Light Rail/Modern Streetcar
The primary advantage of light-rail transit is its adaptability, both in terms of the variety of environments it can operate in and its ability to add passenger capacity. Light rail is mostly operated in denser, more centralized, more walkable areas of a city where there is no free parking. Light rail can operate and cross
roadways at street level mainly along dedicated rights-of-way, or it can operate in a totally separate guideway, either elevated or underground. Light rail can also quickly add passenger capacity, accommodating up to 10 times the number of riders as a bus.
One of principal characteristics of light rail is its ability to connect multiple vehicles to form a train that can, consequently, reduce the operating cost per passenger — even compared to some bus alternatives — when there is sufficient demand. However, depending on a variety of factors, capital costs for light rail can range from $80 million to $150 million per mile, which can make light rail unaffordable for some communities.
Cities with successful light rail systems include
Los Angeles. In North Texas,
Dallas Area Rapid Transit (
DART) operates the nation’s largest light-rail network, which serves Dallas and 5 suburban communities with an annual ridership of 29.5 million
Many cities across the U.S. — including
Seattle — are implementing or exploring a “modern streetcar” system that can not only serve as a solution for congestion in high-density downtown developments along pedestrian- and transit-friendly streetscapes, but also serve as a vehicle to increase economic development investments.
Unlike light-rail or heavy-rail systems, which tend to focus on serving a larger number of passengers over longer distances, the modern streetcar vehicle is smaller and typically runs a length of 3 to 5 miles. Due to its scale, the modern streetcar is more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, the implementation
cost is considerably lower, and the required infrastructure can more easily be implemented on regular streets.