[Photo: Kees Pronk]
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Europe Leads the World
December 2006 Rev. January 2007
NOTE: Our original overview of European rail transit development has been improved with additional input from readers. In early January 2007, additional material on rail transit in Switzerland was added.
America's light rail transit (LRT) expansion has been spectacular – in addition to the upgrading and new installation of LRT in approximately two dozen cities across the USA, totally new LRT systems are under construction in Seattle, Charlotte, Phoenix, and Washington, DC; more new starts are on the drawing boards in Norfolk, Miami, Tucson, Albuquerque, and Kansas City; and major expansions are under development (or under construction) in Dallas, San Francisco, Denver, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, Portland, Little Rock, Houston, and Minneapolis. Not to speak of the numerous other cities seriously evaluating various forms of LRT for their own mobility needs.
Yet all of this positively pales in comparison with the vigorous expansion and upgrading of LRT throughout Europe – mainly in the form of tramway (streetcar) expansion. Much of what has been achieved was summarized in last year's world systems overview: Heading into 2006...it's a Rail Transit World! Europe is clearly leading the world in the improvement and expansion of its rail transit systems, now numbering many dozens, and LRT is clearly the focus of the preponderance of development investment – probably because of its relatively low cost, ease of expansion, accessibility to users, and broad and enthusiastic acceptance by the European general public.
Expansion & upgrading of LRT fleets
The aggressive pace of ongoing improvements was underscored this past June by a flurry of new tramcar (light rail/streetcar) orders, setting records for at least two major carbuilders, according to Tramways & Urban Transit (August 2006). Bombardier "sealed its place" as the world's largest tram and light railway carbuilder with large car orders from Frankfurt-am-Main (146), Porto (3), London's Docklands Light Railway (30), and Berlin (210).
The Czech carbuilder Skoda "seems to be well on the way" to inheriting the mantle of the famous but now defunct Soviet Bloc-era tramcar maker Tatra as the major tram supplier to Czech LRT systems, according to the T&UT article, which reported sizable tram orders for Prague/Praha (200 cars) and Brno (100); in addition, Skoda is supplying 9 cars for the new tramway in the Italian city of Cagliari (in Sardinia).
And in July T&UT reported a major order for two transit agencies operating tramways in the Swiss city of Basel – a total of 60 new Tango trams from the Swiss carbuilder Stadler.
New starts & system expansion projects
But it's actual infrastructure expansion that really illustrates the phenomenal growth of LRT in Europe – and below we provide at least a partial listing of the major events in European tramway/light rail expansion just within the last couple of years or so – including both important extensions to existing systems as well as totally new systems that have been launched. Not even included is the array of significantly upgraded and totally new LRT/tramway systems – especially in France and Spain – nor the multitude of "normal" and "routine" ongoing upgrades, such as new rolling stock (aside from the spectacular cases cited above), station rebuilds, and various improvements to alignments, trackage, power, signalling, and other infrastructure – all far too numerous for this brief overview. While this listing is not intended to be comprehensive (i.e., it doesn't include every single extension), it does attempt to tabulate some of the more important extensions and new starts which have occurred recently.
New starts under development
In addition to these already-operational projects, totally new LRT systems (or extensive major upgrades) are in various stages of construction or planning in a number of European countries, including:
Europe: Betting on LRT
And further into the future? "EU sees tram growth ahead" is the headline of a news article in Tramways & Urban Transit (March 2006), which summarizes the results of a recent European Commission report predicting
During the period 2000-2020, predicts the report, between 7,500 and 9,300 new railcars will be needed – an investment of €9 to €14 billion. That's for rolling stock alone!
The full report can be viewed at:
According to the T&UT summary, "The report urges all EU [European Union] states to fight pollution and congestion through the promotion of efficient rail mass transit."
For mobility in cities, perhaps somewhere off in the future of technology development there will be Star Trek-style molecular transporters "beaming us up" from one point to another. But for the foreseeable future, light rail transit – particularly in the form of the intrepid, attractive, and reliable tramway (streetcar) – seems destined to play an increasingly significant and central role providing human-scale mobility in urban areas and reinforcing their livability. European transit operators are clearly betting their investment funds on that prospect.
This report has relied upon and adapted material and information from several sources in its preparation, particularly the World News section of Tramways & Urban Transit and information from the LRTA website (http://www.lrta.org), as well as helpful participants on the Eurotrams and LRTA online discussion lists.
Light Rail Now! website
Updated 2006/12/24, 2007/01/10