Transport key topics

Addressing key topics within the transport sector.

Montage of transportation technologies






Transport Systems and Integration

Transport underpins our daily lives. Modern industrial countries need effective transport networks to ensure that they remain competitive in the global economy. According to the Department of Transport, British Social Attitudes Survey 2013: 21% agreed they are willing to reduce the amount they travel by plane to reduce the impact on climate change. 42% indicated that they are willing to reduce the amount they travel by car, and 77% agreed that they are willing to buy a car with lower CO2 emissions[1]. The key challenge is to develop a policy environment along with technological advances which contribute towards reducing carbon emissions and reducing wider environmental impact, while enhancing our quality of life, and contributing to our economic growth.

The IET believes the UK government should adopt a holistic approach to transport policy, considering individual transport systems in the context of the overall system - a ‘system of systems approach’. Such an approach recognises than transport systems are interconnected and changes to one system will have implications for others.

Driverless cars

In December 2014 it was announced that driverless cars will be tested in the UK, with Bristol, Coventry, Milton Keynes and Greenwich hosting trials.

There are new levels of risks that need to be considered when there is a combination of driverless and driven vehicles on the roads. To ensure a safe system of operation, highly automated cars should require not only a good level of user skill and experience, but the user should also be able to demonstrate a good understanding of the systems in the car, the potential failure modes, how faults are indicated and most importantly how they will take swift and decisive control of the vehicle if they suspect there is a fault.

One objective of automated vehicles may be to support older and disabled drivers to continue driving safely for longer; there may be some changes in allowable driving behaviour testing to accommodate these drivers – clearly this would have to be explored further.

In the event of an accident involving a vehicle with high automation there will be a need for clarity over the legal responsibility of both ‘drivers’. In allowing testing of these vehicles on UK road there needs to be clarity over the split of legal responsibility between the vehicle manufacturer/operator (the party commissioning the on-highway tests) and the vehicle supervisor (the individual in charge of the vehicle at the time of the accident or unintended event).

There is a need to address software trustworthiness and the cyber security of any vehicles with high automation. These vehicles are complex cyber-physical systems that monitor and interact with their environment. It is recommended that in approving the testing of vehicles with high automation on the public highway that vehicle manufacturers accept that the software in their vehicles attracts the same liability as the physical components in the vehicle.

UK Aviation

The aviation sector is strategically important to the UK economy. Leading industrialists consider the ease of travel to and from the UK to be a key factor in encouraging inward investment into the UK (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2011). There is a direct correlation between the cities in the world which are strategically important for trading by UK companies and direct flight connections to these areas. A sustainable aviation strategy must consider the areas which are likely to be strategically important trading destinations for British businesses.  

Sustainability must be at the heart of a national aviation strategy. There is a challenge to balance the social and economic benefits of a vibrant and well-connected aviation sector, with the environmental costs, such as pollution and noise levels in the vicinity of airports. Technological advances are promising to help to address some of these issues with newer aircrafts designed with low nitrogen oxide combustors and higher bypass ratio engines. 

New technological concepts hold the key to substantially reducing fuel burn and CO2 emissions. The extent to which radical design improvements are adopted across the world fleet will depend on airline business models, and the trade-off between the cost of new equipment and the long term savings and environmental improvements. 

High Speed Rail

One of the principal benefits of HS2 is the economic redevelopment opportunities which are now coming to the fore in the major cities to be connected by the high speed line. In addition, many of the locations that could be reached by HS2 services running off the high speed network to complete their journeys on the classic railway network will require new or significantly enhanced stations. Dialogue is required between the promoters of HS2, Network Rail, the Train Operating Companies and local authorities to fully understand the challenges that the arrival of high speed trains will bring to the classic network. This dialogue should not be left until the next Network Rail control period.

As the UK economy moves towards strong growth, the pressure to establish redevelopment plans and secure investment for land around railway stations is growing. Planning is required on the development and impact on land use for intermediate station locations and cities beyond the network likely to be served by HS trains so that future enhanced land values can be protected rather than having land lost to other developments before the arrival of HS2 services.

Further assistance will be needed to ensure that northern cities are well prepared for the bringing forward of infrastructure work on the Northern section of the line, increasing the project benefit to the north. In particular planning to fast-track the development of employment and local transport infrastructure will be required. Consultation and planning for the integration of High Speed rail services into the existing classic rail network and local transport systems is urgently required to reduce the risk of disconnected strategic outcomes between HS2 and the existing rail network.

Low Carbon Vehicles 

Electric vehicles have been extensively trialled and demand is predicted to increase. The environmental impact of electric vehicles is complicated to assess. Electric vehicles will only be as green as the electricity that powers them, and this further highlights the need for investment in renewable or nuclear power sources. The absence of roadside carbon emission is a distinct advantage of electric vehicles. The IET considers that further work is required in the planning and development of electric vehicles.

Much of the work on electric vehicles is concerned with the battery and technology design and recharging requirements. However the widespread use of electric vehicles will have implications for many aspects of road transport and it is necessary to examine these aspects to identify and address potential barriers.  Public fleet procurement can play a significant role in helping to increase the take-up of plug in vehicles by increasing the visibility of plug in vehicles and therefore challenging public perceptions.

In measuring the cost effectiveness of plug in vehicles, it is necessary to measure the ‘whole life’ emission costs, both in manufacturing and in operation. Without very careful examination of how to measure effectiveness, there is a risk that we can develop plug in vehicles that are manufactured using carbon intensive processes while increasing demand for ‘dirty’ electricity to run the vehicles. It is only through careful examination and measurement of the entire life of plug in vehicles, that we can understand the full environmental impact and potential benefits. ’

There is no consistent mechanism for measuring ‘whole life costs’ across government departments. The IET considers that there is an urgent need for co-ordination between the Department for Transport’s ambitions and the Department for Energy and Climate Change electricity generation predictions.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/326097/british-social-attitudes-survey-2013.pdf