Light rail in North America

Light rail in North America

The term "light rail" was coined in 1972 by the U.S. Urban Mass Transit Association (UMTA) to describe new streetcar transformations which were taking place in Europe and the United States. The Germans used the term stadtbahn to describe the concept, and many in the UMTA wanted to adopt the direct translation, which is "city rail". However, in its reports the UMTA finally adopted the term "light rail" instead. [ Gregory L. Thompson (2003), "Defining an Alternative Future: Birth of the Light Rail Movement in North America", Transportation Research Board,]

History of Streetcar and Light rail

From the mid-19th century onwards, horse-drawn trams (or "horsecars") were used in cities around the world. In the late 1880s electrically-powered street railways became technically feasible following the invention of a trolley pole system of collecting current by American inventor Frank J. Sprague who installed the first successful system at Richmond, Virginia. They became popular because roads were then poorly-surfaced, and before the invention of the internal combustion engine and the advent of motor-buses, they were the only practical means of public transport around cities. [cite web| author=Taplin, Michael| year=1998| title=the History of Tramways and Evolution of Light Rail| publisher=Light Rail Transit Association| url=| ]

The streetcar systems constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries typically only ran in single-car setups. Some rail lines experimented with multiple unit configurations, where streetcars were joined together to make short trains, but this did not become common until later. When lines were built over longer distances (typically with a single track) before good roads were common, they were generally called "interurban streetcars" in most of North America or "radial railways" in Ontario.

In North America, many of these original Streetcar systems were decommissioned in the 1950s and onward as the popularity of the automobile increased. Britain abandoned its last light rail system except Blackpool by 1962. [cite web
url =
title = Trams in the UK
accessdate = 2006-12-18
author = Peter Courtenay
date= 2006
] Although some traditional trolley or tram systems still exist to this day, the term "light rail" has come to mean a different type of rail system. Modern light rail technology has primarily German origins, since an attempt by Boeing Vertol to introduce a new American light rail vehicle was a technical failure. After World War II, the Germans retained their streetcar networks and evolved them into model light rail systems ("stadtbahnen"). Except for Hamburg, all large and most medium-sized German cities maintain light rail networks.cite conference
first = Glen
last = Bottoms
title = Continuing Developments in Light Rail Transit in Western Europe
booktitle =
pages =
publisher = Light Rail Transit Association
date= 2000
location = 9th Annual Light Rail Transit Conference, Portland, Oregon
url =
accessdate = 2007-01-02

The renaissance of light rail in North American began in 1978 when the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta adopted the German Siemens-Duewag U2 system, followed three years later by Calgary, Alberta and San Diego, California. Britain began replacing its run-down local railways with light rail in the 1980s, starting with Tyneside and followed by the Docklands Light Railway in London. The trend to light rail in the United Kingdom was firmly established with the success of the Manchester Metrolink system in 1992.

Historically, the rail gauge has had considerable variations, with narrow gauge common in many early systems. However, most light rail systems are now standard gauge. An important advantage of standard gauge is that standard railway maintenance equipment can be used on it, rather than custom-built machinery. Using standard gauge also allows light rail vehicles to be delivered and relocated conveniently using freight railways and locomotives. Another factor favoring standard gauge is that low-floor vehicles are becoming popular, and there is generally insufficient space for wheelchairs to move between the wheels in a narrow gauge layout.

Origins of light rail in North America

The renaissance of light rail in North American began in 1978 when Edmonton, Alberta adopted the German Siemens-Duewag U2 system, followed three years later by Calgary, Alberta and San Diego, California. These modern light-rail systems are more like subway or metro systems that operate at street level. They include modern, multi-car trains that can only be accessed at stations that are spaced anywhere from a couple blocks to a mile or more apart. Some of these systems operate within roadways alongside automobile traffic, and others operate on their own separate right-of-way.

Politics of light rail in North America

Due to lower density of many American cities, LRT speed relative to the automobile, generally lower ridership levels, and questions of cost-effectiveness, the construction of light rail systems has spurred political controversy as a use of public funds. Arguments made against light rail systems often bill it as less practical than equivalent bus systems and less effective than increases in highway capacity. Arguments in favor of light rail point to overall improvements in safety and quality of life in cities supporting rail-based mass transit and long-term sustainability benefits.

