Tram and light rail transit systems

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A Peter Witt-Serie 28 tram in Milan

Throughout the world there are many tram systems; some dating from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. However a large number of the old systems were closed during the mid-20th century because of the rise in power of auto-makers and the hydrocarbon extraction industry. This was especially the case in North American. Other reasons are given the decline of British, French and other West European cities LRT systems; some argue that the systems declined because of perceived drawbacks as route inflexibility and maintenance expense. Some traditional tram systems did however survive and remain operating much as when first built over a century ago. In the past twenty years their numbers have been augmented by modern tramway or light rail systems in cities that had discarded this form of transport.


Main article: Trams in Europe

In many European cities much tramway infrastructure was lost in the mid-20th century, though not always on the same scale as in other parts of the world such as North America. Most of Eastern Europe retained tramway systems until recent years but some cities are now reconsidering their transport priorities. In contrast, some Western European cities are rehabilitating, upgrading, expanding and reconstructing their old tramway lines. Many Western European towns and cities are also building new tramway lines.

North America[edit]

In North America, especially the United States, trams are generally known as streetcars or trolleys; the term tram is more likely to be understood as a tourist trolley, an aerial tramway, or a people-mover.

Streetcar lines were largely torn up in the mid-20th century for a variety of financial, technological and social reasons. (See also the Great American Streetcar Scandal.) Exceptions include New Orleans, Newark, Seattle, Philadelphia (with a much smaller network than once had existed), Boston, and San Francisco. Pittsburgh kept most of its streetcar system serving the city and many suburbs until January 27, 1967, making it the longest-lasting large-network U.S. streetcar system.


Toronto has the largest streetcar system in the Americas. In Canada most streetcar systems disappeared after World War II, as they gave way to transit buses:

Toronto's system grew with the abandonment of streetcar operations in the United States and Canada, as the Toronto Transit Commission purchased cars from many of the former operators.

In the late 20th century, several cities installed light rail systems, in part along the same corridor as the old streetcars. Some have restored their old streetcars and run them as a heritage feature for tourists like the Vancouver Downtown Historic Railway.

Central America[edit]

Republic of Panama[edit]

Trams in Panama actually predate the founding of the country when tram service began in 1893 in Panama City of what was then still the country of Columbia. The last historic trams stopped operating in 1941.

On April 5, 2014 Panama Metro began operations of the first subway in Central America with a 12 station system.[1]

South America[edit]


The Tranvía del Este, in Buenos Aires, was an experimental service that ran from 2007 to 2012.
Buenos Aires historic "Subte" Line A cars.

Buenos Aires, once known as the City of Trams, had one of the most extensive networks in the world with over 857 km (535 mi) of track,[2] most of it dismantled during the 1960s in favor of bus transportation.

The Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company opened Latin America's first "underground tramway" system, (Subte Line A) in 1913. The original route was partially underground and on street level until 1926, for this reason these "pantograph" cars built by La Brugeoise in Belgium had both low doors at the ends for boarding from the street and high doors in the middle for loading from platforms in the tunnel, therefore, "Subte Line A" might also be considered one of the continent's first "light rail metro". These vintage carriages (sans end doors) remained operative until 2013.

Using the same surface non-revenue tracks of Line A in the "Caballito" neighborhood, the Asociación Amigos del Tranvía (Association of Tramway Friends)[3] operates every weekend and holidays a heritage streetcar service, with a nice collection of fully restored tram and metro cars which they operate from the Polvorín Workshop.

The Tren de la Costa (the coastal train), a light-rail service running on an old railway right-of-way from 1891–1961, was inaugurated in 1995 and serves tourist and local commuters, it runs from the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires to Tigre along the river for approximately 15 kilometres. The PreMetro E2, operates as a feeder at the end of Metro Line E on the western suburbs. Also in Buenos Aires, but in the central area, the Tranvía del Este (or Puerto Madero Tramway) was an experimental tramway that operated on a 2 km route in the Puerto Madero District from 2007 to 2012, using a single Alstom Citadis tram (two cars during the first year) on loan from Madrid. Planned extensions did not come to fruition, and low ridership led to the decision to discontinue service.

