7 Intriguing Facts About Transport Engineering You Probably Didn’t Know

Transport engineering is a wide field which includes everything with wheels/mobility and the infrastructure that carries them. It’s a challenging discipline which involves complex problem solving and requires plenty of experience to do it well.

We chatted to Lithon’s Civil and Transport Business Unit leader, Richard Laborn, to dig a little deeper into transport engineering. Here’s what we found out…

1. Transport engineering involves much more than roads

For many people, thoughts of transport engineering bring up images of roads and cars, but this niche sector of engineering is really so much more. Not only does it encompass roads, highways, motorways, trains, airports and harbours, but also the infrastructure these types of transport require. Ever travelled along a road that tunnels through a mountain or underneath a river? Transport engineers made that a reality. The Laerdal Tunnel in Norway is the world’s longest road tunnel. It is 24,5km long and took five years to build.

2. It helps to mobilise and grow economies

We may take it for granted today, but transport makes the world go round. By making it possible for people and goods to easily move across countries and continents, it directy helps economies to function, thrive and grow on national and global scales. International airports and harbours are a vital piece of each country’s economy. Not just because of their place in imports and exports, but due to the many tourists and business people they scatter into major cities, every day.

3. Transport engineers work with governments

Transport engineers often work for central governments or local authorities because development and expansion is a key driver for a healthy economy. Road, rail, and bus infrastructure in cities are typically government responsibilities, and require substantial financial investments and experts to see them through.

4. They also work with big numbers

Most transport projects are large-scale, which means the numbers involved are huge and entail long term planning, i.e. 20- 50 years ahead of time. We’re not just talking about the costs, but also the sizes of the components, the volumes of materials needed to construct them, the number of vehicles on the road, or the load it must carry over time. These enormous numbers are of course what also makes it exciting!

5. Transport in Africa has a big focus on non-motorised transport

Many African countries lack the sophisticated public transport systems seen in some of the world’s major cities. This has led to a reliance on road transport, sometimes at the expense of pedestrian safety. Africa’s engineers rise to the challenge of solving for a unique context, and might focus on non-motorised transport (NMT) and bus rapid transit systems (BRT). NMT recognises and designs for pedestrians, creating cycle lanes, access for people with disabilities, and more. BRTs are relatively new concepts that are changing people’s travelling behaviours. Lithon is currently involved with the BRT in Windhoek and also implementing the City’s NMT policies. We’re excited to see traveling across the city becoming easier and safer.

6. Transport engineers can solve any problem you give them

In the world of transport, some challenges and new ideas require innovative solutions. But transport engineers always come up with something! Modernising road corridors in existing cities can be difficult due to limited space, but transport engineers have devised some ingenious solutions, like the London Underground for example. The Gautrain in South Africa, was also a spectacular feat – that has significantly improved transport between Johannesburg and Pretoria – thanks to the transport engineers that made it happen.

7. It takes time and experience to become a great transport engineer

Transport engineers deal with speed and momentum. To design well for this you need to be able to anticipate what might happen or how things will develop or grow in future. This takes considerable experience. Most transport engineers grow into the discipline over time.

Richard’s advice for the future of transport

Transport engineers can help to build environmentally friendly, safer, and more inclusive cities in the future by…

  • Designing for pedestrians – this means a greater focus on non-motorised forms of transport such as cycling and walking.
  • Reducing the number of cars on the road by having more and better public transport alternatives. Examples include rapid bus transit (BRT) services and railway networks.
  • Building straight roads (where the terrain allows) – they are more fuel-efficient and safer to travel along.

Find out more about Lithon’s transport engineering services: info@lithon.com.