The Role of Transportation in the Industrial Revolution: A Comparison of England and France

By Rick Szostak | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

English and French
Transport Compared

The main purpose of this chapter is to show that England in the late eighteenth century possessed a far better transport system than France. Since France is considered to have been England's closest rival at the time, the implication is that England had the best transport system in Europe, and thus the world. As I will be comparing both road and water transport facilities, I shall first establish that before the coming of the railway, road and water transport systems served different purposes and were both needed by industrialists. A brief survey of the rest of the world will show that no other country could possibly have rivalled England in terms of either water or land transport.

My comparison of English and French transportation focuses on length and quality of waterways and roads, speed of travel, reliability and professionalism, ability to transmit information, and cost of transport. I also look at other indicators of transport quality: traffic, regional specialization, and methods of distribution. Since France displayed great regional diversity in both transport and industrialization, I will look briefly at northeastern France to see how it compares with the rest of France on the one hand, and with England on the other.

I shall not delve deeply into the historical development of English and French transport systems. A number of detailed studies are listed in the bibliography for the interested reader. However, I do consider the historical question of why England developed such a superior system, since the question will naturally be asked by those who accept the main thesis of this work.


THE NEED FOR BOTH ROAD
AND WATER TRANSPORT

With the advent of the railway, the world acquired a form of transport that could handle low-cost, high-bulk goods and high-cost, low-bulk

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