Light rail in the United States

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Light rail is defined in the United States (and elsewhere) as a mode of electrified (or in a few exceptional cases, diesel-powered) rail-based transit, usually urban in nature, which is distinguished by operation in routes of generally exclusive, though not necessarily grade-separated, rights-of-way. This is distinguished from 'heavy rail' systems, also known as rapid transit or 'Metro' (e.g. subway/elevated), which are fully grade-separated from other traffic, and which are characterized by higher passenger capacities than light rail. Arguably, traditional streetcars (also known as trolleys in the North America, or as trams outside of North America especially in Europe), which is rail-based transit that takes place in shared roadways with automobile traffic and thus doesn't operate in exclusive rights-of-way, can be considered to be a sub-set of light rail, though the two modes of transit are often treated as distinct in the United States.

Light rail transit in the United States[edit]

The use of light rail in the United States is low compared to some European countries, but higher than some other nations, such as Canada and Australia.[clarification needed] According to the American Public Transportation Association, of the 30-odd light rail systems in the United States, six of them (Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland (Oregon), Philadelphia, and San Diego) achieve more than 30 million unlinked passenger transits per year.[1]

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.[citation needed] 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).[original research?] 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 United States has a number of light rail systems in its mid-sized to large cities. In the oldest systems, such as in Boston, Cleveland, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, the light rail is vestigal from the first-generation streetcar systems of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, but were spared the fate of other streetcar systems by some grade separation from traffic and high ridership. A number of second-generation light rail systems were inaugurated in the 1980s starting with San Diego in 1981, with a few more built in the 1990s, and many more opened in lower density cities since the early 2000s.

History of streetcars and light rail in the United States[edit]

From the mid-19th century onwards, horse-drawn trams (or horsecars) were used in cities around the world. The St. Charles Avenue Line of New Orleans' streetcar system is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world, beginning operation as a horse-drawn system in 1835.[2]

From the late 1880s onwards, 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.[3]

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 or radial railways in North America.

Legacy systems[edit]

After World War II, six major cities in the United States (Boston, Newark, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco; Toronto in Canada marks the seventh city in North America with a continuing first-generation streetcar system) continued to operate large first-generation streetcar systems. Additionally, a seventh American city, Cleveland, maintained an interurban system (e.g. the Blue and Green Lines) equivalent to what is now "light rail", that opened before World War I, and which is still in operation to this day.

