Dublin’s LUAS LRT – A streetcar without subsidy, a template for the Broadway LRT?


There is much to learn about Dublin’s LUAS LRT or tram system and the ability to operate and make an operating profit is completely lost on TransLink, it’s bureaucrats and BC’s current lot of tax and spend politicians. SkyTrain is hamstrung by massive construction and operating costs and the annual subsidy to operate the metro exceeds $230 million a year! Compare this with the EU grant of $129 million to get the LUAS project under construction!

So when TransLink comes knocking at your municipalities door for more and more taxes to pay for their pet SkyTrain light-metro system, your municipal councilors should – MUST tell TransLink NO and tell them in no uncertain terms plan for affordable light rail instead.

For the SkyTrain lobby and their $4 billion plus fantasy about a Broadway SkyTrain subway to UBC; dream on, it is not going to happen any time soon.


Dublin’s Luas (Irish for ‘speed), Light Rail System, is a light rail or tram system serving Dublin, the first such system in the decades since the closure of the last of the Dublin tramways. In 2007, the system carried 28.4 million passengers, a growth of 10% since 2006.

There are currently two Luas lines. The Green line commenced operations on 30 June 2004, while the Red Line opened on 26 September 2004. It is one of 450 light rail systems operating in cities around the world. As of 2008, the system has 36 stations and 25 km (15 miles) of track.

The Luas is operated by Veolia Transport, under tender from the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA). It is a major part of the Dublin Transportation Office’s strategy (2000–2016). There are currently two extensions to the existing lines under construction, while several more extensions as well as new lines are at the planning stage.

Construction work began in March 2001 on the Tallaght to Connolly line, as well as the Sandyford to St. Stephen’s Green section of the second line, with Ansaldo of Italy and MVM of Australia getting the contract to build the system. The development of the Luas Red Line was facilitated by EU funding of €82.5 (CAD $129.1 million) million under the European Regional Developmen Fund (ERDF) and part of the cost of some proposed line extensions (e.g. over 50% of Line B1 to Cherrywood) is being raised though levies on development in areas close to the projected route.

The original launch date for the Luas was to be 2003, but delays in construction saw this date pushed back by a year. An advertising campaign took place to inform the public of the development of the system, while construction was taking place. Construction finished in February 2004 and a period of testing and driver training began. 30 June 2004 was decided on as the official launch date of the Green Line. The first tram went into service for the general public at 3 pm. Several days of free ridership and a family fun weekend took place to launch the system. The Red Line opened on 26 September 2004, with six days of free travel for the general public.

By November 2006, over 50 million journeys had been made on the system. Around 90,000 Luas trips are made each day (total 28.4 million in 2007). To date, the busiest day on the Luas system was Friday December 21, 2007 when 145,000 passenger journeys were recorded.

Luas operates without a State subsidy. The service recorded a surplus of €985,000 (CAD $1,542,000) –  €680,000 (CAD $1,064,000) in 2004 – an achievement well ahead of an anticipated deficit of €2.5 million (CAD $3.9 million).

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9 Responses to “Dublin’s LUAS LRT – A streetcar without subsidy, a template for the Broadway LRT?”

  1. mezzanine Says:

    You are using the terms ‘tram’ and ‘LRT’ interchangably. Is Luas local service tram or LRT? The length of the vehicles suggest that they are similar to Calgary’s LRT, which runs local in downtown.

    And like skytrain, there are pros and cons with Luas:

    “Luas probe raises tired drivers fear over shifts”

    “21 hurt as Luas collides with bus in Dublin”

    Zweisystem replies: Mezz, a tram is LRT, in fact the term light rail in Europe has a different meaning in Europe than North America. A tram is a vehicle that has a legal right to operate on the public street, thus a tramway operates on-street. LRT is a tramway that operates on a ‘reserved’ rights-of-way like the Arbutus Corridor. The longest tram cars (streetcars) are 54 metres and operate in Budapest, Strasbourg and a few other cities, which means streetcars are longer than light rail vehicles!

    No transit system is perfect and certainly the LUAS has problems, but I will take LUAS problems any day with it operating at a profit, than pay an over $230 million annual subsidy for SkyTrain!

  2. David Says:

    Even with all the U-Pass people Broadway LRT could turn a profit.

    I believe it could replace most of the bus service on Broadway too, saving huge amounts of money on buses and drivers.

    There would be benefits for almost every passenger. Having a tram every few minutes at every stop is far more convenient than having to choose between a local bus or walking several blocks to a B-Line stop where the bus may be too full to even let them on.

    Only those with severe mobility impairment would have trouble walking an extra block. On the flip side every stop would feature seating and shelter from the elements making the longer walk more worth it.

    For passengers travelling long distances on the line the combination of segregated lanes, priority signals, higher acceleration and loading via 6 or more doors at once would make a tram with many stops just as fast as the existing B-Line with far fewer stops.