Usage of light rail in North America

*American Public Transportation Association. [cite web
title = Public Transportation Ridership Statistics
publisher = American Public Transportation Association
date = 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-09-16
*American Public Transportation Association - Canadian datacite web
title = Public Transportation Ridership Report - Canada
publisher = American Public Transportation Association
date = Fourth Quarter, 2007
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-11
*Sistema de Tren Electrico Urbano [cite web
title = Síntesis Informativa
publisher = Sistema de Tren Electrico Urbano
date = April 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-08-28
*INEGI [cite web
title = INEGI
publisher = INEGI
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-09

See also: List of United States light rail systems by ridership

Diesel light rail

A few recently-opened systems in North America use diesel-powered trains, including the River Line in New Jersey (opened in 2004), the O-Train in Ottawa (opened in 2001), and the SPRINTER in northern San Diego County, California. Diesel operations are chosen in corridors where lower ridership is expected (and thus do not justify the expense of the electric power infrastructure) or which have an "interurban" nature with stations spaced relatively far apart (electric power provides greater acceleration, making it essential for operations with closely-spaced stations). Operations with diesel-powered trains can be an interim measure until ridership growth and the availability of funding allow the system to be upgraded to electric power operations.

Light rail in Canada

In general, Canadian cities have rates of public transit use which are two to three times as high as comparably sized U.S. cities. Census data for 2006 show that 11.0% of Canadians use public transit to commute to work, compared to 4.8% of Americans. [cite web
title = Commuting Patterns and Places of Work of Canadians, 2006 Census
publisher = Statistics Canada
date = 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-14
] cite web
title = American Community Survey 2006, Table S0802
publisher = U.S. Census
date = 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-14
] This means that transportation planners must allow for higher passenger volumes on Canadian transit systems than American ones.

As a result of lower government funding, Canadian cities have to recover a much higher share of their costs out of operating revenues. This lack of funding may explain why there is resistance to the high capital costs of rail systems and there are only a few light rail systems in Canada.


Despite the fact that Calgary, Alberta has a lower population density than sprawling Denver, Colorado, the Calgary C-Train system has developed into the most successful and busiest light rail system in North America, cite conference
last = Hubbel
first = John
coauthors = Colquhoun, Dave
title = Light Rail Transit in Calgary: The First 25 Years
publisher = Calgary Transit
date = 2006-05-08
booktitle = Joint International Light Rail Conference
location = St. Louis, Missouri
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-22
] with an average of 271,100 boardings per weekday in the fourth quarter of 2007, compared to 258,100 for Toronto, Ontario and 257,500 for Boston, Massachusetts, cite web
title = Public Transportation Ridership Statistics - 4th quarter, 2007
publisher = American Public Transportation Association
date = 2008
url =
accessdate = 2008-07-14
] both of which are much bigger and more densely populated cities. It should be noted, however, that light rail carries a small share of metro riders in Toronto and Boston as both cities' metro systems use predominantly heavy rail.

The Calgary system was started in 1981 as the result of decisions to avoid building either downtown freeways or a heavy rail system. At that time, Calgary had less than half a million people and was considered too small for rail transit, but when it first opened the C-Train carried about 40,000 passengers per day. By 2007, Calgary was twice as big with 1 million people, but the C-Train system was over three times as long and carried over six times as many passengers.

As of 2007 45% of the people working in downtown Calgary took transit to work, and the city's objective was to increase that to 60%.cite news
last = Kom
first = Joel
title = Residents forced to cope with growing traffic crunch - City confident it can handle growth
publisher = Calgary Herald
date = 2008-01-02
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-14
] The reason is that Calgary's downtown core covers only convert|1.4|sqmi|km2, is isolated from the rest of the city by two rivers and a railway line, and was built with relatively narrow streets by North American standards. In the 1960s planners proposed a comprehensive freeway system to improve access, but this was rejected due to intense public opposition. However, subsequent growth exceeded expectations and by 2006, Calgary had become the second largest head office center in Canada, with convert|32000000|sqft|m2 of office space and 120,000 people working in the downtown core. The downtown street system is at maximum capacity and has no room for traffic growth, but the city is confident it can add another 60,000 downtown workers in the next 20 years without making space for more cars. Peak hour travel by LRT is equivalent to the capacity of about 16 free flow traffic lanes and allows the city to have fewer than 0.4 downtown parking places available per worker. cite conference
last = McKendrick
first = Neil
coauthors = et al.
title = Calgary’s CTrain – Effective Capital Utilization
publisher = Calgary Transit
date = 2006-05-08
booktitle = Joint International Light Rail Conference
location = St. Louis, Missouri
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-22

