One resident's thoughts on transport and housing in Auckland

Trams and Light Rail

Light Rail trains are smaller than Heavy Rail (Auckland Metro) trains and are therefore supposedly cheaper to implement.

Cities around the world have used the term Light Rail to refer to quite an assortment of variations so it is important to understand exactly what options someone is talking about when they mention light rail.

Sharp Turns and Steep Hills Because they are shorter, Light trains can negotiate already built up areas where corners are too tight for full AM class tracks. And because they carry fewer passengers they can be built to climb steeper hills.

These abilities can save initial land purchase costs by using existing roads and working around existing buildings and other obstructions. Stations for Light Rail can be shorter and therefore cheaper. These features are generally true for all types of light rail.


Shared Access
One option that Light Rail provides is mixing trains with pedestrians or road traffic in a shared roadway. This can save the cost of building special purpose tunnels or elevated platforms. If this option is adopted then safety concerns place limits on the train speed. Safety issues also make this option incompatible with driverless automation.

Another option available with Light Rail is separating trains from other traffic by running trains on a dedicated rail trackway. Separating the track can be acheived by:

  • building the rail on a different piece of land from the road or walkway
  • building the rail higher or lower than the road or walkway. This is known as grade separation.
Dedicated trackways provide better safety and permit higher operating speeds than Shared Access. They also allow for trains to operate automatically with no driver. The cost involved in building tunnels, elevated tracks and automated signalling makes a Separated system more expensive to build . However, for Light Rail, these costs will still be less than for Heavy Rail as the tunnels and elevated platforms will be smaller. The

Light Rail is being used increasingly throughout the world:

Continent Systems in Use
Europe 288
Asia 44
North America 41
Africa 8
South America 6
Oceania 4

It seems inevitable that Light Rail will have to be incorporated as part of the Integrated Plan particularly in the central city and inner suburbs where existing constraints inhibit better solutions and in outer suburbs where smaller populations are not able to justify the larger budgets for Heavy Rail.


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