What is an LRT?

Rendering.jpgThat’s the question Calvin Henry-Cotnam attempts to answer as he sets up this page on the world wide web. As Torontonians consider the TTC’s proposed Transit City network, Calvin notes that they have very little precident to consider close to home. Transit City is not a subway network, and it’s not a streetcar. In bridging the gap between the two transit options, Torontonians only have the Scarborough RT and the Spadina, Queens Quay and St. Clair streetcars to consider, but these don’t describe what’s possible, or appropriate for the new system.

So, Calvin pulls examples from across North America. Profiles of the networks operating in Calgary, Minneapolis and St. Louis are currently available, and more will follow, to help Torontonians imagine what is possible.


  1. the website is a bit too technical for the average joe. People want to know things like “is it as fast as a subway or as fast as a bus” not the dimensions of the vehicle.

  2. Search Youtube for LRT. The Minneapolis one is a great example.

  3. Hi Sean,

    Isn’t the PeopleMover an ICTS system, like the RT or Vancouver’s Skytrain, which must run in a separate right-of-way and is thus not light-rail?

    (Best of luck with the show this Friday by the way!)

  4. The People Mover is actually an ICTS system like the Scarborough RT. It is elevated and it is not LRT.

  5. How about two of North America’s First LRTs:

    Calgary’s C-Train (South Line 1982, NE Line 1986, NW Line 1987):

    Calgary C-Train currently run almost entirely at-grade. The city is building two extension, one at Crowfoot in the NW (opening 2008) and one in the NE to McKnight-Westwinds (opening any day now). The city is also moving rush hour service to one train every 2-3 minutes.

    Afterwards the city will begin building the West Bound LRT line and start planning the SE LRT line. The city will also be rebuilding the down section, by introducing shallow tunnels to the network.

    Example 1, at Southland Station:

    Example 2, Whitehorn Station (until September, the NE termenus):

    (note the crossing arms and flashing lights).

    Example 3, Downtown Calgary:


    This one is mapped against the city:

    Future Map:

    Suburbs: http://members.shaw.ca/lrtincalgary/CTMapFuture.jpg


    Edmonton’s LRT (opened 1978, first modern LRT network in North America):

    Edmonton’s LRT runs underground in Downtown and surface in the suburbs. The city is currently extending the system to the edges of the Greater Edmonton Region.

    Here is a video of guy who rode the entire system and taped it. The basic track operation is quite similar in both Calgary and Edmonton:



  6. Does this LRT car seen in the picture run on an overhead wire, or something else?

  7. Does this LRT car seen in the picture run on an overhead wire, or something else?
    Comment by Rob Italiano — April 30, 2007 @ 11:55 pm

    The pantograph and overhead wire seems to be mysteriously missing – it’s the only piece needed to be added.

    And we’ll finally get rid of the broomsticks on the back of the streetcars!

  8. There is really no other city in North America to which Toronto can be compared. In my streetcar-riding experience (1953-2007 and counting) the most successful conversion of traditional electric streetcar to ‘lrt’ is San Francisco. Its new Third Street T-line is an esthetic success in integrating LRT technology into a 4 to 5 lane existing artery. Operationnaly, budget restrictions will be overcome with time. Portland, Oregon is a pioneer in both modern streetcar and LRT, and its example has enlightened the public to the subtle differences between the two. European cities expanding existing systems, or restoring former tram systems, have much to teach us. The new lines in Toronto must be inspired by the most appropriate existing prototypes, adapted sensitively to local conditions. A new streetcar or LRT line should look as if it has always been there, from the opening day on. And that is being done in many cities. Unfortunately, not in the examples mentioned so far. St. Louis, Calgary and Edmonton are not appropriate to the needs of Toronto. High platforms and tunnels waste money. At this time, France has the most daring and innovative new tram systems (see Grenoble, Montpelier, Bordeaux, Nantes, Orléans, Strasbourg, Paris, etc.) Some UK cities (Croydon, Nottingham and Sheffield), and Dublin, Ireland, should also be noted.
    Cheers, Paul.

