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The evolution of land transport

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Land transport did not begin with the arrival at the doors of the homes of the parcel deliverers. In order to get to that point, not only centuries but millennia of evolution have been necessary, from the most archaic ways of moving merchandise. Knowing them, moreover, is not only simply an exercise in curiosity, but can give us the keys to know how to interpret and know where the evolution of land transport will continue in the coming years.

Evolution of land transport: from the wheel to the trailer

Probably the most important milestone in the evolution of land transport is the wheel. According to most estimates, this invention took place around the year 3,500 B.C., so it is separated by more than 5,000 years from today.

Horses and oxen were, together with the wheel, the axis of human land transport for many centuries. The other fundamental element was made up of roads. Many of the great civilizations of antiquity were able to see clearly how the improvement of roads facilitated trade and communications, bringing wealth and improving the quality of life of its citizens.

The Romans were famous road builders. But the efforts made, for example, by Darius I the Great in the Persian Empire with his Royal Persian Road, which covered 2,699 kilometers and which his messengers could cross in just seven days, are often more unknown.

The arrival of the steam engine

At the end of the 18th century, an invention arrived that would quickly make old systems out of date: the steam engine. The ingenuity created by James Watt ushered in the golden age of the railroad as the king of land transportation. The new machines did not tire like animals and could move day and night. Railroads were being woven all over the world, forever changing our way of understanding distances. The world had suddenly gotten smaller.

the trailer era

Despite the sudden arrival of the railway, man has never stopped in his search for improvements. For this reason, in the last 50 years there has been a turnaround and now the evolution of land transport has the road as its new owner. In these decades the highway has surpassed the railway in the amount of merchandise transported thanks to its flexibility, its ability to make door-to-door deliveries, etc. For this reason, when we talk about freight transport today, it is likely that the image that comes to mind is that of a trailer.

Conclusions on the evolution of land transport

Considering the evolution of road transport, we see that, in its different forms, it has been giving answers to the questions of its time. One of the great challenges of today in the world of logistics is to respond to the urban logistics of large cities. The needs for distributions and deliveries are growing, but cities have problems facilitating access to transport: time restrictions, pollution limits, the impossibility of giving more space to the streets and highways… Already in the times of Emperor Augustus, carts and horses they were subject to restrictions regarding their use in cities. Logistics has been for centuries the art of balancing the needs with the reality in which we move.

Another clue that history gives us is that the search for new, more efficient transport systems is not going to stop. Not only the fight to find better engines, cleaner, that do more kilometers with less expense, etc. But new players that have not existed until now, such as the delivery of parcels by drones.

But the new devices will cause new needs for improvement. Drones require new standards to legislate them, and respect for the environment requires new fuels and engines. In the same way that the invention of the wheel led to the improvement of the roads to support the traffic of cars or the improvements of the rail systems before the expansion of the railway.

Lastly, it is worth emphasizing one of the great constants of transport since its birth, and that is how inseparable it has been from human activity. Transport brings goods and people closer, facilitates trade, the creation of wealth, the exchange of products that are frequent in a place to exchange them for those that are scarce. Man’s need to trade and to know more about his neighbor means that land transport -and transport in general- will continue to evolve alongside him for a long time.

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