Location System Year
Lines Current
Boston MBTA Green Line,
High Speed Line
Light rail,
Heritage streetcar
While changes have been made to the original 1897 Tremont Street Subway in 1962 and 2004, and to some of the line routes over the years, and the Green Line's streetcar "A" Branch was closed in 1967, both systems have run intact with mostly uninterrupted service since their opening dates.
Cleveland Blue and Green Lines 1913 2 Light rail
Aside from line and station renovations in the early 1980s, and the Waterfront extension in 1996, these lines have operated essentially uninterrupted as light rail/interurbans from their opening.
Newark Newark Light Rail
(aka. Newark City Subway)
1935 2 Light rail Outside of an extension in 2002, and the switch to modern LRT vehicles in 2001, this line still operates essentially unchanged since the 1930s. A second, modern LRT line, called the Broad Street Extension, opened in 2006.
New Orleans New Orleans Streetcars 1835 4 Heritage streetcar The St. Charles Avenue Line of the New Orleans streetcar system is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world, beginning operation as a horse-drawn system in 1835; the line was electrified in 1893. The Canal Street Line dates to 1861, and was electrified in 1894; however, the line was closed in May 1964, and wasn't re-inaugurated with restored service until 2004. The Riverfront Line and Loyala Avenue Line are "new", and didn't open for service until 1988 and 2013, respectively.
Philadelphia SEPTA Routes:
Subway–Surface Trolley,
101 & 102 Trolley Lines,
Girard Avenue Line
1906 (both) 5,
Light rail / Streetcar,
Heritage streetcar
The Subway–Surface Trolley Lines began operation as a mixed subway (Market Street Tunnel)/streetcar system in 1906, and have continued operation essentially unchanged, including the use of single-car trolley vehicles, since that time – however, three of the original eight lines were replaced by buses in the 1950s.
Similarly, SEPTA Routes 101 & 102 (aka. the Media-Sharon Lines) began operation as rail lines in mostly exclusive rights-of-way (i.e. light rail) in 1906, and have also operated mostly unchanged since then.
Additionally, SEPTA Route 15 (aka. the Girard Avenue Line) dates to 1859 as a horse car line, and was electrified in 1895; it was replaced with buses relatively late, in 1992, but service on the line was resumed with heritage streetcars in 2005 – a portion of the line is closed for construction, but is approximately scheduled to reopen in 2016.
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Light Rail 1903 / 1984-87 2 Light rail Began as a first-generation streetcar network (operated by Pittsburgh Railways), but was converted to light rail. By the 1970s, most of the original streetcar routes (now operated by PAT) were converted to bus, and it was decided to renovate the remaining streetcar lines (all of which still used the 1904 Mt. Washington Transit Tunnel) as light rail. This included the construction of a new 1.1 miles (1.8 km) downtown subway tunnel section. The converted light rail system opened for service in 1984, with the downtown subway tunnel opened in 1985, and the rest of the system opened in 1987. The light rail system was further renovated in 2004. A subway extension to the North Shore opened in 2012.
San Francisco Muni Metro,
F Market & Wharves
1917 / 1980-82 7,
Light rail / Streetcar,
Heritage streetcar
Began as a first-generation streetcar network, but was partially converted to light rail. While most San Francisco's original streetcar lines had been converted to buses in the post-World War II years, five lines that had dedicated rights-of-way or used narrow tunnels (e.g. the Twin Peaks Tunnel and the Sunset Tunnel) could not be converted to buses. By the 1950s and 1960s, planning for the Market Street Subway was undertaken that would serve both the planned rapid transit BART system, and operate as a new subway tunnel for the five remaining streetcar lines. The partial switch to the Muni Metro light rail/subway service began in 1980, with full service commencing in 1982 – while operation in the Market Street Subway portion of Muni Metro can be considered true "light rail" service, the remaining surface portions of the five original Muni Metro lines still operate as streetcars. The surface Market Street streetcar line ceased service in 1982; however, it was continued as a seasonal summertime "festival" streetcar line – full surface streetcar service was restored to Market Street in 1995 as the heritage streetcar F Market & Wharves line. A sixth Muni Metro line, called T Third Street, operating as a true "light rail" line, was added to the system in 2007; a new subway extension of this line, called the Central Subway, is under construction, and is scheduled to open in 2019.

When several of these cities upgraded to new technology (e.g. San Francisco, Newark, and Pittsburgh), they called it "light rail" to differentiate it from their existing streetcar systems since some continued to operate portions of both the old and new systems.

Second-generation systems[edit]

In the United States, most of the original first-generation streetcar systems were decommissioned from the 1950s onward through approximately 1970 as the popularity of the automobile increased. Although a few traditional streetcar or trolley systems still exist to this day (e.g. New Orleans), 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 (Straßenbahn) networks and evolved them into model light rail systems (Stadtbahn). Except for Hamburg, all large and most medium-sized German cities maintain light rail (Stadtbahn) networks.[5]

The renaissance of light rail in the United States began in 1981, when the first truly second-generation light rail system was inaugurated in the United States, in San Diego, California; the San Diego system adopted the German Siemens-Duewag U2 as the light rail vehicle. (This was just three years after the first North American second-generation light rail system opened in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta in 1978, and which used the same German Siemens-Duewag U2 light rail vehicles as San Diego's system adopted.)

Historically, the rail gauge has had considerable variations, with a variety of gauges common in many early systems (e.g. the broad Pennsylvania trolley gauge used by New Orleans' streetcars and by the light rail systems in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). However, most modern second-generation light rail systems now operate on standard gauge rail.[5] 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 in second-generation light rail systems, and there is generally insufficient space for wheelchairs to move between the wheels in a narrow gauge layout.

List of light rail systems operating in the United States[edit]

There are approximately 35 light rail systems (including streetcar transit systems) operating in the United States. Seven of them are the 'legacy' systems described above; the other approximately 30 systems are "modern" light rail (or streetcar) systems, or are "heritage" systems, opened since 1980.

