Recent posts on the LRTA blog, debated the the present definitions of streetcar/tram and light rail. North Americans tend to define LRT as a light-metro, where as Europeans associated LRT as a tram. Now added to the debate is the tramtrain and the strange case of the Karlsruhe’s new Zweisystem (two system) LRT: is it a tram or a train?
The tramtrain was not invented in Karlsruhe, rather transit planners refined interurban operation with specially designed tram-cars, which could operate on both on the regular railways and on city tram tracks, which use girder rail. The North American interurban was probably the first incarnation of tramtrain as the heavier interurbans operated on both streetcar tracks and railway trackage. In Europe, many light railways operated on city streets and even shared tram tracks when need be, thus the concept of dual operation of trams on railway tracks and trains on tram tracks is both old and sound.
The coming of the tramtrain has further blurred the definition of an already blurred subject: just how does one define a streetcar or tram; light rail or LRT; light-metro and of course tramtrain.
Light metro has further blurred the definition of LRT as in Asia and North America, light rail vehicles are operated as light-metro on fully segregated rights-of-ways, either on elevated guide-ways or in subway. Though retaining the ability to operate on lesser rights-of-ways, these “hybrid” light-metros have more in common with Vancouver’s SkyTrain proprietary light-metro, than LRT. Seattle’s new LRT, can be defined as a “hybrid” light-metro, which does have sections of at-grade operation, it also has miles of elevated guide-way and subways. Elevated guide-ways and/or subways drives up construction costs and by doing away with the great economies of LRT over metro that originally made the mode successful. This has not been lost on the light-metro lobby.
Previous definitions of transit mode (tram or streetcar, LRT) were based mostly on the vehicle size and weight, but with the growing popularity of the tramtrain, where one vehicle can operate as a streetcar, light rail vehicle and passenger train, the old modal definitions are now of little use. What is more, transit planners and politicians tend to call very expensive light-metro projects, light-rail, in an attempt to confuse the populace, forcing the taxpayer to fund the wrong type of transit mode needed.
The 21st century demands new definitions for streetcar/tram, LRT and light-metro – not based on the vehicle but on the quality of rights-of-ways. Zweisystem offers these definitions for ‘rail‘ transit.
Streetcar or tram: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), with the exception of deisel LRT, which operates on-street, in mixed traffic, with little or no signal priority at intersections.
LRT: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), with the exception of diesel LRT, which operates on a reserved rights-of-way with signal priority at intersections. A reserved rights-of-way is an at-grade route that is for the exclusive use of a light rail vehicle and can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails, a railway line, or as complicated as a park-like lawned boulevard.
Light-metro: A steel-wheel on steel rail vehicle, powered by electricity (either by overhead wire or third rail), which operates on a segregated rights-of way, either elevated or subway.
TramTrain: An electric or deisel vehicle that can operate as tram/streetcar, LRT or a passenger train.
It is the TramTrain which has forced a rethink on transit mode, as one vehicle can be a streetcar, a light rail vehicle and/or a commuter train, operating on one route.
The lesson for Rail for the Valley is clear: TransLink and others opposed to TramTrain will confuse transit mode to such a degree that the average person will not know who to believe, for clarity, RFV must use the above definitions and ensure others do too.
Tags: Abbotsford, C-train, Chilliwack, commuter rail, cost per km, demonstration project, Diesel LRT, economic stimulus, Evergreen Line, Fraser River rail bridge, Fraser Valley, gateway, infrastructure, interurban, Karlsruhe, Langley, light metro, light rail, Monorail, passenger rail, Rail for the Valley, skytrain, streetcars, study, Surrey, track-sharing, tram, trams, tramtrain, transit, Translink, UBC, UBC SkyTrain, VALTAC