Geographical Settings of Rail Lines
Three major types of rail lines can be identified:
- Penetration Lines. Their main purpose is to link a port
city with its hinterland, particularly in order to access natural
resources such as minerals, agricultural products and wood products.
It also represented one of the initial stages of rail development,
notably in the United States, which later became regional networks
linked by transcontinental lines. This type of system is today mainly
found in developing countries (Africa and Latin America) and was
partially the result of the colonial era. Transporting freight is
the dominant function of this type of network, although passenger
traffic can be significant.
- Local / Regional Networks. They are servicing high density
population areas of developed countries with the goal to support
massive shipment of freight and passengers. Regions with the highest
rail density are Western Europe, the Northeastern part of North
America, Coastal China and Japan.
- Transcontinental Lines. These lines were mainly established
for territorial conquest and the establishment of a national sovereignty.
For instance, on the above figure two nations (A and B; similarities
with North America intended) are building their own transcontinental
lines, even if it involves some level of redundancy. The most relevant
examples are in the United States, Canada, Russia and Australia,
which have built rail systems of this scale. Today, transcontinental
rail lines are being established to attenuate the discontinuity
of maritime transportation by transporting containers. They are
a chain in the global intermodal transport system.