Why We Build With Light Rail

From December 2008, Zwei’s first post!


What is Light Rail Transit or more commonly known as LRT?

A modern light rail line in Bilbao, Spain.

According to the Light Rail Transit Association (www.lrta.org) Light rail is a mode that can deal economically with traffic flows of between 2,000 and 20,000 passengers per hour per direction, thus effectively bridging the gap between the maximum flow that can be dealt with using buses and the minimum that justifies a metro.

But there is more, by track-sharing with existing railways on their rights-of-ways, means that LRT can effectively and affordably service less populated areas, with public transport. Streetcars are also light rail, but operate on-street, in mixed traffic, with little or no signal priority at intersections. The main difference between LRT and a streetcar is the quality of rights-of-way, where a streetcar operates on-street, LRT operates on a reserved rights-of-way or a route that is reserved for the sole purpose of the light rail vehicle.

A reserved rights-of-way can be as simple as a HOV lane with rails, to a lawned park like route with trees, hedges and flowerbeds. LRT, in it’s various forms is used in over 600 cities around the world and is the first choice of transit planners for affordable, customer friendly public transport.

Classic lawned reserved or dedicated tram R-o-W.

The German city of Karlsruhe (City population 275,285) has taken light rail to a new standard, by track sharing with mainline railways and operating, what is called TramTrains. In Karlsruhe, one can board a tram, on-street, on the pavement and alight, on-street in Ohringen some 210km (130 mile) later, with the tram acting as a streetcar, light rail vehicle and a passenger train!

Karlsruhe’s light rail network now extends over 400 km. (250+ mile) of route, servicing scores of small towns and villages with high quality public transit at very little cost simply because the tram can use existing railway tracks.

The River Line In New Jersey, a classic TramTrain.

In British Columbia, tramtrain can be a useful tool for implementing a high quality ‘rail’ transit service, not only in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, but in Victoria (E & N Railway) and the Kelowna/Vernon rail corridor as well.

The question is: Why does TransLink and the BC government reject modern LRT out of hand and continue to build with dated light metro?

And still, in 2021, the provincial, Ministry of Transportation, regional mayors and councils, including their bureaucracies and the mainstream media, still think that modern light rail is inferior to SkyTrain and is some sort of poor man’s SkyTrain. The reality is different, as only of the seven proprietary MALM have been built since it was first marketed over 40 years ago (which also had five previous brand names). No one has copied the Canada Line, which is a heavy rail metro built on the cheap and and has less capacity than a modern streetcar costing a fraction to build.

In 13 years, nothing has changed, except for more and more costly transit projects, built to suit politcal and bureaucratic whims, rather than to provide an affordable and user friendly alternative to the car.


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