Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 





In the past, many rail-based assets could not always be fully utilised because certain technical difficulties were preventing full integration. The transport world was somewhat astounded when German ingenuity developed the dual-voltage light rail vehicle and following up by taking a tram service to where it had never gone before. Public response to this was immediate and spectacular. Another integration achievement appears to be on the verge of impressing the world by proving a success of diesel and electric technology when working together and allowing a network to expand without a financial penalty.


New Jersey Transit is now well-known for its newly-opened Hudson-Bergen light rail line and also for its upgrade of the Newark City Subway. It is now in the "spotlight" for the confidence it has shown in going ahead with the 58km Camden-Trenton diesel light rail project over a lightly- used railway freight line. To resolve some of the problems regarding safety whilst sharing the line with freight trains, an agreement was negotiated to arrange different operating times - freight trains at night, after passenger services had ceased. A DBOM contract was then awarded to the winning consortium, Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, a group that includes ADtranz who will be supplying the low-floor light rail vehicles (1).


The Ottawa Regional Government's Transportation Committee (Ottawa Regional Council) has unanimously backed proposals to develop an initial light rail network using 8km of Canadian Pacific Railway alignment. This was considered as lower in cost than expanding the existing busway, especially as the proposed service will pass some potentially important passenger generators, Carlton University Campus for example (2). This initial line, the first diesel-powered light rail line in Canada, will need three vehicles (3).


Although new to both New Jersey and Ottawa, the practice of using diesel trams as an extension to an electric tram network is far from new. Sapporo in Japan received notice in the 60's by providing a diesel tram service over non-electrified tram tracks. The trams were converted to electric operation when passenger traffic built up and the line justified electrification.


A change of operator (12/August/1999) from DB to Dortmund Märkische Eisenbahn brought with it a change in operating practice. Marketed as Volmetalbahn, this 57km line from Dortmund to Lüdenscheid via Hagen was re-equipped with new low-floor Talent rolling stock (4). Although it is intended to operate the diesel cars in the Stadtbahn tunnels to give better access to the city centre (a first for Germany), a technical problem, low floor vehicles and fairly high platforms, will first need to be resolved.

The streets of Schwerin may soon be seeing diesel LRVs accessing a tram depot for maintenance purposes although the actual routes themselves are self- contained with just a short joint section with DB through the Hauptbahnhof (5).

An unusual arrangement, with the purpose of good passenger access as well as integration, was recently opened in Zwickau where a standard gauge diesel train and metre gauge tram actually share three-rail street tracks. Although the streets of this historic town are very narrow, it was decided that to keep the service on the surface would maintain a passenger-friendly operation (6).

A third rail is being added to Braunschweig's 1100mm tram tracks to permit a future integration with main line railway services. A decision has yet to be finally made on vehicle types, but as some lines are not electrified, a hybrid electro-diesel is anticipated (7).

A similar expansion of Stadtbahn services onto non-electrified tracks is also anticipated in Bonn with experiments now planned to insert a diesel component in a new centre section which would be added to a Stadtbahn "B" tram (8).

When Saarbrücken was developing its plans for dual voltage operation, not unlike the type of service already perfected in Karlsruhe, the timing unfortunately coincided with the recession and German unification, events that had already emptied the coffers of the Government. This in effect meant that the plan to introduce electric trams had to be put on hold. This was indeed a serious blow because the existing but badly co-ordinated heavy rail services were unattractive and certainly below the justification level for an expensive electrification scheme. At this point a low-floor diesel-powered LRV was designed by Duewag (9) as a stopgap. Fortunately, the necessary funding was eventually found which allowed the dual-voltage tram scheme to proceed, and with a public response that more than justified it.


A proposal is currently being considered to create a hybrid diesel/electric tram to operate on railway tracks around Manchester as well as on Metrolink itself. The service may be operated by First North Western from Wigan to Victoria via Atherton. Although this is the initial proposal, plans are being developed to extend it further eastward to Bury and possibly Rawtenstall (10).


The recent surge in light rail development in different parts of the world has probably played a major part in its obvious popularity with the travelling public. Although operators of some road based transit modes have fought hard to keep light rail expansion at bay, some now appear to be responding to that well known slogan : "If you can't beat ’em, join ’em".


  1. 20 low-floor railcars, a diesel-electric version of the GTW2/6. design, will be supplied by ADtranz for a 2002 opening - RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL - July 1999.
  2. "Trams could be running in the Canadian Capital before the Millennium if a fast track plan goes ahead" - RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL - March 1998.
  3. The three Talent BR643 DMUs built by Bombardier will be double- articulated vehicles, 157 feet long, seat 135 and stand 150 - MASS TRANSIT - 11-12/2000.
  4. A Bombardier Talent diesel - TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - September -1999 (page 336).
  5. Six - two car CORADIA LINT 41 diesel units, 41.8m long, 2.75m wide and a 600mm low-floor over about 50% of the vehicle - TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - June 2000.
  6. The tram stops are shared - TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - February 2000.
  7. A feasibility study has found that LRVs on DB tracks will be more cost effective than converting DB local services to Regional control - RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL - February 1999.
  8. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - October 2000.
  9. A Duewag-designed diesel-powered LRV to provide a low-cost service with a 530mm high low-floor over 70% of its length and a maximum speed of 100km/h - LIGHT RAIL REVIEW No 5 - November 1993.
  10. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - July and December 2000.
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