Travelers entering Britain can do so through a variety of gateways, but in fact air and surface transport networks focus on the south-east of England.
Air. Over 80 percent of international passengers traveling by air are channeled through the London airports and airlines are reluctant to move out from these gateways. Manchester has been identified as the UK’s second major airport and Glasgow’s international status has stimulated major growth. Airports on Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man complete the network, and although holiday traffic to these islands is not nor inconsiderable, it has a highly seasonal pattern. Overall, Britain’s major airports handled around 142 million passenger movements in 200l.
For sea traffic, there is again a concentration of passengers in southern England due to the dominance of cross-Channel ferry routes. Elsewhere there is a diversification of routes such as those from Hull and Harwich on the east coast. A second concentration of routes is from the west coasts of mainland Britain to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. On the sea routes the upgrading of ships and the introduction of high-speed ‘catamarans’ is a response both to the threat of the Channel Tunnel and the rise in the expectations of travelers.
The Channel Tunnel
The ‘Channel’ opened in 1994 and has not only stimulated new traffic, but also taken traffic from both air and especially sea services to Europe. Its impact is expected to continue as high-speed rail links are developed on the English side of the Tunnel. Interestingly, the response of ferry operators to develop routes in the western English Channel has been less successful than hoped. Other responses have been mergers on the short sea routes, closure of some routes (Newhaven to Dieppe for example) and price competition.
In the domestic holiday market, and for overseas travelers touring Britain, road transport dominates. Since the Second World War the use of the car has become more important than either rail or coach services, as road improvements have been completed or the real cost of motoring has fallen.
The 1980 Transport Act revolutionized bus/ coach operations in the UK by deregulating services. Coach travel poses a very real alternative to the railways on journeys of up to 400 kilometers and the new generation of luxury coaches has increased passenger numbers for this type of public transport.
Privatization of British Rail in the mid-1990s resulted in train services being operated by a multiplicity of companies while the permanent way and terminals remained the responsibility of a separate organization. There has been much private sector investment, particularly on some inter-city routes and those serving coastal and inland holiday areas. There are also over 40 small private railways outside the network which are tourist attractions in themselves, trading on nostalgia for the ‘age of steam’.