  9. Looking overseas, Tel Aviv is a modern metropolis on Israel’s Mediterranean coast with an antiquated transit system and severely congested roads. After years of failed promises, construction is about to commence on an ambitious LRT network connecting the city with its suburbs. The system would eventually have three lines, with downtown sections located in underground tunnels. There is conceptual video and more on the project’s website: http://www.nta.co.il/site/en/homepage.asp

  10. I’m not getting this. I don’t see why we would need to add an additional mode of transportation when the ones we have work so well they they’re in dire need of expansion.

    What could an LRT give us that we couldn’t get from an expanded subway (for crosstown and other longer trips) and streetcar (for more local service) network?

  11. Paul Bowman wrote, “There is really no other city in North America to which Toronto can be compared.”

    Yes and no. Paul goes on to mention that San Francisco is the best example of a conversion from streetcar to LRT, which probably puts it closest to Toronto.

    Toronto is probably the best example of a city that kept streetcars in operation when most other North American cities did away with theirs. I have always felt proud of this, but in the past few years I have come to the realization that keeping streetcars may have created a mental block in the minds of the public that makes it difficult to understand just what LRT can do for us.

    While we will likely see the next generation of vehicle to replace our streetcars to be the same vehicle to be used for any LRT development that takes place, with few exceptions, current streetcar routes will not be converted to LRT. The new LRT routes are to be something NEW. So to compare Toronto with other cities is not only possible, but important. We can learn much from other cities, including Edmonton, Calgary, and St. Louis. Despite their use of high-level boarding (due to the age of these systems, low-floor technology was not available when these systems were first built), we can learn a lot by looking at how they are implemented and operated.

    We have seen some half-assed attempts to try and make the leap to LRT. Harbourfront, and then Spadina were supposed to be that with dedicated lanes and fancy signals, but despite spending the money on transit priority signaling hardware, it has NEVER been turned on.

    In another post above Sue wrote, “I don’t see why we would need to add an additional mode of transportation when the ones we have work so well they they’re in dire need of expansion.” The basic reason for needing another mode is that there is a wide gap between the modes we have now: surface routes only provide so much capacity and operate in mixed traffic, and the next step up is subways which have way more capacity than would be needed in most every part of town.

    It doesn’t make much sense to spend a whole lot of cash to build a high capacity subway line that requires us to funnel commuters to this single line to take them downtown (especially when not everyone is heading that way). Instead, and for less money, we can build parallel LRT routes that are spread out and cover a wider area. This results in more people getting quicker access to their destinations, people heading for a common destination being spread over wider infrastructure, and the existence of BACKUP alternatives should a problem occur somewhere on one line – not that we ever might need that! 😉

    We have to get out of this concept of extending this here and that there, which is a band-aid way of looking at transit. We need to look at the whole city and the need for a network of services that work together.

  12. I have to admit I am somewhat confused by what an LRT is.

    Since to the best of my knowledge the next generation of streetcars will be longer low floor vehicles I don’t really see how an LRT will be different from a streetcar on a designated right of way with more distance between stops, and real transit priority signals. But the buzz is that LRT is not the same as streetcars.

    And the systems shown on Calvin Henry’s website are most defiantly not streetcars. The most distinguishing feature I noticed is the stations, streetcars don’t have stations they have stops, which at best is a median in the middle of the street.

    But is that what we’d see in Toronto? I am finding it hard to imagine platforms like the ones in Minneapolis in Toronto. I still keep imaging stops like Spadina or the Queensway, maybe wider with automatic ticket machines like Viva’s but still unmistakably medians.

  13. Streetcars and LRT are one and the same. An LRT stop in downtown Portland, OR, or in downtown Croydon, UK, can be as simple as a slightly raised portion of sidewalk to match the floor level of a low-floor car. Or as pretentious as as you can imagine, as in the median of a freeway in Calgary or Los Angeles. The technology is totally adaptable, and can fit into any environment. Usually, less is better. And less expensive.
    Cheers, Paul.

  14. Thanks, for the explanation, Calvin.

    I guess I would be concerned about transferring between modes then. It’s already a challenge to make a trip that involves one or more bus connections, or a bus and a streetcar, or a bus, a streetcar and a subway. Adding an LRT to the mix would increase access to transit, but wouldn’t it also increase time-wasting transfers?