Despite the downtown rush, 25% of the riders during rush hour are counterflow commuters - going out of downtown during the morning and into it during the afternoon. Many of these are students going to educational institutions, who receive deep discounts because they are filling seats that otherwise would be empty, and workers doing crosstown commutes to avoid the lack of freeways. However, as of 2007, the C-Train is suffering growing pains. Because population growth has exceeded expectations and LRT ridership has outpaced population growth, Calgary has had trouble buying enough new LRT vehicles and hiring enough new drivers to meet the demand. As a result, many passengers experience lengthy train waits due to overcrowding.cite news
last = Guttormson
first = Kim
title = Transit hit by 10% rise in riders - City struggles to provide service amid staff crunch
publisher = Calgary Herald
date = 2007-01-20
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-22

Despite funding problems resulting from lack of support from the provincial and federal governments, there are two extensions under construction. In November 2007, Calgary City Council approved another two further extensions on the two lines, to be completed by 2012. [ Minutes of Calgary City Council special meeting 06 November 2007]

In addition, on November 20, 2007, Council gave final approval for the new West Leg of Calgary's LRT, which would be the system's fourth leg. Construction for the West leg will begin in 2009, with completion expected in 2012. When the new light rail vehicles ordered for the extension are finally delivered, the city will have a total of 223 LRVs.

Besides the ongoing program of extending all station platforms to 100 m to accommodate four-car trains, transportation planners have identified two additional lines to be constructed within the next 25 years. They are to the North-Central and South-East districts of the city. BRT service is in place along the future North-Central route, and is expected to begin on the South-East route within a year. Calgary will also one day have to place a tunnel in their downtown to accommodate one of these new lines, or a combination of lines, much like Edmonton has already done.


Edmonton was the first city in North America with a population of less than one million to build a modern light rail system. The route first started construction in 1974, and opened its first segment on April 22, 1978, in time for the 1978 Commonwealth Games. While groundbreaking at the time, in contrast with Calgary the Edmonton Transit System built much of its light rail system underground, which meant that it could not afford to lay as much track to the suburbs. In addition, Edmonton's central business district has less office space and the single line which was built did not reach areas which housed many commuters to downtown. The system is successful by North American Standards, but not nearly as successful as Calgary's: it has attracted only a sixth of the ridership. Edmonton is building new extensions at grade that will extend to the TOD Century Park.

According to John Bakker, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and one of the original designers of the system, going underground was a serious mistake. "Going into tunnels is about 10 times as expensive as going on the surface because you have to relocate utilities", said Mr Bakker. "Edmonton went into tunnels first, and it really bogged down everything thereafter, because they didn't have money". Edmonton's system is only 12 km long, while Calgary's light-rail system covered 42.1 km for about the same cost. [cite news
last = Ward
first = Bruce
coauthors = Angela Pereira
title = Stay out of the tunnel, transit expert warns
publisher = The Ottawa Citizen
date= December 07, 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-07
] As a result, by 2006 Edmonton's LRT ridership was relatively static at 42,000 per day, while Calgary's was over 250,000 and growing rapidly. However, a 10 km South LRT expansion is underway, almost all of it at surface, and is expected to be completed by 2009.


In the 1970s and 1980s Ottawa, Ontario opted for grade-separated busways (the Ottawa Transitway) over light rail on the theory that buses were cheaper. In practice, the capital costs escalated from the original estimate of C$97 million to a final value of C$440 million, a cost overrun of about 450%. [cite web
last = Gow
first = Harry
title = Ottawa's BRT "Transitway": Modern Miracle or Mega-Mirage?
publisher = Transport 2000 Canada
date= 2001
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-06
] This is nearly as high as Calgary's C-Train system, which had a capital cost of C$548 million, is about the same length, and carries more passengers. [cite web
last = CTS
title = LRT Technical Data
work = About CT
publisher = Calgary Transit
date= 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-12-06
] Unfortunately, the Ottawa Transitway has reached capacity, with over 175 buses per hour on the downtown section, and has no cost-effective way to increase the volume. [ cite news
last = Nixon
first = Geoff
title = Downtown can't take more buses: Friends of O-Train
publisher = Ottawa Citizen
date = 2007-11-27
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-28

In 2001, to supplement its BRT system, Ottawa opened a diesel light rail pilot project, (the O-Train), which was relatively inexpensive to construct (C$21 million), due to its single-track route along a neglected freight-rail right of way and use of diesel multiple units (DMUs) to avoid the cost of building overhead lines along the tracks. O-Train has had some success in attracting new ridership to the system (a few thousand more riders), due to its connection of a south end big box shopping mall (South Keys), through Carleton University to the east-west busway (Ottawa Transitway) near the downtown core of the city.