In the city of Mendoza, the 12.6-kilometre (7.8 mi) Metrotranvía Mendoza (Mendoza Light Rail) opened for regular service in October 2012, operating on relaid tracks in a former Ferrocarril General San Martín mainline right-of-way. It uses LRVs (light rail vehicles) acquired secondhand from San Diego, California.[4]


Double-decker trams continue to run in Hong Kong.
Main article: Trams in Asia

Tramway systems were well established in the Asian region at the start of the 20th century, but started a steady decline during the mid to late 30s. The 1960s marked the end of its dominance in public transportation with most major systems closed and the equipment and rails sold for scrap; however, some extensive original lines still remain in service in Hong Kong and Japan. In recent years there has been renewed interest in the tram with modern systems being built in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.

The first Japanese tram line was inaugurated in 1895 as the Kyoto Electric Railroad. The tram reached its zenith in 1932 when 82 rail companies operated 1,479 kilometers of track in 65 cities. The tram declined in popularity through the remaining years of the 30s, a trend that was accelerated by the damages of the War and continued through the Occupation and rebuilding years. During the 1960s many of the remaining operational tramways were shut down and dismantled in favor of auto, bus, and rapid rail service; however, when one compares the number of operational lines that survived this era to their American counterparts, they can be defined as quite extensive.

In India, Kolkata has the oldest operating electric tram system of Asia, running from 1902 with 36 routes.


A newer Citadis class Melbourne tram.
A Flexity 2 G:link tram under testing on the Gold Coast

In Australasia, trams are used extensively only in Melbourne, and to a lesser extent, Adelaide, all other major cities having largely dismantled their networks by the 1970s. Sydney reintroduced its tram in 1997 as a modern system (light rail in Sydney), while Ballarat, Bendigo, Christchurch and Perth reintroduced their trams as heritage systems. The Gold Coast opened a new light rail line called the G:link in 2014. The G:link is the first tram/ light rail line to operate in the state of Queensland since the closure of the Brisbane tram network in 1969.

A distinctive feature of many Australasian trams was the early use of a lowered central section between bogies (wheel-sets). This was intended to make passenger access easier, by reducing the number of steps required to reach the inside of the vehicle. It is believed that the design first originated in Christchurch in the first decade of the 20th century. Cars with this design feature were frequently referred to as "drop-centres".

The trams made by Boon & Co of Christchurch, New Zealand in 1906–07 for use in Christchurch may have been the first with this feature; they were referred to as drop-centres or Boon cars. Trams for Christchurch and Wellington built in the 1920s with an enclosed section at each end and an open-sided middle section were also known as Boon cars, but did not have the drop-centre.


Former Copenhagen articulated car in service on Alexandria's urban tramway
A tram from Heliopolis terminates at Cairo's Ramses Station


In Egypt, both Cairo and Alexandria have historic systems that still exist.

In Greater Cairo, the once-extensive Cairo urban system is now all but defunct. The express tramway system to and within the suburb of Masr el-Djedida, or Heliopolis, is still in operation. It is an example of a surviving interurban electric railway, the ancestor of today's Light Rail. Additionally, the small 1970s system in the satellite town of Helwan, situated 25 km to the south, is operational. Some of Cario's cars are ex-Toronto Transit Commission President's Conference Car Steamliners.

In Alexandria, both the urban system and the express routes to eastern suburbs are still in operation. The urban system operates yellow cars, including some acquired second-hand from Copenhagen, on largely street track. The express tramway (Ramleh routes) operates 3-car trains of blue cars, including some double-deck cars, on largely reserved track. There are also some dual-system routes.


In Ethiopia, construction began on a new Addis Ababa Light Rail based in the capital Addis Ababa.[5] It is being contracted by the China Railway Group Limited. The Ethiopian Railway Corporation began construction of the 34.25-kilometre (21.3 mi) double track electrified light rail transit project in December 2011 after securing funds from the Export-Import Bank of China.[6] Initially, the light rail system will have two lines. The project is expected to take three years to complete, which corresponds with an opening date for the system circa 2015.[5]


In Tunisia, Tunis had traditional trams up to about 1960. A new Light Rail line began operation in 1985 and has since been followed by other systems (see Métro léger de Tunis).

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, public transport commenced in Cape Town in May 1801, when a weekly coach service from Cape Town to Simon's Town was announced. the Cape's first horse-drawn omnibus was introduced, based on George Shilbeer's model. In September 1862, the Cape Town and Green Point Tramway Company was formed, and began operations on April 1, 1863. Both single- and double-deck horse-drawn trams were used. Cape Town's electric tram system initially had ten cars, built in Philadelphia, USA. On August 6, 1896 Lady Sivewright, wife of Sir James Sivewright, opened the new system. At Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897, Cape Town and suburbs had thirty-two electric trams running on about twenty-three miles of track. The new power station was proving inadequate and had to be enlarged.

