Getting a handle on the cost of light rail – How much does modern LRT cost?



Relaying new track for Nottingham’s LRT, on a disused railway formation.

What does light rail cost to build?

What has been left out of the ‘Rail for the Valley’ debate is real cost of light rail construction. True, a $35 million/km. figure has been bandied about, but this seems much too high and is based on recent American LRT projects, many of which have been designed to a mainline railway standard, with much gold plating. Two earlier postings showed that modern LRT is being built much cheaper, less than $8 million/km. in Europe.

But are all American LRT projects so expensive?

No, and the following table of light rail construction costs from the Greater Victoria Electric Railway Society (1995) gives good insight of the capital costs of newer American LRT lines.

Comparative capital costs for new-start lower cost LRT systems updated to 1995 Canadian dollars

CITY                 INITIAL          KM. OF       1995 COST

                              SERVICE           LINE          ($MIL)/km. 

Baltimore               1992                   36.2                  15.4

Denver                    1994                    22.5                  15.4

Portland                 1985                     24.5                  16.2

Sacramento          1987                     29.5                  10.5

San Diego               1981                     67.4                   13.8

St. Louis                1993                      28.9                    17

Notes: Inflation at 4% per year compounded. Conversion based on $1 Canadian $0.65 USD; .6 mile = 1 km. Sacramento LRT was 60% single track, hence lower construction costs. Table adapted from Central Puget Sound Regional Transit.

What should be noted is that LRT construction costs have not changed much since this table was prepared, but what has happened in the interim, is that gross and needless over-engineering has driven up construction costs to such an extent, that light-rail’s construction costs rival that of the SkyTrain light metro, as witnessed with the planned LRT Millennium and Evergreen Lines!


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One Response to “Getting a handle on the cost of light rail – How much does modern LRT cost?”

  1. Bill Craig Says:

    Hi There,

    Ultra light rail could be installed for around $500,000/km. With one of the captive rail systems now available, the restricted funds available, as well as reduced vehicle costs, should be attractive. Using alternate electricity generation, the reduced energy needs could easily be directed to getting passenger transport out of the carbon fuel cycle.

    Please call me for further information. Best wishes, Bill Craig

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