Ottawa produced plans to expand both the Transitway and to open additional rail routes. The intention of the light rail project was to add to the system, not to replace the existing Transitway. However, in mid-December 2006, the new Ottawa city council voted to cancel the LRT system despite the fact that funding was already in place and contracts were already signed. As of 2008, lawsuits against the city of Ottawa over its canceled light rail system totaled over $280 million. [ cite news
last = Drake
first = Laura
title = City girds for massive fight over cancelled light-rail plan
publisher = The Ottawa Citizen
date = 2008-01-28
url =
accessdate = 2008-01-29
] Examinations for discovery are expected to start in the fall, with the trial beginning in 2009. The trial is expected to be lengthy. [ cite news
last = Sherring
first = Susan
title = City fighting to move LRT trial to capital
publisher = The Ottawa Sun
date = 2008-01-28
url =
accessdate = 2008-01-29


LRT in Toronto is somewhat difficult to classify, since the city employs several forms of transit that may or may not be considered "light rail". The legacy streetcar system is still largely in place in the downtown area and is extensive in terms of routes and service intervals. Some lines even tie into integrated subway stations without the need for a transfer, and many traffic signals give priority to streetcars. However, the system as a whole is not normally considered true light rail because the mixed running with surface traffic slows travel considerably. Because of the differences in technology and speed, Canadian transportation planners do not usually classify historic streetcar systems as LRT, although they may technically qualify as such. [cite web
last = Andrey
first = Jean
title = Urban Transit in Canada
publisher = Hofstra University
date= 2007
url =
accessdate = 2007-03-21
] Two streetcar lines (Spadina/Harbourfront and St. Clair) have been recently rebuilt and come closer to meeting light rail standards as they run in dedicated rights-of-way. However, the largest vehicles used are articulated double streetcars which are much smaller than most LRT trains and these use trolley wheels rather than pantographs to collect electricity. Streetcar fares must also be paid upon boarding as with a local bus. Finally, the Scarborough RT was a demonstration project for elevated light rail that served as a prototype for Vancouver's SkyTrain and JFK's AirTrain). However, it does not meet the common definition of light rail either since it supplies electricity to the trains using two extra power rails (one at +300 VDC and the other at -300 VDC), uses linear induction motors acting on a metal plate between the tracks for propulsion, requires a fully grade-separated right-of-way, and has large stations that have much more in common with a heavy-rail metro. In Toronto it is usually mapped as part of the subway system.

All of the above is now under reconsideration as vehicles near the end of their lifespan and the future size and type of vehicle and trackway is contemplated. On March 16 2007, the Toronto Transit Commission announced a 120 Kilometre Light Rapid transit web throughout the city. This will be a 15 year project predicted to have 175 million-users by 2021. Funding has been announced at the municipal and provincial level, though not the federal. The plan has been released and can also be viewed at []


In 1986, Vancouver, British Columbia built the Expo Line of the SkyTrain. It is the longest automated light rapid transit system in the world. [ cite web
last = Translink
title = Skytrain
publisher = Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority
date= 2006
url =
accessdate = 2006-10-31
] In addition to using driverless trains, it uses two energized power rails (one at +300 VDC and the other at -300 VDC) rather than overhead wires to supply electricity, making it unsafe to operate in the street or use level crossings. Since it is not conventional light rail it is often called an advanced light rapid transit or light metro system. The network, including the newer Millennium Line and extension, carries about 66 million passengers annually. Vancouver's two new lines under construction, the Canada Line and Evergreen Line, are planned to be grade-separated automated light transit. Additional extensions are planned for the Millennium Line mostly underground under Central Broadway to University of British Columbia. There is preliminary talk about extending the Expo Line (although its routing has not yet been determined).