    41st Avenue also has both a local and an express bus making it a candidate for LRT too. The articulated buses from the 43 could move to the 49 where pass-ups are common.

  3. LL Says:

    Your post above contains many errors and omits important information such as the info below. Essentially the Tram does not provide the public service it should.

    1. The two lines cost about USD$1.5 billion dollars to build, despite the budget being originally USD$300 million. This was all funded by the Government.

    2.The system was designed purposely to attract a private operator. The capacity is quite small and essentially does what a decent dedicated bus way would do. Despite a heavy rail solution being required, as was proposed in 1971, this was fudge by government who had to spend EU grant aided money.

    Regarding the extension to cherrywood, this wholly unnecessary and is being done because the ruling fianna fail party has close links to developers funding it.

    It is also quite expensive, cost anything from USD$3.50 to travel 2 miles.

    All in all it is a poor system which serves a tiny % of dublin’s population, of which only about %13 use public transport. It is a poor use of 1.5 billion dollars.

    Zweisystem replies: From where do you get your statistics from? The system has a private operator, Veolia Transport (formerly known as Connex), and is turning an operating profit (after paying debt servicing charges on loaned money) as reported in the press. Please send the full financial account of the LUAS tram system and it will be published. I believe you are mistaking the full costs, including debt servicing over a lengthy period of time (30 to 40 years) as direct costs, as so many have done comparing SkyTrain with US light rail systems. To date the public in Vancouver do not know the full cost of the SkyTrain & light metro system, which is now over $8 billion and climbing by over $230 million annually. Also, I believe you are mistaking government loans as grants and those loans are being paid off!

    As for the capacity issues, the LUAS tram system has a potential capacity of over 20,000 pphpd, but presently capacity is constrained by a lack of cars, which can be bought when capacity needs to be increased.

    One question: “What is better use for $1.5 billion – a new highway?”

    As for the post containing errors, it just reports the news as reported in the media – I think the roads lobby is trying a hatchet job.

  4. Russ Says:

    The ongoing discussions about LRT and Skytrain is fascinating and the more I read, the more confused I get. I have some questions.

    If people used to get a bus from South Surrey directly to downtown Vancouver and now they have to get off that bus to get over the river, does that now count as one trip or two. How do they know? What if you used to get the 99B from Richmond to school on Granville and 41st and now you have to get a bus, Canada line and another bus and stand all the way? Does that now count as 3 passenger trips? How are they allocating the money? Are they Splitting the same amount of money or is Canada Line getting it all?

    The business owners in Cambie Village suffered 3 years (?) of dust, noise and upheaval for the Canada Line construction. Where are all the new customers whizzing past their doors thinking “I must stop their on the way home”? Oh, silly me. You can’t see the nice Cambie St stores.You can’t even get there on the Canada Line. Everybody is buried in a tunnel out of sight. Added to that, didn’t there used to be Trolley Buses on Cambie?

    And another thing. They have just opened a nice new Skating rink at Trout Lake just in time for the Olympics. It sits about 100m from the Skytrain at the end of Victoria. It is also very near where there is a Farmers Market all summer. Can you get there on the Skytrain? No, you have to get a bus from Commercial and it would cost way to much to add a station. If it was an LRT here would probably be a stop there anyway but if not, what would it cost to add one?

    Russ A

    Zweisystem replies: Sorry, Zwei doesn’t have the answers but has asked the same questions. But here lies the problem with SkyTrain or light-metro: stations are further apart, because of cost, which gives a faster commercial speed, but for many transit users wishing to go to destinations not served by a station must walk or take a bus, which in the end greatly increases trip time, making the car a better alternative.

    This one of reasons why SkyTrain (which has a fast commercial speed) has failed to achieve a noticeable modal switch from car to metro and why light rail is successful in attaining a modal switch from car to tram.

  5. LL Says:

    Zweisystem ,

    Thanks for the reply. I actually work in the Railway industry in Ireland, so i have a vested interest in the Luas! If you search http://www.rte.ie or http://www.politics.ie/transport for luas, you’ll see all the information i mention. Dublin is a city with even worse planning than LA in California.

    “the LUAS tram system has a potential capacity of over 20,000 pphpd, but presently capacity is constrained by a lack of cars, which can be bought when capacity needs to be increased.” Actually when the Luas was built, it was already at full capacity. The signalling system cannot handle any more trains per minute than it currently does, trains are also at full length.

    For luas financial reports, see http://www.transport.ie. The luas is operated by Veolia (who have a bad safety record in europe and australia) under contract to the goverment body RPA. The RPA own the rolling stock and track.

    The moral i’m trying to espouse is that light rail is a limited solution, and is only the answer to specific problems. A bus rapid transit system, such as that in Salzburg in austria would allow for a bigger system which cover more areas and promote greater ridership.

