What are light rail systems?



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    Light rail systems typically refer to electric rail cars such as trolleys. They’re faster than street-running tram systems and slower than heavy rail systems such as a train.


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    There are actually a lot of countries that currently have this type of service available to them. Light rail systems are a really great part of their public transport system. Many new systems are also currently under construction. Some of these locations include: South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, France, and Texas.

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    One recently opened up in Seattle next to where I live and it’s pretty awesome. It’s a cheap form of transportation that uses the same payment methods as the buses. It’s essentially a lighter version of a train over a short distance. i think of it as essentially a subway except above ground and stopping at bus stops instead of subway stations.

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    The American Public Transportation Association defines “light rail” as an electric railway with a “light volume” traffic capacity compared to heavy rail. Light rail may use shared or exclusive rights-of-way, high or low platform loading and multi-car trains or single trains. Also known as “street car,” “trolley car” and “tramway.”

    However, some diesel-powered transit are called light rail, like the O-train in Ottawa, Canada, and River Line in New Jersey. 

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    My understanding is that light rails operate on an honor system, i.e., they don’t have expensive turnstiles through which you need to pass in order to get on the train. They have less of a start up cost and fewer employees checking tickets; thus, they are “light”. I always thought that was the difference between light rail systems, e.g., the one in my hometown of Charlotte, NC, and traditional railway systems like the subways of NYC.

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