Rail Transport Definition, Types, Advantages and Disadvantages

Table of Contents

What is rail transport?

Rail transport or railway transport is defined as the movement of people and commodities via the use of railways or railroads, or it is the movement of passengers and goods via wheeled vehicles made to move on railway tracks or rails. A train is a connected series of rail vehicles that move along the track, an engine locomotive running on electricity or on diesel powers trains.

The railroad is transportation system laid with metal rails that is designed to allow trains to maneuver on the tracks for the transportation of passengers and freight from one location to another.

Photo of Rail Transport: Definition, Types, Advantages and Disadvantages of Rail Transport

Rail transport is one of the oldest modes of transportation that is suitable for conveying bulky goods over long distances.
The railway is perhaps a sobering thought that until the railways emerged in the 1830s man could travel no faster than a horse could gallop. These appeared during Britain’s industrial revolution and later were constructed throughout the developed world.

However, railways were developed during the period of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, these were partly for political reasons and for economic reasons. In many countries, they were built especially to penetrate isolated regions and help promote political unity. The major advantage of railway transport includes the provision of reliable services. For instance, Russia was crossed by the Tans-Siberian Railway; North America was crossed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. In other places in the world, railways aid the exploitation of mineral deposits as in the case of Australia and Latin America. In Britain, railways were the most important land transport system throughout the Victorian age. Only fairly recently have they declined in significance as a result of an increase in the use of motor vehicles and on the other hand it is as a result of greater air traffic in Britain.

Types of Rail Transport

  • Metro rail
  • Milk run
  • Mono rail
  • Overground rail
  • Passenger train
  • Freight train
  • Light railway
  • Eurostar
  • Cable rail
  • Boat train
  • People mover
  • Commuter rail
  • Inter-city rail
  • Funicular rail
  • High-speed rail
  • Regional rail
  1. Metro rail: this is an underground railway system in a city; it covers a smaller inner-urban area ranging outwards to between 12km to 20km (8 to 14 miles). The usual British word for the underground railway system in London is the tube. The American word is subway.
  2. Milk run: this is a type of train journey which stops and starts at many places before reaching the actual destination.
  3. Mono rail: a railway system in which trains travel on a single metal track.
  4. Overground rail: in this case, the train travels on the surface of the ground, rather than in tunnels underground.
  5. Passenger train: this type of train only carries passengers and not freight.
  6. Freight train: it is a train that carries only goods.
  7. Light railway: it is a railway for small trains, usually one that people rideon for pleasure.
  8. Eurostar: it is a fast train that travels between Britain, France, and Belgium using the Channel Tunnel.
  9. Cable rail: this railway is usually attached to a cable by which it is pulled up a mountain.
  10. Boat train: a train that takes passengers to a port where they can continue their journey by ship, or a train that takes them from a port to a town or city
  11. People mover: it is a simple railway system, usually in a place such as an airport or a theme park.
  12. Commuter rail: this is also called suburban rail, it is apassenger rail transport service that primarily operates between a city center and middle to outer suburbs beyond 15km (10 miles) and commuter towns or other locations that draw large numbers of commuters people who travel on a daily basis.
  13. Inter-city rail– this is a fast rail that travels between major cities without stopping at small towns in between.
  14. Funicular rail: this is a railway with carriages that are pulled up a steep slope by a cable.
  15. High-speed rail: this refers to passenger rail systems running at operational speed between 200 and 300 km/h, and above in some cases, it is significantly faster than traditional rail traffic, using an integrated system of specialized rolling stock and dedicated tracks.
  16. Regional rails: these are passenger rail services that travel between towns and cities, rather than purely linking major population hubs the way inter-city rail does. These trains operate with more stops over shorter distances than inter-city rail, but fewer stops and faster service than commuter rail.

Advantages of Rail Transport

  1. It is relatively safer to travel by train than to travel by road transport or air transport.
  2. Rail transport has the ability of conveying heavy and bulky goods; it is also very cheap, safe and comfortable for passengers over a long distance.
  3. Rail transport provides a fast and reliable service; trains running on their own tracks can be timed to minimize the chance of congestion and delay.
  4. Heavy and bulky goods can be carried as well as large quantities of any cargo.
  5. Rail is especially suitable to steady flows of traffic between set places for instance, movement of coal and iron ore between mines and factories.
  6. High-speed trains, which carry mainly passengers, help to reduce time spent on travels. Such trains are called Bullet trains in Japan, InterCity 125 in Britain and Express or limited passenger Train in Nigeria.
  7. Rails like any other mode of transport helps to open up new and many remote places.
  8. Rail is particularly suited to passenger transport since it provides speed, cheapness, comfort and safety; this advantage is greatest for distances under 400km since above distance the completion from air strengthen.
  9. Railroad transport offers reasonable good access along its line side although this is dependent upon the number of stations along each route
  10. Rail can provide a magnet to industries, and stations becomes centres of new urban complexes. For instance, Crewe, Swindon and Peterborough.
  11. Rail is a relatively clean form of transport and has only little air pollution released to the atmosphere.

Disadvantages of Rail Transport

  1. It involves high construction costs, maintenance costs and operating costs, this remains true whether the system is used or not.
  2. It can be expensive to use, especially over short distances or for small amounts of cargo.
  3. Rail transport is relatively slower than some other means of transport especially in Africa.
  4. Inflexible service since tracks cannot easily be moved and transhipment of cargo is often necessary at termini.
  5. Indirect or circuitous routes since lines are determined by relief, hence a slow movement of commodities in areas of rough topography especially across mountain or swampy regions.
  6. Traffic flow is variable especially commuter movement around towns and seasonal flows of farm produce; at times, when traffic slack, capital and labour are underemployed.
  7. It cannot accommodate awkward loads since cargo must fit both train and routes dimensions (about 3m width).
  8. Lines established in the past may become out-dated and a financial burden.
  9. Rail gauges differ in many countries. For instances trains going eastwards from Germany or Poland to USSR may have to change their wheels before they cross an international border to USSR and even in Africa, rail gauges in all countries are not the same.