    Zweisystem replies: Zwei is also advised by many transit consultants in the UK and Europe (also a 25 year member of the LRTA) and the fact is, the LUAS LRT is operating at a profit. It may not be the best solution, but when compared to Vancouver, where our SkyTrain light-metro system is now subsidized by over $230 million (soon to increase with the newly opened RAV/Canada line subway) annually, a tram system operating at a profit is a novelty.

    As for BRT, the results are very mixed and except for lightest of transit routes, tends to be “just a bus”. Even a tarted-up BRT or GLT has failed to meet their promoters projections and in most cases BRT has failed to attract the motorist from the car. Most of the successful BRT systems tend to come from South America, where the world bank refused to help fund new rail (light & heavy) lines but poured money into road and highway projects. Most cities (Curitiba is the most prominent) with BRT are actively promoting new LRT, metro or both to retain public transit customers, as with gaining affluence, the locals are switching to cars!

    Final notes: Every acquaintance who has visited Dublin in the past two years, has come back with very positive reports about the LUAS system, which is something to mull over as well.

    Vancouver’s nickname is LA North, which is mainly to do with our LA style development and the backbone of regional transit is the highway!

  6. Richard Says:

    At least make an attempt to be consistent. For SkyTrain, you include the yearly payments of the debt from the the construction in your $230 million “subsidy” yet that is not included in the Luas “profit” nor is administrative costs for Luas included in the “profit”. As noted in this article, if these costs are included, there would be a loss of €34 million a year.


    Given that Luas cost around $1 billion to build, using the same accounting methods that you are using for SkyTrain, assuming that the debt payments would cost around 10% of the capital cost per year, the subsidy for Luas would be around $100 million a year. So on a per km basis, the “subsidy” would be similar to that of SkyTrain. On a per passenger basis, the “subsidy” for Luas would actually be much greater.

    You must realize that many agencies try and paint a rosy picture of their operations. You would be well served to not take articles that probably were just copied from agency press releases at face value.

    You would really serve cause of LRT much better if you were more balanced in your approach. With the Internet, it is easy to fact check and when your facts don’t check out, people will question all your information.

    Zweisystem replies: RAC, at least we know the full cost of the LUAS LRT, something that the taxpayer here doesn’t know about SkyTrain. It is you who twist and turn the facts to suit your own desire for SkyTrain. The public doesn’t even know the full cost of the RAV/Canada Line as many costs are not included in the budget and are hidden in other departments. That’s why TransLink and the Gordon Campbell Liberals are so afraid of BC’s Auditor General doing a full audit on the RAV project. SkyTrain has never been audited in its lifetime and I repeat, the taxpayer does not know the full or real cost of the light-metro.

    RAC, answer this question please: After being on the market for over 30 years, SkyTrain has only sold 7 systems, with only two (Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur) used as a regional transit system with the rest being demo lines or airport/funfair lines – WHY? Why has Bombardier Inc. refuse to have SkyTrain compete against LRT and can only sell it in private deals with the federal government providing funding for it?

    Balance RAC, please I love to have some balance from you.

  7. voony Says:

    thanks Richard for the link: it is enlighting (in addition to bring some balance)

    Zweisystem replies: Yes there is balance here, but never any balance on the SkyTrain lobby’s blogs………………Hmmmmmmmmm a double standard; but of course there always has been a double standard with the SkyTrain lobby.

  8. Richard Says:

    Just for once, you might want to take some constructive criticism. It is not like your current approach has been effective over the last 20 years. It is not particularly a good strategy to distort facts, cherry pick and insult the very people that you need to convince of your point of view. Every time someone points our to you that you have been incorrect, you seem to always respond with the same old tired lines that don’t really seem to convince everyone.

    There is a comment you make about repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. You might want to take your own advice.

    Zweisystem replies: Richard or RAC, the fact is, you never answer the question nor will you ever, nor do the SkyTrain lobby as they hide in a world of make believe and pixie-dust planning. All the Irish chap (and all I have is his word that he is) sent was one item, that still leaves a lot a questions unanswered. Also it seems he works for the CIE, which may have a grudge against light rail, which may have taken monies away from a standard ‘heavy-rail’ solution.
    Still the LUAS has an operating profit and yes LUAS pays it debt, which is still a novelty here in BC.

  9. zweisystem Says:

    Just a note. After consultation with transit specialist overseas about recent comments on LUAS and the Irish CIE chap, it has come to light that LUAS was built instead of enlarging the commuter rail network. Bit of sour grapes I suspect.

    The total cost of LUAS (not direct costs as used here) is about $1.2 billion, including vehicles and two storage depots. By comparison, the total cost of just the Expo Line will be about $8 billion to $9 billion after debt servicing charges are added in.

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