All of the operating light rail and streetcar systems in the United States are listed in the following table:

City/Area served State System Year
Stations Lines Year
Type of vehicle System
Baltimore  MD Baltimore Light Rail[note 1] 1992 33.0 mi (53.1 km)[6] 33[6] 3[6] 2006 ABB Traction Light rail
Boston  MA MBTA Green Line[note 2][note 1] 1897[7] 22.6 mi (36.4 km)[8] 66[8] 4[8]  ???? Kinki Sharyo Type 7, AnsaldoBreda Type 8 Light rail
Boston  MA Ashmont–Mattapan
High Speed Line
[note 1]
1929[7] 2.6 mi (4.2 km)[8] 8[8] 1[8] (2007)[note 3] PCC streetcars (1943–46) Heritage streetcar
Buffalo  NY Buffalo Metro Rail 1985 6.4 mi (10.3 km) 14[9] 1 2013 Tokyu Car Corporation Light rail
 NJ River LINE (NJ Transit)[10][11] 2004 28.3 mi (45.5 km)[10] 20[11] 1[11] n/a Stadler GTW Light rail
Charlotte  NC Lynx Rapid Transit Services 2004 9.6 mi (15.4 km)[12] 15[12] 1[12] n/a Siemens S70 Light rail
Cleveland  OH Blue and Green Lines[note 4] 1913[13] 15.3 mi (24.6 km)[14] 34[14] 2[14] 1996 Breda LRVs Light rail
Dallas  TX Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) 1996[15] 85 mi (137 km)[16] 61[16] 4 2012 Kinki Sharyo Light rail
Dallas  TX McKinney Avenue Transit Authority 1989 4.2 mi (6.8 km) 12 1 2002 [various] Heritage streetcar
Denver  CO RTD Light Rail 1994[17] 47 mi (76 km)[18] 46[18] 6[18] 2013 Siemens SD-100 Light rail
Houston  TX METRORail 2004[19] 12.8 mi (20.6 km)[20] 24[21] 1[20] 2013[20] Siemens S70 Light rail
Jersey City  NJ Hudson–Bergen Light Rail
(NJ Transit)[10][22][note 1]
2004 18.3 mi (29.5 km)[10] 24[22] 3[22] 2006 Kinki Sharyo Light rail
Kenosha  WI Kenosha Streetcar service[23] 2000[23] 2.0 mi (3.2 km)[23] 17[23] 1[23] n/a PCC A15-class (1951) Heritage streetcar
Little Rock  AR River Rail Streetcar[24] 2004[24] 3.4 mi (5.5 km)[24] 15[25] 1[25] 2007 Birney-type streetcars Heritage streetcar
Los Angeles  CA Metro Rail[note 5][note 1] 1990[26] 70.3 mi (113.1 km)[26] 65[26] 4[26] 2012[26] Siemens P2000, Nippon Sharyo P865 & P2020, AnsaldoBreda P2550 Light rail
Memphis  TN MATA Trolley[27] 1993[27] 6.3 mi (10.1 km) 25[28] 3[28] 2004[27] [various], plus replicas from Gomaco Trolley Company Heritage streetcar
Minneapolis  MN Blue Line 2004[29] 12.3 mi (19.8 km)[29] 19[29] 1[29] 2009 Bombardier Flexity Swift & Siemens S70 Light rail
Newark  NJ Newark Light Rail
(NJ Transit)[10][30][note 1]
1935 7.0 mi (11.3 km)[10] 17[30] 2[30] 2006 Kinki Sharyo Light rail
New Orleans  LA New Orleans Streetcars[31][32] 1835 22.3 mi (35.9 km)[31][32] streetcar-like surface stops 4[31] 2013[31] Perley Thomas cars
and replicas
Heritage streetcar
Norfolk  VA The Tide 2011[33] 7.4 mi (11.9 km)[34] 11[34] 1[34] n/a Siemens S70 Light rail
Oceanside-Escondido  CA SPRINTER 2008[35] 22 mi (35 km)[35] 15[35] 1[35] n/a Siemens VT642 Desiro DMUs Light rail
Philadelphia  PA SEPTA Routes 101 and 102[note 1] 1906 11.9 mi (19.2 km)[36] 52[37] 2[37]  ???? Kawasaki K cars Light rail
Philadelphia  PA SEPTA Subway–Surface
Trolley Lines
[note 1]
1906 19.8 mi (31.9 km)[36] 16[37] 5[37]  ???? Kawasaki K cars Premetro
Philadelphia  PA SEPTA Route 15
(Girard Avenue Trolley)[note 1]
2005 8.4 mi (13.5 km)[37]  ???? 1[37] n/a SEPTA PCC II Heritage streetcar
Phoenix  AZ Metro Light Rail 2008[38] 20 mi (32 km)[38] 28[38] 1[38] n/a Kinki Sharyo Light rail
Pittsburgh  PA The T:
Pittsburgh Light Rail
1984 26.2 mi (42.2 km)[39] 53[39] 2[39] 2012[39] Siemens SD-400,
CAF Class 4300
