TramTrain – A lesson in Urban, Interurban and regional transportation implementation

Quality integrated public transportation planning & implementation is an eminence which is in short supply in Vancouver, the Fraser Valley And BC as a whole, due in part to the narrow vision of Translink & the BC government.

Translink & their advocates, exhibit a worrying arrogance;

  • Vancouver-centric planning

  • Blind determination to continue the expansion of Skytrain, further into Metro Vancouver and Surrey

  • Discriminatory treatment of the lower Fraser Valleyai??i??s residents, with a promise of merely an updated bus service.

Vancouver & Translink refuses to see or listen to contemporary developments in Europe & the US, so it seems relevant to promote the concept of European Tram Train operations on this Blog.

Regrettably Vancouver & specifically Translink planners, would appear not to recognise what constitute economic transport planning even if it bit them on the arse and continue to parrot the mantra:

Density and Speed

as if thatai??i??s all that matters:

From the mid-nineties there has been a real boom period regarding TramTrain feasibility studies. Many cities and regions with a regional railway network, with or without an urban tramway and of similar size as Karlsruhe have been asking if the concept is transferable to their situation. Most of these projects have not proceeded or at least been heavily delayed and not given high priority.

The reasons differ, but we question whether asking the right basic questions early enough would have avoided big studies which went straight into the archives.

Despite the flexible and context sensitive nature of TramTrain our aim is to identify at least some generic TramTrain characteristics, since we feel that a clear view of these will enable promoters to recognise a new set of (potential) applications or to revise earlier schemes which may have been reviewed before under narrower conditions.

While in the early days of TramTrain one spoke of the “Karlsruhe model”, “track sharing” or “joint running” it is necessary today to distinct between different groups.

  1. Classic light-rail/tramway operation

  2. Conversion

  3. Single-Mode Track-sharing

  4. TramTrain-operation

  5. Dual-Mode Electric/Electric

  6. Dual-Mode Diesel/Electric

  7. TrainTram-operation

  8. Existing tramway network

  9. No existing tramway network

Conversion projects are schemes, which make use of former railway infrastructure converted for light rail for a considerable part of the network. There is no mix between tramway and railway operation. Infrastructure is taken over usually, so no track access charges apply.

Single mode (electrification 600/750V) track sharing schemes also involve the use of railway infrastructure, but in track-sharing mode with freight trains or other non-electric trains (thus the railway is still used by other railway traffic). This is how Karlsruhe started with the Albtalbahn. In most cases infrastructure is also owned by the light rail operator and track access charges do not apply.

TramTrain-operation involves both track-sharing light rail/heavy rail and dual- or multi-mode operation (Heavy rail voltage / Light rail voltage). The track-sharing sections may also include main line heavy rail infrastructure. Usually infrastructure (tracks and stations) is owned by the railway infrastructure owners (DB Netz, RFF, Prorail, Network Rail etc.) and track access and station use charges apply for the light rail operator.

TrainTram-operation is reversing the tram-train idea; direct access from the region to city centres is not achieved by bringing the tramway out onto the railway, but by bringing heavy rail vehicles onto the urban tramway or onto a tramway-like alignment. The heavy rail vehicles being used under urban conditions follow tramway regulations. Usually TrainTram will not involve a through-running of railway vehicles from one end of a city to the other, but access the city centre from one side only.


The name “Karlsruhe” all around the world is used as a synonym for success. However, the scheme demonstrates a number of features which are difficult to sell elsewhere!

The Karlsruhe compromise of running high- and medium floor light rail vehicles through an urban “low-floor” network has to be seen as a killer argument for TramTrain in France and likely in all other countries, where the full accessibility of public transport is an absolute requirement. Therefore level access for TramTrain in all sections of a planned network is of high importance.

Karlsruhe is certainly a good example of a railway (main) station at a distance to the city centre where through-running TramTrains result in a considerable gain in attractiveness. With a regional scheme however, involving several TramTrain-lines operating through the city centre, often in coupled units and with relatively heavy rolling stock, Karlsruhe is virtually witnessing the “return of the railway station” into the city centre after having moved it before WWI to the southern edge. At the moment it is planned to solve this new problem by an underground section of the network which would also mean taking out the “normal” surface trams from the pedestrian zone.

Nevertheless Karlsruhe’s passenger number increases have proven the usefulness of through running in the case of medium-sized cities owning a remote railway (main) station or the benefits of a centrally located railway station.








Ai??TramTrain projects are complicated and therefore they need a strong and high quality regulation. Almost all of these projects cover regional corridors, so some regional government or body, or at least a sustainable form of regional co-operation and tough political support is an absolute necessity for success.

  • Powerful regional and local government

  • Existing regional and local support

  • Planning processes associated with creating transport infrastructure are complicated without exception, for TramTrain even more. For this reason success is almost synonymous with a streamlined planning process. Moreover, justification of many TramTrain proposals is strongly interconnected with considerations of urban planning and land use. Therefore integration of urban planning generally and land-use particularly is highly recommendable.

  • Approach to planning process

  • Degree of integration of land use and urban planning

  • Step by step implementation

  • Complementary to existing/adapted public transport network

  • Quality and capability of public transport authority, both formally and functionally, to integrate responsibility for the entire network

  • Distribution of responsibilities

    • Generally construction and operation of public transport infrastructure are financed from various sources. The money needed to build and operate TramTrain infrastructure should be balanced as much as possible on the local and regional level, as this type of public transport is important locally and regionally. In this respect local and regional funding sources are of great importance and state government contributions should not be decisive

    • Methods to cover construction and operating costs Local/regional financial balance and sources

    • TramTrain utilisation presupposes the use of heavy rail infrastructure. The responsibilities for railways are usually under national authority as legal powers are. In many countries the National Railways are very powerful. Therefore success of a TramTrain project is highly dependent on the degree in which national legal and functional competences are used efficiently for local and regional purposes or delegated to local/regional agencies. TramTrain projects become more transparent and easy-going when heavy railway infrastructure is used which is under the control or even better owned by the local/regional authority. Another option is a private control and ownership of the railway. Germany for instance has an ongoing private railway tradition.



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