The evolution of transport and communication links are key to the development of the UK’s largest city.

Until the middle of the 19th Century, cities across the developed world, existed largely as separate and self-contained entities.  Even travel from one side of the city to the other was no light undertaking.  The quality of roads was variable and transport unreliable on all but the most major routes.  London was no exception.

The arrival of the railway changed all that.  The first inter-city railway between Liverpool and Manchester opened in 1830.  Within eight years, London was connected by rail to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, Bristol and Exeter followed a few years later and within a decade, the capital was connected to the other principal cities of England, Wales and Scotland by a modern, high speed transport network which revolutionised communication, the economy and even provided, for the first time, a standard system of timekeeping within Great Britain.

By the mid 1860’s, railways were revolutionising transport within the capital too.  The first light rapid rail transport network in the world, the London Underground, opened for business in 1863.  It was an immediate success and, within a few months of opening, its first sections were carrying upwards of 26,000 passengers per day.  By the end of the 1880s, lines had been completed to serve districts beyond the fringes of the city leading to the rise of the suburbs and the first genuine commuters.  Extensions as far north as Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire made the London Underground network a truly comprehensive transport system for the capital.  It retains its importance as such to this day.  Although road transport is indispensable to the life and economic wellbeing of the capital, it’s fair to say that without the “Tube”, transport in London would quickly cease to function effectively.

At its peak, London’s docks covered an area of 30 acres.  Between 1960 and 1980, however, the docklands were closed completely and subsequently redeveloped as shipping concentrated on deeper water ports on the east coast such as Tilbury and Felixstowe.  London’s gateway to the rest of the world is now via its airports.  Heathrow to the west remains the principal London airport with London City Airport, ironically occupying part of the old docklands, available as a central hub for shorter haul flights.

Further development of strategic transport links will be key to maintaining London’s position at the heart of the UK economy, with further increases in airport capacity and rail services such as the high speed rail links to Europe and the rest of the UK, as well as increased airport capacity firmly on the agenda for the future.