Light rail in Mexico


:main|Monterrey MetroThe largest light rail system in Mexico operates in the city of Monterrey. Both of the city's metro lines are light rail, one elevated and the other subterranean. Combined, they carried approximately 73.4 million passengers between July 2007 and June 2008. [cite web
title = INEGI
publisher = INEGI
url =
accessdate = 2008-09-17
] The first line opened in 1991 and as of July 2008, the system included 28 stations and approximately 25 route miles. An additional four stations on Line 2 are scheduled to open in September of 2008.


:main|Guadalajara MetroThe metro system of the city of Guadalajara employs light rail for both of its lines. The north-south line which replaced a trolleybus line in 1989, has 19 stations, is 15.5 km in length and is only partially grade separated in the center of the city. The east-west opened in July of 1994, has 8 stations and runs 8.5 kilometers completely underground from the center of the city to Tetlán.

Mexico City

:main|Xochimilco Light RailThe Mexico City Metro uses exclusively heavy rail technology. However, the city's trolleybus agency, "Servicio de Transportes Electricos", operates a light rail line which runs in the southern extreme of the city from the southern terminus of the Tasqueña station of Metro Line 2 to Xochimilco.

Light rail in the United States

The United States has a number of light rail systems in its mid-sized to large cities. In older systems, such as in San Francisco and Boston, the light rail is vestigal from streetcar days but were spared the fate of other streetcar systems by some grade separation from traffic and high ridership. A number of systems were built in the 1980s, a few more in the 1990s, and many more were opened in lower density cities in the early 2000s. The older systems attain higher ridership.

United States use of light rail is low by European standards. According to the American Public Transportation Authority, of the 20-odd light rail systems in the United States only five (Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Portland, OR), achieve more than 25 million passenger boardings per year, and only Boston exceeds the 50+ million boardings per year of the London Docklands Light Rail system.

Compared with that of Canada, the United States federal government offers considerably more funding for transportation projects of all types, resulting in smaller portions of light rail construction cost to be borne at the local and state levels.Fact|date=December 2007 This funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration though as of 2004 the rules to determine which projects will be funded are biased against the simpler streetcar systems (partly because the vehicles tend to be somewhat slower). Some cities in the U.S. (e.g. San Pedro, California) have set about building the less expensive streetcar lines themselves or with only minimal federal support.


The oldest and busiest light rail system in the United States is the MBTA Green Line in Boston. With 235,300 daily ridership on its convert|25.4|mi|km of track, the Green Line is a primary transportation route within downtown, and is patronized by students and workers from close-in suburbs like Brighton and Allston.

The subsurface portion of the line was opened in 1897 to alleviate congestion for street level trolley cars, with numerous lines from the north and south converging via several portals to Park Street Station. By 1964, the transformation to today's system was nearly complete with the elimination of streetcars entering at Lechmere and Boylston; lines into the four remaining portals would be designated B, C, D, and E (the A line to Watertown being abandoned in the late 1960s). Three of today's four lines, although having their own separate path in the medians of their respective roads, still have segments without grade-separated rights-of-way, and consequently wait at traffic lights. The D line, which runs on a former Boston and Albany Railroad right-of-way, is the lone exception.

In 2004, the MBTA removed of the Causeway Street Elevated portion of the line, and replaced it with an underground tunnel, as a part of Big Dig environmental remediation, leaving the Lechmere Viaduct as the only remaining elevated part of the line. Other work includes many station overhauls that will improve handicapped accessibility.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Metro Rail light rail system comprises three lines: the Green, Gold, and Blue lines. Collectively they have 144,900 daily weekday boardings. The Blue line, in particular is the second-busiest line in the United States with 84,353 average weekday boardings. [web cite|title="Metro Facts at a Glance"|publisher=LACMTA|url=] The Blue and Gold Lines run mostly at grade, with some street-running, elevated, and underground stretches in more densely populated areas. The Green Line is entirely grade separated, running in the median of I-105 and then turning southward along an elevated route. The Blue Line opened first, in 1990. The Green Line began service in 1995, and the Gold Line entered service in 2003.

an Francisco

The San Francisco Municipal Railway (MUNI) light rail lines are vestigial from its streetcar days, and it is one of few American cities to continuously operate light rail from the streetcar era. As a result, the present-day system has above ground portions running in mixed traffic, stopping at traffic lights as streetcars, while buried sections have their own right-of-way like a subway. Though in other United States cities in 1950s, the trend was to replace streetcars with bus service, five heavily used lines traveled through tunnels or otherwise had private right-of-ways, making bus replacement not viable. About this time, plans for a subway, the Muni Metro, were drawn up, opening in 1980. Similar to Boston's Green Line, five separate lines above ground converge to one subway route, though in the former, the underground line was constructed first and surface routes later.