    Also, it’s my understanding that a true LRT (unlike the Scarborough RT) would operate on a fixed time schedule like a train, not an “every X minutes” basis like the subway.

  15. I only see Toronto getting an LRT system once Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Regina, Winnipeg, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, etc, etc get to build theirs first. God forbid the Federal and Provincial government to spend the taxes they collect in the GTA to better its transit system… We will have to pay the other ones first (maybe excluding Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta can afford it themselves).

    An LRT is very nice and good, but we still have the King/Queen corridor that is hyper congested and the only solution for that is a Subway line or at least building a downtown underground LRT system running underneath Queen and King. But we will see Iqaluit building its first subway line before anything is done on King Street.

    I wouldn’t be so upset if Toronto were a poor city and we couldn’t afford to make this things happen. What bothers me is that this is among the wealthiest regions in the world, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at our pathetic transit system and our degrading infrastructure…

  16. Also, it’s my understanding that a true LRT (unlike the Scarborough RT) would operate on a fixed time schedule like a train, not an “every X minutes” basis like the subway.

    Subways operate on fixed time schedules just like a train, and LRTs and streetcars are no different, except that subways and trains are isolated from obstacles which can thwart schedules, and LRTs are more like subways than buses or streetcars in mixed traffic.

    It is entirely possible that an LRT would operate on an “every X minutes” basis just like the subway. Already, the Spadina streetcar does this — at times achieving frequencies higher than the subways it connects to.

  17. “But we will see Iqaluit building its first subway line before anything is done on King Street.”

    Ha ha, Iqualuit is built on permafrost, so they can’t even install water and sewage mains, let alone a subway. Still, I hear you about the absolute lack of any rapid transit on the radar south of Bloor.

  18. Toronto’s LRT will never work as well as these other ones. Why? simple – red lights. Take Spadina for example, stand on top of any hill on the street and you can see with your eyes, 10-15 CLRV’s stuck behind red lights. The lights are so close to eachother, and out of sync, that they will slow any “rapid” transit system to a crawl. unless something is done about these red lights, like a by-pass of smaller streets (which would get protests from the residents who can now only turn right) or putting the lights in better sync (which would still ruin schedules for traffic in the other direction) we will never get “rapid” transit along our streets.

    King street is the 3rd busiest route in the GTA, after the 2 main TTC subways, and before the largest GO transit line. King should have it’s own subway.

  19. A solution for the red lights would be to build tunnels for the LRT’s under main intersections. Of course that will never happen for two reasons: too expensive and it will disrupt traffic for the time it is built. So I guess Nick is right, an LRT in Toronto will not work until this city sees transit has a higher priority over cars and the Federal and Provincial governments stop milking us to the bone so that we can afford it. LRT systems around the world have ground level and underground sections on the same line (what you see on the south part of Bay Street to Queens Quay), we can’t even get a subway to be built along King, so forget about making the underground sections for an LRT line…

  20. The examples that he posted are not what Toronto is going to build if they get the money.

    Those examples are the pinnacle of what LRT can achieve: Grade Seperated ROW’s, level boarding(with the exception of Minneapolis), high speed, and to some degree, high frequency.

    Toronto’s system is not going to be as elaborate, but I feel that it will be just as fast, and frequent, if the city allow signal priority for the LRV’s, and have the ROW’s fully barricaded from pedestrians.
    He needs to find some examples from Europe. The closest example in America I can think of is from Boston. They have LRV’s on ROW’s there. Hudson Bergen’s system is a pretty close example too.

  21. In response to Sue’s concern about having to transfer between modes, I don’t see an LRT network as adding to that burden. It will either be the same, or be an improvement. In most every case, the LRT plan is replacing current heavy bus routes, so the mode change remains the same. I would prefer to have to switch to some mode that runs on a more reliable schedule than busses (or any mixed-traffic mode). In a few cases, the LRT plan provides a route that eliminates a change of routes (travelling from Eglinton east to Eglinton west comes to mind).

    Nick J Boragina wrote, “Toronto’s LRT will never work as well as these other ones. Why? simple – red lights.” He then goes on to use Spadina as an example.

