An European view of light-rail in North America. Is it time for a new definition of LRT?


The following maybe of interest on why LRT projects in Canada and the U.S.A. seem to cost more than new European installations and some (Seattle is a good example) have more in common with light-metro, than what many people would call light-rail. It seems in North America, what is called LRT, is really light-metro and real LRT has been ignored. Are we stuck forever in 1970’s planning?

From the LRTA blog.

While it might appear that tramways are being built on the heaviest corridors, remember that “light rail” in the States is very much
like a Metro might be elsewhere.  Take Calgary, for instance.  Virtually all the route is segregated, much is built in a wide median
(NE line) much appears to have been built on a disused railway line (S line) and the NW line appears to have been built alongside a
freeway or major arterial road.  It has several tunnels, stations are more like main line stations in the UK, with escalators,
lifts, bridges over the adjacent roads.  Think Docklands Light Railway grown up a bit.  Then there is the 7th Street section – on
street yes, but all other traffic has been cleared out except for a few bus routes – can’t actually remember seeing a bus there!
High level platforms in the street, no problem.  Very successful, but hardly light rail by UK standards.

When the light rail revival started in Canada and the US, their eyes were on Europe, and especially Germany, where at the time the
great idea was bury the trams – put them underground – and the U2 had been developed for Frankfurt.  Stadtbahns were the go, and the
idea has carried over.  Only now is the traditional tramway – the streetcar system, coming back into focus.

Not for nothing do the Yanks refer to their light rail systems as operating “trains”.


Dudley Horscroft


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