Light rail
Portland  OR MAX Light Rail 1986[40] 52.4 mi (84.3 km)[40] 87[41] 4[40] 2009[40] Bombardier Type 1;
Siemens Types 2 & 3;
Siemens S70 Type 4
Light rail
Portland  OR Portland Streetcar 2001[42] 7.35 mi (11.83 km)[42] 76[42] 2[42] 2012[42] Škoda 10 T,
Inekon Trams 12-Trio,
United Streetcar 100
Sacramento  CA Sacramento RT Light Rail 1987[43] 38.6 mi (62.1 km)[43] 50[43] 3[43] 2012[43] Siemens–Duewag U2,
CAF Class 200
Light rail
St. Louis  MO MetroLink 1993[44] 46 mi (74 km)[45] 37[45] 2[45] 2006 Siemens SD-400 and SD-460 Light rail
Salt Lake City  UT TRAX 1999 44.8 mi (72.1 km)[46] 50[47] 3[47] 2013 Siemens SD-100 and Siemens S70 Light rail
Salt Lake City  UT S Line 2013 2.0 mi (3.2 km) streetcar-like surface stops 1 n/a Siemens S70 Streetcar
San Diego  CA San Diego Trolley 1981[48] 53.5 mi (86.1 km)[48] 53[48] 3[48] 2005[48] Siemens SD-100 and Siemens S70 Light rail
San Diego  CA San Diego Trolley's Silver Line[49][50] 2011[50] 2.7 mi (4.3 km)[51] 9[50] 1[50] n/a PCC streetcar Heritage streetcar
San Francisco  CA Muni Metro[note 1] 1980[52] 35.7 mi (57.5 km)[52] 120[52][note 6] 6 (+1)[52] 2007 Breda LRVs (high floor) Premetro
San Francisco  CA F Market & Wharves line[53][54][note 1] 1995[54][55] 6.2 mi (10.0 km)[53] 32[53] 1[53] 2000 PCC streetcars & others Heritage streetcar
San Francisco  CA San Francisco
cable car system
[53][56][note 7]
1878[56] 5.2 mi (8.4 km) streetcar-like surface stops 3[53][56] 1952 Historic Cable cars Cable car
/Heritage streetcar
San Jose  CA Santa Clara VTA Light Rail 1987[57][58] 42.2 mi (67.9 km)[57] 62[57] 3[57] 2005[57] Kinki Sharyo LFLRV Light rail
San Pedro,
Los Angeles
 CA Port of LA
Waterfront Red Car Line[59]
2003[59] 1.5 mi (2.4 km)[59] 4[59] 1[59] n/a Pacific Electric Railway cars (1 original
& 2 replica)
Heritage streetcar
Seattle  WA Central Link (Sound Transit) 2009 15.6 mi (25.1 km)[60] 13[60] 1[60] n/a Kinkisharyo-Mitsui Light rail
Seattle  WA Seattle Streetcar:
South Lake Union (SLU) Line
2007[61] 1.3 mi (2.1 km)[62] 11[62] 1[62] n/a Inekon Trams 12-Trio Streetcar
Tacoma  WA Tacoma Link (Sound Transit) 2003 1.6 mi (2.6 km)[60] 6[60] 1[60] n/a Škoda 10 T Light rail
Tampa  FL TECO Line Streetcar System[63] 2002 2.7 mi (4.3 km)[63] 11[64] 1[64] 2010 Birney-type streetcars Heritage streetcar
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k This system also has a heavy rail rapid transit/metro portion (see List of metro systems), and connections to a commuter rail system; the figures and statistics presented here represent the light rail portion of the system only.
  2. ^ While the MBTA Green Line is light rail, the MBTA Blue, Orange, and Red lines of the MTBA system are rapid transit/subways and are not included here.
  3. ^ This was not a service "extension" per se, but a line renovation.
  4. ^ While the Blue and Green Lines are light rail, Cleveland's other transit line, the Red Line, is rapid transit.
  5. ^ This includes just the light rail lines (Blue, Expo, Gold and Green lines) of L.A. Metro Rail only. The Red and Purple lines of L.A. Metro are rapid transit/subway lines and are not included here.
  6. ^ Muni Metro: 33 stations (9 underground; 24 surface), with an additional 87 streetcar-like surface stops.
  7. ^ It is debatable whether this system truly qualifies as "light rail" (or as a true "transit" system either), but it is included in the table anyway for completeness.