In response to the dot com boom, the system became strained and Muni ordered newer, larger vehicles, which turned out to have their own noise and braking problems. In 1998, a four station extension of the trunk line was built, and in 2007 light rail service began on a new line going south from downtown, achieving limited success. Plans are underway for a three station underground light rail line, expected to serve 78,000 daily riders by 2030. Due to underground routing, the cost for the convert|1.7|mi|km|sing=on line is estimated at $1.5 billion.

Portland, Oregon

The Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) system serves the Portland metropolitan area. It has convert|44.3|mi|km between three lines: the Blue, Red and Yellow and serves 104,200 daily, counting the free boarding "Fareless Square". Like most modern light rail systems MAX runs in mixed traffic in the city, but has its own right-of-way further out. The 2-car trains are length limited by the relatively small (200 ft) blocks in downtown Portland.

The MAX system was born out of funds left over from the canceled Mount Hood Freeway, with the Blue line opening in 1986, the Red Line connection to Portland International Airport opening in 2001, while the latest line to be opened was the Yellow Line in 2004, which connects downtown to Portland Expo Center via Interstate Avenue. The Green Line is a convert|6.5|mi|km|sing=on track under construction intended to connect Gateway Transit Center and a new Clackamas Town Center Transit Center, while a planned Orange Line would be built from the Green Line's southern terminus at Portland State University.

an Diego

San Diego Trolley currently comprises three lines, the Blue, Orange and Green, collectively running on convert|51.1|mi|km of track and achieving a ridership of 107,000. During the time that the Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB) was drawing up options for a transit system, Hurricane Kathleen made landfall, damaging many of the tracks operated by the freight carrier, San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway, and cutting them off from the greater Southern Pacific Railroad, and South Pacific petitioned for abandonment. The auspicious timing of the incident led the MTDB to buy and repair the tracks, opening a convert|13.5|mi|km|sing=on light rail segment on 1981, while also reestablishing freight service on the same line (the Blue Line runs on shared-use track). The system has been expanded incrementally ever since. There are currently plans for an convert|11|mi|km|sing=on extension to the University City community, connecting the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) campus and University Towne Centre shopping center to the rest of the system.


t. Louis

St. Louis light rail consists of two lines, both running through the city center with 73.3 kilometers (46 miles) of track. There are terminals across the Mississippi River in western Illinois, at Lambert St. Louis International Airport, and in the southwestern part of the metro area. The first part of the system (RED LINE: Lambert/Shiloh) opened in 1993. The second line of the system (BLUE LINE: Shrewsbury/I-44) entered service in 2006. All track is in independent right of way, mostly at surface level, but includes several miles of subways and elevated track as well. St. Louis' light rail system has no street or traffic running trains. The system runs more similar to a heavy rail rail system than most light rail systems in North America. All stations are independent entry and platforms are all flush level with trains providing passengers easy access on/off. In the downtown area, the system uses abandoned railway tunnels built in the 19th century. The downtown subway stations have an ancient appearance with rough-hewn rock walls. The Shrewsbury/I-44 also has a few portions in tunnels, which are large and of modern concrete construction. Since it opened expansion has continued, and the transit agency has future lines in planning stages. Ridership, at more than 16 million yearly, has always exceeded expectations. St. Louis' rail system has been lauded one of the finest light rail systems built in North America.


Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is the operator of the convert|45|mi|km|sing=on light rail system that runs in Dallas and three of its suburbs, along with a convert|34|mi|km|sing=on commuter rail line that connects to Fort Worth and runs through Irving, a DART member city. The LRT lines began with the opening of the convert|20|mi|km|sing=on starter system in 1996. In the first few years after the turn of the century, DART opened several small expansions, culminating in the opening of Victory Station, serving the American Airlines Center in 2004.

