Trading networks were established early on in history and emerged at the same time as the first agrarian economies. The ancient civilizations in the Tigris and Euphrates region built road networks to connect cities and villages in order to facilitate transport. Road transport was flanked by considerable river bound trading volumes. Later on air transport was introduced but oceangoing trade was well established during the earlier years of economic development.
Water bound trading networks are considered to be the first true highways of global transportation and logistics. These routes were the first example of fixed networks that were able to span large distances, but they were never free of peril. Maritime trading networks did not connect the American continents to the rest of the world so they were only introduced to global trade fairly late in history. Today global maritime services are responsible for the lion share of world trade volumes, container vessels and tankers are considered to be the largest types of vessels ever built.
In the case of road transport some ancient trading routes still speak to the imagination of many; the Spice or Silk routes still harbor some mystical attraction. This mode of transport became increasingly popular when highways were built and when the combustion engine was commercially available. Mass production in the US facilitated road transport in Europe; until today it remains the dominant mode throughout many countries. Because of its increased popularity, the European Commission has issued different policies in order to make other flanking modes of transport more attractive; the ultimate goal is to change the modal split in the member states of the EU.
Railway transport became one of the first land based modes of transport able to carry large volumes over long distances; the industrial revolution offered a suitable cradle for its development. Although railroad does not offer the same flexibility as road transport by trucks, it is suitable for both commodities and passengers. In Europe extensive railway networks were built and developed from 1850 onwards.
Air transportation was able to become very attractive after the Second World War; passenger transport is considered to be one of the main spearheads of this industry. Transport of cargo by airplanes is used for express delivery of time sensitive consumer goods. Because of the limited lifting capabilities most cargo is relatively light in mass; the on-time delivery logistics applied here are able to generate considerable revenue. Air transportation does not require the extensive network infrastructure that other modes of transport typically need.
Underground transport offers two distinct modes for potential customers. Firstly pipelines are used to accommodate gas and liquid goods; they are pressured to transfer large volumes. These pipelines are often not as visible as other modes of transport, they are relatively cheap and safe but offer only limited flexibility. A second type of underground transport uses tunnels to facilitate transport. In these tunnels a conveyor belt or similar system can be applied while extending the network both in length, width and depth. Various underground solutions can be applied when industrial areas do not allow any further expansion at the surface level. Tunnels can be fitted with railroads, pipelines, roads and conveyor belts offering a seamless connection to existing modes of transport. Currently only a limited number of examples exist in practice.
When analyzing trading networks most attention is attributed to physical networks, while neglecting important ICT breakthroughs. These applications are increasingly required in order to control the physical flow of goods, ordering, stock replenishment and the management of facilities. This virtual environment also encompasses the allocation and assigning of commodities, ships, trucks so optimizing the strategies become more important. The exchange of data further facilitates trade since time delays are shortened. In practice the emergence of real-time trading networks led to the point where physical flows of goods are being driven by algorithms and strategies. The main challenge is to map, chart and model logistics, networks and relationships in order to generate usable feedback on the terrain. This perspective opens up interesting opportunities for both academics and commercial enterprises alike.