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 30 miles (48 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 25.4 miles (40.9 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 6.6 miles (10.6 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 9.6-mile (15.4 km) 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. An additional 70.6 miles (113.6 km) of track are planned, though some of these could be constructed as Bus Rapid Transit or streetcar lines.


The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's Blue and Green Lines are descendents of the former Cleveland Interurban Railroad and Shaker Heights Rapid Transit trolley systems.


Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is the operator of the 45-mile (72 km) light rail system that runs in Dallas and three of its suburbs, along with a 34-mile (55 km) 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 20-mile (32 km) 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 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 being expanded, 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 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 93 miles (150 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 consists of a single double track line of 7.5 miles (12.1 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[edit]

Memorial Park Station in Pasadena on the Gold Line.

The Los Angeles County Metro Rail light rail system comprises Four lines: the Green, Gold, Blue, and the Expo lines. Collectively they have 200,000 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, the Gold Line entered service in 2003 and Expo Line began service in 2012.. The Metro has two extensions under construction for the Gold Line and the Expo Line and a new Crenshaw Line expected to open in 2015 connecting the lines to a LAX People Mover by the Airport. The Expo line will eventually extend to the Pacific coast at Santa Monica by 2018.

Minneapolis-St. Paul[edit]

The Twin Cities have one completed LRT Line, the METRO Blue Line. This line runs from downtown Minneapolis, next to the Hubert H. Humphrey 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. One line is under construction: the METRO Green Line, which will run from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul along University Avenue. One line is in planning: the Southwest Corridor (an extension of the Green Line), which will run from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.

The Northstar Line, a commuter rail route connecting downtown Minneapolis to the far northwestern suburbs, connects with the METRO Blue and Green lines at Target Field.

New Jersey[edit]

In New Jersey, New Jersey Transit provides light rail service along three lines in different geographical areas of the state:

Jersey City[edit]

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. Liberty Historic Railway is trying to jump start the connection to the NJ Transit light rail line to the Central Railroad of New Jersey Jersey City Ter­minal.[65]


Like San Francisco, Newark never fully abandoned its old streetcar system because 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-2000s, and the system was rebranded again as Newark Light Rail.

Trenton to Camden via Burlington City[edit]

River Line diesel light rail car in the Camden yard.

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.


Norfolk, Virginia began light rail service on August 19, 2011. The system is called "The Tide". A proposal to extend the line into Virginia Beach is under consideration.


Philadelphia has a light rail system operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which also operates other transit modes. The Norristown High-Speed Line (NHSL) is officially considered light rail, and serves 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby just outside of Philadelphia to the Norristown Transportation Center, located in Norristown, a far-off suburb of Philadelphia. Other systems consist of the Media-Sharon Hill Lines (MSH), which also begins at 69th Street Terminal, and the SEPTA Subway-Surface Trolley Lines which run between Philadelphia Center City and the nearby western suburbs. The NHSL, and MSH lines were once owned by the Philadelphia and Western Railroad and Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company. The Subway-Surface Trolley Lines share stations with SEPTA's Market-Frankford Line between 30th Street and 13th Street.