Tram services also existed in Johannesburg (where the suburban railway to Boksburg, opened in 1890, was also called the Rand Tram), Pretoria, and Durban, but were all replaced by petrol, diesel and trolley bus systems by the early 1960s.

World largest tram systems[edit]

City tram system System
Stops Lines or
Ridership Fleet Info year
Netherlands Amsterdam 81 16 236 2007[7]
Germany Berlin 190 ~800 22 174.7 mil 2013[8][9]
Belgium Brussels 139 19 123 mil 349 2011[10]
Romania Bucharest 139 598 24 322 mil 483 2013[11]
Hungary Budapest 153 671 33 333 mil 911 2008[12]
Australia Melbourne 250 1763 24 182.7 mil 500 2012[13]
Italy Milan 160 17 527 2009[14]
Russia Moscow 208[Note 1] 44 214.5 mil 967 2015[15]
Czech Republic Prague 143 596 31 357 mil 920 2014[16]
Russia Saint Petersburg 205.5 41 ~425 mil 781 2011
Bulgaria Sofia 154[Note 2] 165 15 176 2006[17][18]
Canada Toronto 82 11 247 2012[19]
Austria Vienna 177 1071 29 293.6 mil 525 2013[20]
Poland Warsaw 120 24 328 mil 763 2012[21]
Switzerland   Zürich 73 14 206 mil 258 2013[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This reference ("Евгений Михайлов: Обособление трамвайных путей положительно сказывается на регулярности движения наземного городского транспорта" [Yevgeny Mikhailov: The separation of tramways' positive impact on the reliability of urban transport traffic] (in Russian). Мосгортранс [Mosgortrans]. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 2015-03-06. ) quotes the 2014 single track length of Moscow's tram network to be 416 kilometres (258 mi) – for the purposes of this table, the double track system length of Moscow's tram network is assumed to be roughly half that figure, or approximately 208 kilometres (129 mi).
  2. ^ This reference ("Urban transport - History of Sofia Trams". Sofia Urban Mobility Center. 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-01. ) quotes the 2006 single track length of Sofia's tram network to be 308 kilometres (191 mi) – for the purposes of this table, the double track system length of Sofia's tram network is assumed to be roughly half that figure, or approximately 154 kilometres (96 mi).


  1. ^ Etoniru, Nneka; Leme, Luisa; Glickhouse, Rachel (21 April 2014). "On the Rails in Panama City: Central America’s First Metro Unveiled". Americas Society - Council of the Americas. 
  2. ^ Apuntes sobre la Historia Del Tranvía en Buenos Aires(Spanish) Information and photographs – accessed October 25, 2010
  3. ^ Association of Tramway Friends – accessed December 10, 2008
  4. ^ "Mendoza light rail service begins" (December 2012). Tramways & Urban Transit, p. 451. UK: LRTA Publishing.
  5. ^ a b "Addis Light Rail Progress". Railways Africa. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  6. ^ "Corporation discloses/Addis light rail project detail". The Ethiopian Herald. 10 March 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2014-10-25. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Lines & Networks - Means of transport and lines - Tram - Trams". BVG. Archived from the original on 2014-07-27. Retrieved 2014-04-30. 
  9. ^ "Zahlenspiegel 2014" [Statistics 2014] (pdf) (in German). Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG). 31 December 2013. p. 2. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Facts & figures". Yarra Trams. 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-01. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "О предприятии" [About the company] (in Russian). Мосгортранс [Mosgortrans]. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 
  16. ^ Ročenka dopravy Praha 2014
  17. ^ "Urban transport - History of Sofia Trams". Sofia Urban Mobility Center. 2013. Retrieved 2015-03-01. 
  18. ^ "Route network of tram lines of Sofia's public transportation" (PDF). Sofia Urban Mobility Center. 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-01. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Unternehmen / Zahlen, Daten, Fakten / 2013" [Company Profile / Figures, Data, Facts / 2013] (pdf) (in German). Wiener Linien. 2013. p. 4. Retrieved 2015-02-28. 
  21. ^
  22. ^

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