    The problem with this example is that, despite paying for transit-priority signalling hardware, it has NEVER been turned on! The city’s roads department have been afraid to turn this on for fear that the picture of streetcars being stuck at lights would change to cars being stuck. It is the lack of using the transit-priority signalling that makes the streetcar service unreliable.

    In visiting Minneapolis, the one thing I found rather impressive was the stretch of the line just south of the airport where it runs in a median much like Spadina. Granted this was in the evening just after rush hour, but the traffic lights were so well timed to the movement of the LRT that the one I was on moved at a constant speed without having to adjust speed, let alone stop for a traffic light.

    The one thing that sticks in my mind that may be a sore point in the minds of some in this city is that of the railway-style crossing. If you think about where there are level railway crossings in Toronto, what is the busiest one? I’m guessing one that has about 50 trains per day – that is close to one every 30 minutes. I wonder how people in this city will accept a crossing where the lights and gates activate ever 3-6 minutes during rush hours and maybe about every 10-15 minutes at other times. It is not like a railway crossing where a train that is 150 cars long will move by at 20 km/h, but it is still a radical difference from what we are used to in this city.

  22. Put the goddamned LRT on the goddamned rail ROWs running in and out of Union Station to the northeast and northwest and you won’t have to worry about traffic lights, traffic jams, street-sharing, etc. and it will work BETTER than those LRTs in other North American cities. But still run one along (and under) Eglinton as in the plan as well.

  23. Carlos Wrote:

    I only see Toronto getting an LRT system once Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Halifax, Regina, Winnipeg, Whitehorse, Yellowknife, etc, etc get to build theirs first. God forbid the Federal and Provincial government to spend the taxes they collect in the GTA to better its transit system… We will have to pay the other ones first (maybe excluding Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta can afford it themselves).

    Calgary and Edmonton’s can’t afford LRT ourselves. We have a hyper inflated economy, which makes everything even more expensive. The so called “money” is in Fort McMurry, not in Calgary. Calgary has about as much money as Toronto.

    Calgary’s Mayor, Dave Bronconnier, has been having a fit about the fact that the province promised the city billion dollars for two new LRT lines. On to the West Side of Calgary and one to the SE side of Calgary. The money also was supposed to include some extension for Edmonton.

    But the promise has fallen through, instead Fort McMurry gets a new Expressway Through the city. (funny, Calgary didn’t get money roads either).

    Both Edmonton’s Mayor, and Calgary’s Mayor were not impressed by the budget. But Dave Bronconnier is more or less amping up the rhetoric against the Tories. He Grit after all and his mayorship has meant more seats for us in Calgary (well atleast provincially).

    As for the Harper Tories. We won’t get money unless we stop giving the Tories a free ride.

    I just though I’d share this with someone on this forum. I often find it amusing that some in Toronto argue that a pro-transit strategy does not work. It chases bussiness out of the city.

    In Calgary, when the province cancels transit extensions this is the response:

    “The mayor was right on the mark,” said Bruce Graham, president of Calgary Economic Development. “I’ve got to think the business community is going to be absolutely behind what the mayor is saying today.”

    If business are worried about canceling Transit Extensions, doesn’t that mean they are necessary to help business’.

  24. Wow, late to the party. Anyways, I’ve been doing some YouTubing over the past few months in regards to LRT videos, and I must say I am not impressed. Even the French LRT videos posted earlier show a generally slow moving vehicle that will not encourage people to get out of their cars. If they could elevate it or have it run its own private corridor so it wouldn’t be running at grade, then it would be awesome. But considering the design and NIMBYism in this city, that is very unlikely.

    I think the best solution for at grade would be bus rapid transit (BRT). I’m not talking about the developing thing that is going on in York Region right now (or worse, the current TTC Rocket ‘BRT’ routes), but true BRT that runs in dedicated ROWs and corridors, rapid boarding, and traffic light priorities. From what I’ve witnessed on YouTube, this seems like a much faster (and cheaper) solution to LRT.

    Of course, a single BRT bus can only hold about half of what a LRT train can, but if you run extra buses, it will make up for the capacity and decrease wait times for passengers as well.

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