Colonial (or resource-based) transportation systems were designed to facilitate the extractive nature of colonial economies from the 19th to mid 20th century. They were particularly prevalent in Africa and Latin America. Still, resource-rich countries such as Canada, Russia, and Australia also have parts of their rail transport systems fashioned in such a manner. These systems were usually focused on a primary port city (a gateway), which often served as the colonial administrative center. This port functioned as the freight transshipment center for a converging land transportation system. Railroads and roads (to a lesser extent) developed as spokes from the port city, connecting it to the load centers of extractive regions. Resources could be punctual such as mines or covering an area such as plantations. Infrastructure development prioritized connections from the port to regions of the colony oriented toward an export economy, including agricultural goods, forest products, and minerals.
Colonial transport systems were not connected networks as they did not aim at servicing the needs of the local economy but to export commodities to the international market. Because of their purpose and structure, they were insufficient to serve the national needs and were shaped like trees branching out to specific inland load centers. These centers collected and stored resources, synchronizing the output of a resource area with the transport capacity as well as the demand on external markets. Colonies were also not very well connected. Each maintained its individual links to the outside world, but overall regional integration would have been virtually impossible to achieve from a transportation standpoint.
Even after the colonial era, this transportation system has largely remained in place in resource-rich areas. Accumulated inertia in infrastructure is very expensive and difficult to overcome as many former colonies remained dependent on the existing extractive system for revenue generation. Thus, the newly independent states inherited transport systems designed to meet the needs of the former colonial powers rather than systems that facilitate their development goals.