Development of Operational Speed for Major Transport Modes, 1750-2020

Development of Operational Speed for Major Transport Modes, 1750-2020

Technological developments have two significant consequences on transportation modes. The first involves the emergence of new modes, and the second concerns an improvement of their operational capabilities, such as speed. Operational speed represent a speed that can be maintained across a network and can be limited by regulations such as speed limits. For instance, an average automobile can reach a speed of 120 to 130 km/hr, but it is uncommon for a highway system to allow speeds above 110 km/hr (there are exceptions such as the autobahn in Germany).

Many modes follow a similar pattern where a significant growth of their operational speed takes place in their introduction phase. Once technical constraints are solved (such as engine technology), and modal networks expanded, operational speeds reach a threshold that remains until the mode becomes obsolete and is abandoned (stagecoach, clipper ships, and liners) or new technology is introduced with a new wave of technical improvements (jet planes, high-speed rail; HSR). Once the operational speed has been reached, the focus is to improve modal efficiency, particularly energy use, to reduce operational costs and expand the market reach of the mode.