Light Rail


A Sustainable Solution to an Urban Lifestyle

At the start of the 21st Century, more than 400 light rail systems were in operation and 100 systems were under construction around the world.[i] In the last decade, Australia has experienced a light rail renaissance.

Unlike street tramways, which operate within mixed traffic and are susceptible to delay, light rail runs on dedicated rights-of-way, segregated from other modes of transport with traffic signal priority at road intersections. As a result, light rail is more reliable than road-based public transport, travelling at faster, and more consistent speeds than surrounding traffic, with significantly higher capacity per lane of road space.

Light rail provides improved mobility in urban centres, particularly when well integrated with other forms of public transport. It acts as a high-capacity, high-speed ‘spine’ that, when integrated with trunk and feeder bus services and local, regional and national airports and railway stations, provides citizens with a ‘mobility package’ that is a serious alternative to the car. It also provides many households with an option for a ‘low car/no car’ lifestyle with a range of social, economic and environmental benefits.

Due to its low noise and emissions, light rail commonly viewed as improving the urban environment. Improvements to the urban environment can trigger urban regeneration as individuals and organisations relocate around light rail corridors and stations.  

Light rail also encourages more active, healthier lifestyles by increasing walking and cycling to light rail stops. It improves accessibility to the city and its amenities for persons of all abilities, through the use of ‘step-free’ low-floor vehicles and level access platforms at stations.  

Light Rail is a mode of transport that forms part of an integrated transport system, providing a broad range of benefits to cities, including:

  • Certainty: The fixed routes of light rail lines provide certainty for residential, retail and commercial property investment. This is one vital factor leading to considerable intensification of property development and uplift in property values around light rail lines and at stations.
  • Capacity: Light rail can move between 4,000 and 20,000 people per hour in one direction in space equivalent to one lane of road traffic. The same space dedicated to an arterial road lane could move only 800 cars (or less than 1,000 people) per hour, while the same space dedicated to buses would move between 2,000 and 8,000 people per hour.
  • Accessibility for all: Modern, low-floor light rail vehicles and level-access stops ensure the service is available to people of all abilities, including the elderly, people with disabilities, tourists with luggage and people with prams.
  • Urban renewal: Light rail is highly valued for its ability to regenerate urban areas. As a result, local governments usually align light rail projects with complementary urban planning policies and precinct planning to maximise urban revitalisation along light rail corridors and around light rail stations.
  • Residential and commercial property value uplift: Internationally, light rail is able to generate long-term average increases of up to 20 per cent in nearby property values.[iii] In some US cities with light rail systems, short-term property uplift is higher still: with increases in value reported from 18 per cent (Jersey City), 0 per cent (Dallas),32 per cent (St Louis), up to 120 per cent (San Jose)[vii] for retail, residential and commercial properties located near light rail stations. This is indicative of the preferences of individuals and firms to locate near light rail stations and along corridors, along with the strength of the urban economy and property markets, higher density planning policies and other factors that drive demand for land.

[i]  The European Rail Research Advisory Council and International Association of Public Transport (UITP). (2009). Metro, light rail and tram systems in Europe.

[ii] Vuchic, V (2007), Urban Transit: Systems and Technology, Wiley.

[iv] Kim, K & M L Lahr (2013) The impact of Hudson-Bergen Light Rail on residential property appreciation, Papers in Regional Science.

[v]  Weinstein, B. et al. “The Initial Economic Impacts of the DART LRT System,” Center for Economic Development and Research, University of North Texas, 1999

[vi]  Garrett, T. “Light Rail Transit in America”: Policy Issues and Prospected for Economic Development,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2004

[vii]  Cervero, R. et al. “Transit’s Value Added: Effects of Light Commercial Rail Services on Commercial Land Values,” Presented at TRB Annual Meeting, 2002.


Fast Facts

  • 1 tram can move 10,000 people in a single lane of traffic that would otherwise move 800 cars or 140 buses.
  • Melbourne has the largest light rail network in the world with 250km of track.