Transport engineering

What is transport engineering?

Transport engineers plan, design and operate the large public and private infrastructure systems that connect our physical world.

We need a broad range of continually evolving, large-scale transport infrastructure, including road, rail, air and water. Transport engineers quantify and optimise our mobility infrastructure networks to meet travel and freight demands, while ensuring safety, equity and sustainability, at minimal levels of congestion and cost.

Transport engineering has always been one of the essential civil engineering disciplines, impacting roadways, bridges, transit stations, airports and sea ports etc. Transport engineering has now developed into a multidisciplinary field spanning economics, politics, sociology and psychology, in addition to its core mathematical, engineering and computational principles.

Transport planning

Transport planning involves developing mathematical techniques for:

  • forecasting travel demand and planning to accommodate growth in demand
  • determining improvements to the transport infrastructure
  • reducing emissions
  • reducing energy use.

Computational transport planning uses mathematical methods to predict, represent and quantify:

  • the evolution of land use in cities
  • travel attributes such as trip purpose
  • travel decisions, including mode choice.

Planning models then examine the feasibility of projects and policies through cost-benefit and scenario analysis.

Transport design

Transport engineers face multi-faceted design decisions when they are designing optimised transport infrastructure networks. These might relate to:

  • the physical expansion of transport facilities, such as lane width or the number of lanes, for a roadway
  • the materials and thickness used in pavements
  • the geometry of a facility, such as a roadway, rail line or airport
  • road pricing schemes
  • deploying information-based technology.

In all design decisions, multiple performance measures, cost metrics and safety criteria must be considered and weighed.

Transport operations

Transport operations, whether for road, rail, port or air traffic, are designed to minimise travel delays, improve safety, reduce emissions and enhance reliability, as well as taking other considerations into account.

Transport operation decisions involve:

  • optimising traffic signals
  • setting specific tolls
  • designing traffic signs and markings.

With the development of new Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), transport engineers use tools including advanced traveller information systems (such as variable message signs), advanced traffic control systems (such as ramp meters) and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to optimise the performance of the transport system.

Find out what transport engineers do.