Light Rail People Mover Service started in Gmunden, Gmunden with people mover service thru the town, Tiny Gmunden got their light rail network finally
On the day when Gmunden got their new light rail line in 2018

You might not know. But there is a bigger difference between a Streetcar train and a Light Rail train. They can have many similarities, but we have found 10 golden streetcar vs light rail differences that are important to know. These transit options are more than meets the eye.

The 5 Streetcar VS Light Rail Differences is often a language issue. But it is also telling about where these trains go and what sort of environment they are going in. In the Eastern part of Europe, they see a streetcar as a tram. In the western part of Europe, light rail expression is more and more used. In countries such as Norway, this type of tram is called “bybane” while in Danish they call it “letbane”. 

In this article, I want to reveal the differences between a streetcar train (trams in Europe) and a Light Rail train. Because those differences are bigger than you would think they are. So, let’s dive into the topic!

#1 – The length in size differences between Streetcar and Light Rail trains

In most of the countries around the world. The streetcars trains are usually much shorter than the light rail trains. But this isn’t always the chase.

The streetcar train lengths that you can find in Budapest is on the world record list. The longest ones are 56-meters-long.

Most of the streetcar trains are very short such as the ones in almost every city in Japan. Other known cities such as Gothenburg in Sweden, Lisbon in Portugal, Oslo in Norway and the ancient tram lines just outside of Berlin are great examples of streetcar cities that have kept streetcars that are old and short.

With the correct track layout. You can have long low floored streetcar or light rail trains. But the best solution is to build some of the stretches in the densest areas of the city underground. But if your city can have them in the open air at the street level. Then it is also a good way for people to respect them before

Old trams are too iconic for many cities to give them up

There are many cities in the world that just love to keep their old streetcars instead of changing them for new ones. Also many have tried to close down the trams during the 1970s and 1980s. Many citizens have protested against the closure of the streetcar lines and in many cases, the city governments have listened. Some of them removed the streetcars a long time ago while some have kept a few lines during the times of the cars.

Often we have witnessed that these streetcars that return also get renewed with light rail trams. Others want to show that trams can run for a very long time. Lisbon in Portugal is a good example. This capital of Portugal mostly known for its tiny and very old streetcars that are climbing the hills in the capital every day. They aren’t very compatible with people with strollers or those that need to need a wheelchair for getting around but they are an iconic thing that Lisbon is known for today. A Lisbon without these charming climbing type of streetcar trams wouldn’t be the same at all.

The Longer The Better is Important to Know

Augsburg Longest Tram Seen By Distrita
Augsburg in Germany got quite long low floor streetcar trains

I have been to Oslo and in Gothenburg, they have got low floor trams which are much closer to light rail trams also. But the length of these is quite short too. These new light rail tram alike streetcars need bigger space and in many cases, the layouts of the tracks need to be adjusted for them to be compatible. But there are also smart solutions that some of the middle streetcar wagons in Gothenburg got. They have added new low floor sections in the middle of the 1980s type of streetcar trains. They are constructed so that people that need these low floor entrances also have the possibility to travel. Which is great.

Light Rail Construction Under the City

In Oslo, the older streetcar trains don’t have an option for this at all, and that’s not good. Our city should have had this but it seems like the city never made them which is a shame.

Light Rail trains, on the other hand, can be very long. The light rail trains that are running in Bergen (Bybanen), Norway are very long ones. So their capacity is much better. But in most of the cities, it is much better to have long light rail trains which can go fast. They can also go underground and on nice street tram avenue sections. Cities such as Porto in Portugal and Den Haag in The Netherlands got nice light rail trains that go in these various environments. In Den Haag, the older streetcars also use parts of it too. So this can be confusing.

#2 – Streetcar vs Light Rail shared Road Issues Explained

In many cities, streetcars also use light rail sections. Essen in Germany, Den Haag in The Netherlands and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain are such streetcar systems. But I must admit that out of those 3 examples. The solution that they went for on Tenerife is the one that is the most efficient solution that I have ever seen.

Tramway Solutions from Tranvia de Tenerife
Tramway Solutions from Tranvia de Tenerife shows how streets can be made.

The light rail tranvia de Tenerife tram system on Tenerife is much closer to a light rail tram system. Because they run on avenues sections, run underground and in those streets where they should have shared the road with the cars, but Santa Cruz de Tenerife has solved this in the best way that I have seen. The simply chose to abandon all cars in the street only sections. We encourage everyone interested in this topic to read our article about this topic here.

Streetcars, on the other hand, shares the traffic with cars much more often here. You can experience those systems in Lisbon, Oslo, Gothenburg, and Essen. In Oslo and Gothenburg, you do have light rail tram sections. But most of the streetcar lines run together with car and bus traffic in many parts of the towns. These are also true for streetcar trains that run in the streets of Sapporo, Hiroshima, Fukui, and Hakodate in Japan. These run with either one or two wagons max in length.

tram austria

The new Traunsee Tram Light Rail service also shares the track with the cars

I personally know of this light rail line in Gmunden, Austria that was a streetcar line before. The line that runs thru Gmunden today is named as the Traunsee Tram, but before it was only a streetcar train line.

