began to influence urban design. New developments were planned to accommodate a car owning middle class, and towns and cities spread along new arterial roads.13 Rail use continued to decline, and by 1971 43 per cent of the former rail network by mileage was permanently closed.14

During the 1970s and 1980s new housing estates and out of town shopping centres were predicated on high levels of car ownership. Congestion worsened, particularly in large cities, and new peripheral ring roads were built which stimulated additional car based development. The decline in railway use started to slow, however investment remained low, with government investment focused on expanding road capacity.

In the 1990s, shifts in the structure of the economy supported urban regeneration and densification.15 The population of inner London began to rise again,16 and rail journeys increased.17 British Rail was split into multiple businesses and privatised, and new light rail networks were built in Manchester, Sheffield, and Birmingham.

From 2000 to the present day, many cities experienced population and economic growth. The rapid growth in car journeys started to level off. Rail infrastructure was brought back into public ownership following a series of accidents due to the poor state of the network, with government investing to improve safety and capacity. Rail journeys quickly rose, and light rail networks were expanded in core cities. Per person car use started to decline, due to a combination of demographic and economic change, social shifts in working and shopping, the impact of policies to encourage urbanisation, and advancements in technology.18

However, England’s transport system remains predominantly and significantly car based.19

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Second National Infrastructure Assessment: Baseline Report

An analysis of the current state of key infrastructure sectors

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