Light rail in the United States

Light rail in the United States

The use of light rail in the United States 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 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, 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.


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.


Buffalo's light rail line of only convert|6.6|mi|km was to be a starter line in a much larger system. However with the declining population of the area, no expansions were sought. The small line still averages over 20,000 daily riders


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.



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.



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.

Los Angeles

The Los Angeles County Metro Rail light rail system comprises three lines: the Green, Gold, and Blue lines. Collectively they have 134,300 daily weekday boardings. The Blue line, in particular is the second-busiest line in the United States with 72,295 boardings. 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.


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.


Phoenix will be served by the METRO Light Rail system upon the completion of the 20-mile starter segment connecting Phoenix with the cities of Tempe, and Mesa. A part of the Valley Metro public transit system, the initial segment of the system is scheduled to be completed in December 2008. Construction began in March 2005.

Commuter rail service had been absent in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area since the decommissioning of the Phoenix Street Railway in 1948. In 1989, the ValTrans elevated rail proposal [ [ Arizona Rail Passenger Association » Phx. Transit Elections ] ] , was turned down by voters in a referendum due to cost and feasibility concerns. Other subsequent initiatives during the 1990s failed over similar reasons.

METRO was created by the Transit 2000 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which involved a 0.4 per cent sales tax and was approved by voters in Phoenix in 2000. Transit 2000 aimed at improving the local bus service and the formation of bus rapid transit and light rail, among other things, which was seen as a more affordable approach. It used the route placing and color designations from the 1989 plan.


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.

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.


RT operates a 37.42-mile (60.21 km) light rail system, with two lines, 45 stations, and 76 vehicles (Siemens AG Duewag U2A vehicles and more modern CAF Light Rail Vehicles (LRV)). [cite web |url= |title=Sacramento Regional Transit Light Rail FACT SHEET |accessdate=2007-01-23 |format=pdf |work= ] There are 76 vehicles in the entire fleet. Lines on the system operate from 4:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. daily, with service every 15 minutes in the day and every 30 minutes at night. The light rail system, with 49,800 daily riders, is the tenth busiest in the United States.

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 the Salt Lake City Intermodal Hub. 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.

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.

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.

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.

t. Louis

St. Louis light rail consists of lines running through the city center with 73.3 kilometers (46 miles) of track. There are terminals across the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois (Metro East), at Lambert St. Louis International Airport, and in the southwestern part of the metro area. The first part of the system opened in 1993. The second line of the system, the "I-44/Shrewsbury" Line entered service in 2006. All track is in independent right of way at grade, elevated or in subway tunnels. In the downtown area, the system uses abandoned railway tunnels built in the 19th century, which have an ancient appearance with rough-hewn rock walls. Since it opened expansion has continued, if slowly. Ridership, at more than 16 million yearly, has always exceeded expectations.

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

* Light rail in North America
* Politics of light rail in North America
* List of United States Light Rail systems by ridership
* Public Transportation in San Diego
* Transportation in Dallas, Texas
* Transportation in Houston
* Transportation in Portland, Oregon
* Transportation in San Francisco
* Transportation in Salt Lake City
* Transportation of St. Louis, Missouri
* Rail transit in metropolitan Denver
* Rail transit in Boston
* Transportation in San Jose, California
* Transportation in Hudson Country, New Jersey
* Rail transit in Kenosha, Wisconsin
* Transportation in New York City

External links

* [ A movie] of Armour's electric trolley, circa 1897 from Library of Congress
* 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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