DART currently runs two LRT lines. The Red Line begins in southwest Dallas at Westmoreland Station and runs northeast to downtown, then runs north through the suburbs of Richardson and Plano to its terminus at Parker Road Station. The Blue line begins in South Dallas at Ledbetter Station and runs north, joining the Red Line at 8th and Corinth Station on its trek to downtown. It continues north to Mockingbird Station before it breaks away from the Red Line and turns northeast toward Garland, ending its run at Downtown Garland Station.

The system is currently under expansion as the Green Line is under construction and will run from Pleasant Grove in southeast Dallas to the suburbs Farmers Branch and Carrollton. It is set to open in two phases, first in September 2009, then in December of 2010. Other expansions include the Orange Line, to run from downtown, the Las Colinas in Irving and on to DFW Airport. Also, the Blue Line is set to expand east to Rowlett and south to Interstate 20. When the latest expansion round is completed, DART's system will have convert|93|mi|km of LRT.



alt Lake City

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) runs the 19 mile (31km) light rail system known as TRAX in the Salt Lake Valley. The system, which opened in 1999, serves approximately 58,300 people every day and contains 69 vehicles. [ Utah Transit Authority - About UTA] ] The system has 2 lines, both of which end Downtown at EnergySolutions Arena. One line ends at the University of Utah, while the other ends in the suburb of Sandy. Four extensions have recently been approved and funded, with completion expected by 2014.


The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO), opened its METRORail service on January 1, 2004 to very large crowds. The system currently consists of a single double track line of convert|7.5|mi|km. The system serves 45,000 passengers daily. Like many other light rail systems in America, METRORail runs in city streets and does not have its own right of way for most of its route. Two-car trains are the maximum on the line due to Downtown Houston's city block size.

an Jose

San Jose's light rail network, owned and maintained by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, consists of convert|42.2|mi|km of track across three different lines.

The Alum Rock - Santa Teresa line serves the eastern, northern, downtown, and southern areas of San Jose. The Mountain View - Winchester line operates between Mountain View and the Winchester neighborhood of San Jose. Both of these lines share the same tracks and stations on First Street between Tasman Drive in northern San Jose and the San Jose Convention Center in downtown. A third line, the Ohlone-Chynoweth - Almaden line, is a three-stop spur that connects the Almaden Valley area to the Alum Rock - Santa Teresa Line.


The Twin Cities have one LRT Line, the Hiawatha Line. This line runs from downtown Minneapolis, next to the Metrodome, near the University of Minnesota campus, to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, then to the Mall of America. This line opened in 2004. Two other lines are in planning: the Central Corridor, which would run from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul; and the Southwest Corridor, which would run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.

New Jersey

In New Jersey, New Jersey Transit provides light rail service along three lines in different parts of the state.

Jersey City

In Jersey City, New Jersey, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) services the eastern and southern parts of the city and other areas of the Gold Coast to North Bergen, New Jersey, extending south to Bayonne on one branch.


Like San Francisco, Newark never fully abandoned its old streetcar system, due to the fact that part of it had a dedicated, underground right-of-way in an old canal bed. Beginning in the 1940s, a system that once extended far into Newark's suburbs was pared down to just the underground route, "Streetcar #7" which was rebilled the Newark City Subway. After decades of cutbacks, the line was finally expanded northward to Belleville in the early 2000s. A second branch running through downtown to Newark-Broad St. station was opened in the mid 2000's, and the system was rebranded again as Newark Light Rail.

Trenton to Camden via Burlington City

The River Line is a diesel light rail line in southern New Jersey, running along, except at its ends, what was previously the Bordentown Secondary, from Trenton to Camden, serving communities along the Delaware River between thee cities. This line is one of only two diesel light rail lines in North America, and the only one in the United States.


The Baltimore Light Rail is a single line reaching from BWI Airport south of Baltimore, through the city and north to a strip mall and office park. With convert|30|mi|km of track, the line achieves a daily ridership of 24,500.

Major efforts toward the creation of the light rail were championed by then mayor William Donald Schaefer, who wanted a transit link to the new baseball park, Camden Yards, about to be built downtown. In order to have the line completed the month that the Baltimore Orioles started playing in Camden Yards in 1992, the system was built entirely without federal money, a rarity in late 20th century U.S. transit projects. Federal funds would later be used to double track the whole system, decreasing headways which had been restricted to 17 minutes.

The light rail line was built entirely at grade, even through downtown's narrow streets. Though the majority of the track's length is grade-separated from acquiring disused railroad rights-of-way, trains run in the streets in some sections downtown. When the system was built, this resulted in vehicles having to wait in traffic lights, though in 2007 a signal preemption system was installed.