Phoenix is served by the METRO Light Rail system with a 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 was completed in December 2008, after 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,[66] 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 percent 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.


The Pittsburgh light rail lines are vestigial from the city's streetcar days which lasted well into the 1960s. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pittsburgh began replacing most of its remaining streetcar lines with buses, though streetcar lines that used the Mount Washington Transit Tunnel remained. In the late 1970s, it was decided to transition the remaining streetcar lines to light rail, and the new light rail iteration of Pittsburgh's system debuted on April 15, 1984. Thus, along with San Francisco, Philadelphia and Cleveland, Pittsburgh is one of the few American cities continuing to operate streetcars/light rail in an uninterrupted evolution from the streetcar era of the early 20th Century.

Pittsburgh's light rail network, commonly known as The T, is a 25-mile (40 km) 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 Siemens trams. 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[edit]

The Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) system serves the Portland metropolitan area. It has 52.4 miles (84.3 km) between four lines—the Blue, Red, Yellow and Green—and serves about 130,000 daily.[67] Like most modern light rail systems, MAX runs in reserved lanes along city streets on some sections, but has a completely separate right-of-way on other sections. The only mixed-traffic street running on the system is along the Portland Transit Mall, in downtown, and light rail trains only share lanes with buses there, not any private vehicles. The length of MAX trains is limited to two cars by the relatively small 200-foot (61 m) blocks in downtown Portland.

The MAX system was born out of funds left over from the canceled Mount Hood Freeway, with the Gresham/eastside line (now part of the Blue Line) opening in 1986. The Hillsboro/westside line (now also part of the Blue Line) opened in 1998, more than doubling the system's size, followed in 2001 by the Red Line connection to Portland International Airport and in 2004 by the Yellow Line, which connects downtown to the Portland Expo Center via Interstate Avenue. Route colors were adopted in 2000.[68] The Green Line is a 6.5-mile (10.5 km) extension that opened in September 2009 and connects a new transit center at Clackamas Town Center to the Gateway Transit Center, from where it follows previously existing MAX lines to downtown. Another major addition in 2009 was a new, second alignment through downtown, along the transit mall; it is used by both the Yellow and Green lines. Construction has begun on the planned Orange Line from the Green Line's downtown terminus at Portland State University to the southeast suburb of Milwaukie and will include the new Tilikum Crossing across the Willamette River.


RT operates a 37.42-mile (60.22 km) light rail system, with two lines the Blue and Gold, 45 stations, and 76 vehicles (Siemens AG Duewag U2A vehicles and more modern CAF Light Rail Vehicles (LRV)).[69] There are 76 vehicles in the entire fleet. Lines on the system operate from 4:30 am to 1:00 am 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.

Salt Lake City[edit]

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) runs the 35.5-mile (57.1 km) light rail system known as TRAX in the Salt Lake Valley. The system, which opened in 1999, serves approximately 60,600 people every day and contains 69 vehicles.[70] The system has three lines, coded by the colors blue, red, and green. The Blue Line begins in Draper and runs north to end in Downtown Salt Lake City at the Salt Lake City Intermodal Hub. The Red Line begins at the Daybreak Community in South Jordan, Utah and runs northeast to end at the University of Utah Medical Center. The Green Line begins in West Valley City, Utah and runs northeast to pass through Downtown Salt Lake City before heading west to end a the Salt Lake City International Airport. All three lines have several common stations in south central Salt Lake City.

San Diego[edit]

The San Diego Trolley comprises three daily lines, the Blue Line, the Orange Line and the Green Line, as well as a supplementary heritage streetcar downtown circulator (opened in 2011) known as the Silver Line that operates on select weekdays, weekends and holidays.[49][50] The San Diego Trolley system collectively operates on 53.5 miles (86.1 km) of route,[48] and achieved a weekday average of almost 90,000 unlinked passenger transits in the second quarter of 2013.[71]

During the time that San Diego's Metropolitan Transit Development Board (MTDB; now known as the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System) was drawing up options for a transit system, Hurricane Kathleen made landfall in September 1976, 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 13.5-mile (21.7 km) light rail segment on July 19, 1981,[48] while also reestablishing freight service on the same line (the Blue Line runs on shared-use track, with freight using the lines during late night). This marks San Diego as the first true second-generation light rail system inaugurated in the United States. The system has been expanded incrementally ever since, with the Orange Line opening in 1986[48] and the Green Line opening in 2005.[48] There are plans to build and operate an 11-mile (18 km) extension of the Blue Line to the University City community by 2018, connecting the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) campus and the University Towne Centre shopping center to the rest of the system.[72]

San Francisco[edit]

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 first-generation streetcar era. As a result, the present-day system has above ground portions running in mixed traffic, stopping at traffic lights as streetcars, while the underground section has its own right-of-way like a subway.

Though from the 1950s onwards the trend in other cities in the United States was to replace streetcars with bus service, six American cities including San Francisco operated heavily used streetcar lines that traveled through tunnels or otherwise had private right-of-ways, making their replacement by bus lines not a viable option. About this time, plans to build San Francisco's Market Street Subway, a combined subway to serve the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system and Muni Metro, were drawn up. The upgraded Muni Metro opened to offer limited service in February 1980, with full service made available in November 1982. Similar to Boston's Green Line, five separate lines above ground converge to the one subway section under Market Street, though in Boston the underground line was constructed first and surface routes later which was the opposite of developments in San Francisco.

Upon the opening of full Muni Metro in 1982, the Market Street streetcar line that ran on the surface was discontinued. However, as the streetcar trackage remained on Market Street, summertime San Francisco Historic Trolley Festivals began in 1983 with the use of vintage streetcars running on the surface Market Street line (at the time to make up for the loss of the San Francisco cable car system that had suspended operation due to maintenance issues). By 1987, planning had begun to revive Market Street's surface streetcar line, and the F Market & Wharves line officially opened as a heritage streetcar line in 1995, and has remained in operation as a fully functional, fare-generating transit line ever since. Thus, the F Market & Wharves line is a rare example of the modern restoration of a streetcar line after its decommissioning (Philadelphia's Girard Avenue Line being another example).

In response to the dot com boom, the Muni Metro 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 to the Caltrain Depot at 4th and King Streets was built. In 2007, the light rail T Third Street line began service on a new route going south from downtown, being the first new Muni Metro line in nearly 30 years. Construction is underway for a new underground three station light rail extension, known as the Central Subway, that is projected to open by 2019 and to serve 78,000 daily riders by 2030. Due to its underground routing, the cost for the 1.7-mile (2.7 km) Central Subway projected is estimated to be $1.5 billion.

San Jose[edit]

San Jose's light rail network, owned and maintained by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, consists of 42.2 miles (67.9 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.

St. Louis[edit]

St. Louis light rail consists of two lines (red and blue) running through the city center with 73.3 kilometers (45.5 mi) 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. There are two current lines in the system called the Red Line and Blue Line.


The Seattle–Tacoma Metropolitan area Sound Transit light rail system consists of two lines. The first is Tacoma Link and the second is Central Link and covers approximately 16 miles from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to downtown Seattle. New lines to the north, south, and east were approved by voters in November 2008.

Light rail systems in the United States under construction[edit]

The following table lists entirely new light rail or streetcar systems under heavy construction.[73] LRT systems that are in the planning stages (e.g. Los Angeles Streetcar), but not yet under construction, are not listed.

City/Area served State System Planned
System length Type of vehicle System type
Atlanta  GA Atlanta Streetcar 2014 2.7 mi (4.3 km)[74] Siemens S70 Streetcar
Charlotte  NC CityLYNX Gold Line 2015 1.5 mi (2.4 km)[74] Gomaco Streetcar
Cincinnati  OH Cincinnati Streetcar 2016 3.6 mi (5.8 km)[75] CAF Streetcar
Dallas  TX Dallas Oak Cliff Streetcar 2015 1.6 mi (2.6 km)[76] BEC Liberty Streetcar
Honolulu  HI Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project 2017 20 mi (32 km)[77] AnsaldoBreda Light rail
Tucson  AZ Sun Link 2014 3.9 mi (6.3 km)[78] United Streetcar Streetcar
Washington, D.C.  DC DC Streetcar
(H Street NE/Benning Road Line)
2014 2.4 mi (3.9 km)[79] United Streetcar Streetcar

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


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