The Maryland Transit Administration has drawn up plans for an additional four lines which may be light rail, bus rapid transit, or heavy rail to create a comprehensive city system. As of 2007, only the future of one line is certain. The Red Line, which is in its intermediate planning stages, would be an East-West link via either bus rapid transit or light rail. Whichever mode is selected, officials have insisted that the line be underground through the city center because of Baltimore's narrow streets and dense traffic.


Charlotte's LYNX system consists of a single convert|9.6|mi|km|sing=on line called the Blue Line. After receiving a positive Record of Decision from the Federal Transit Administration on May 19, 2003, continued preparation and land acquisition would finally result in its groundbreaking in spring 2005. The line is in full operation, at a projected final cost of $462.7 million. This price tag does not include indirect or ancillary costs such as rerouting water and sewer lines to accommodate the line, estimated at an additional $72 million as of April 2006.

The Blue Line's construction is part of a greater comprehensive transit network for the Charlotte metropolitan region. 70.6 more miles of track are planned, though some of these could be constructed as Bus Rapid Transit or streetcar lines.


Pittsburgh's light rail network, commonly known as The T, is a convert|25|mi|km|0|sing=on light rail system in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; it functions as a subway in downtown Pittsburgh and largely as an at-grade light rail service in the suburbs. The system is owned and operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT). It is the successor system to the far more extensive streetcar network formerly operated by Pittsburgh Railways.

The current lines, which run south from the downtown into the South Hills area, were formerly operated by PCC streetcars. Beginning in the 1980s PAT reconstructed the lines along the existing right-of-way and ordered new trams from Siemens. PCCs continued to operate in tandem with the new light rail vehicles until 1999 when the last five were retired from service. PAT also constructed a new subway line in the downtown, ending decades of street-running in the Golden Triangle. Current expansion plans include an extension from the downtown subway under the Allegheny River to connect with PNC Park and Heinz Field; the North Shore Connector is slated to open by 2011.


Buffalo has a somewhat unique rail system. While the majority of the 6.6 miles of track operate as a "heavy" rail, a small section of the system operates down a fare-free pedestrian mall. Because cars and pedestrians cross the median where trains pass, the line uses overhead power. Buffalo opened the metro rail in the 1980s as a single line that would grow into a large rapid transit system. However, cost overruns and population decline caused expansion plans to be put on hold. The system still serves about 20,000 people daily.


eattle - Tacoma

The Seattle - Tacoma Metropolitan area Sound Transit light rail system consists of a singleconvert|1.6|mi|km|sing=on line known as Tacoma Link. Another line known as Central Link is under construction and will cover approximately 16 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle. It is nearing completion and is expected to open in 2009. A possible extension may be on the ballot in 2008 after a previous one was rejected in 2007.

ee also

* Politics of light rail in North America;United States
* Transportation in the United States
** List of United States Light Rail systems by ridership
** Rail transit in Boston
** Transportation in Dallas, Texas
** Rail transit in metropolitan Denver
** Transportation in Houston
** Rail transit in Kenosha, Wisconsin
** Transportation in New York City
** Transportation in Hudson Country, New Jersey
** Los Angeles County Metro Rail
** Transportation in Portland, Oregon
** Transportation in Salt Lake City
** Transportation of St. Louis, Missouri
** Public Transportation in San Diego
** Transportation in San Francisco
** Transportation in San Jose, California;Canada
* Public transportation in Canada
** Calgary C-Train
** Edmonton Light Rail Transit
** Ottawa Rapid Transit
** Scarborough (Toronto) Rapid Transit
** Toronto streetcar system
** Vancouver SkyTrain;Mexico
* Xochimilco Light Rail
* Guadalajara Metro
* Monterrey Metro

External links

* [ A movie] of Armour's electric trolley, circa 1897 from Library of Congress
* [ List of Canadian urban rail systems]
* Table of [ Light Rail Transit Agencies in the United States]
* [ Commuter Rail, Light Rail & Rail Transit News]
* [ Light Rail Central photos & news]
* [ American Public Transit Association]
* [ Federal Transit Administration (U.S.)]
* [ Light Rail & Transit News] Current news concerning light rail development and issues
* [ Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the U.S. National Research Council]


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