The tram section of this line in Gmunden is very old. They opened it way back on the 13th of August 1894. At that time this line had only small streetcar trams that were one of the world’s shortest tram lines in the world.  But now this streetcar part of the section is rebuilt as a light rail tram line that runs through the Gmunden town. In the center of the village, the new light rail trams use a small section for shared traffic with cars since the summer of 2018.

With a tiny population of just 14.500. Gmunden had a world-known heritage streetcar service running from the bigger train station into the city center for a very long time. The town’s most known bridge was even rebuilt to handle bigger and heavier light rail trains.

The new light rail low floor trains in Gmunden

The Traunsee Tram is the name of the light rail tram service here. 95% of the line runs between Gmunden Bahnhof and Vorchdorf runs on its own way of track where it connects several small towns and villages on its route where Gmunden is the biggest one.

Distrita Tip |   At age of 98, the father of McDonald's Big Mac will be Remembered

Because of the introduction of this light rail train wagons in this city and the introduction of Gmunden thru service. All of the villages and towns have got increased traffic. I citizens love their new service and that’s what’s most important.

It was the citizens of Gmunden that wanted this change. They saved up so that they could get this service. So this town is a great example of that if people demand something they need to tell the politicians that there is a demand for this.  Many other cities around the world should follow this.

#3 – Streetcar street stations vs platform based standard stations

Including being smaller than light rail trains. The stations for a streetcar is not in the same standard at all. They can be much smaller and be located on the street where the cars run. In many cities such as Berlin, some of these sections have a traffic light telling that a streetcar has stopped. At other street-level stations, there is nothing.

The problem with the street level stations is that they aren’t good for smooth traffic flow through the city.  People with strollers and wheelchairs also have more difficulty to get them onto the streetcars. So these stations should be rebuilt. I use the Gmunden in Austria as an example again, because when they changed from streetcars to light rail service through the city. They had to change the stations too so they got platforms that reached the light rail train door heights.

By doing so all sorts of people can use the light rail route that now runs through the city. It means that the standard here has increased a lot. The same thing is happening here in Oslo. More and more of the streetcar routes get higher platforms in the city center where they share the traffic with cars. Which is very good.

#4 – Streetcars trains vs Light rail trains are often related to stairs vs low floor

I have visited many cities around the world where they haven’t changed their old streetcars that only use stairs with low floor ones. These type of streetcar trains with low floor type of entrances acts more like light rail trains.

Above I explained that usually most of the streetcar trains are shorter. Szczecin in Poland is one of them where I have seen this. It is a city not that far from Berlin. Most of the streetcars there is of the older Polish ones with huge stairs or even trains that were bought from Berlin. I remember when visiting it together with our child. It wasn’t a problem to lift the stroller up and down because of many helping in chases that were needed. But in some cases, the stairs were a bit high.

In the wintertime, when it is icy it must be much better to use the new low floor streetcar trains that are much better. Because we as tourists in this city could enter and park our stroller inside of them without issues.

Trams with stairs can be difficult. But in Brussels, Belgium. The platforms help people with strollers a bit more.

#5 – Let’s reveal the Streetcar vs Light Rail and speed Differences

Most of the streetcar trains are built for max 60km/h or 70/h. The older ones can reach 50km/h maybe. For nostalgia, they are a fantastic way of getting around. I don’t think that you could have a speed of 130km/h up the hills of Lisbon in Portugal. That would be insane. So streetcar trains are perfect for towns with lots of narrow streets. They are very compatible and awesome to have for cities with steep hills.

Light Rail trains usually have much more power. In many cases, the streetcar tram tracks can be slightly modified and the light rail trains can run there. This is what they did in Gmunden, Austria. On the parts between the towns and villages, these light rail trams run at 100km/h or more. Same for the ones in Porto in Portugal and Den Haag in The Netherlands. In towns such as Karlsruhe in Germany. These light rail trains can be really fast.

Essen Tram Underground station
With the right environment. Any streetcar train or light rail train can run at full speed in any town. Here is from Essen in Germany

A similar model has been connecting the city of Vienna with the Baden suburb since 1886 as Lokalbahn Wien-Baden. Other systems that have implemented the Karlsruhe model include:

To build light rail trams in the world is what cities around the world should do. They should be a great alternative to cars. They can cross-traffic light crossings, but they should always have they own avenue part. The worst thing you could do is to let them share the traffic with cars.

These trains should never stop in queues or get stuck in traffic. Because their task is to take any person fast and reliable to their destinations.

Tranvía de Tenerife
The Tranvía de Tenerife in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a great example on how to build a streetcar layout in a city

Many cities in The USA Introduces the wrong type of Streetcars

What is going on in the USA? How can they not see European cities when creating new low floor streetcar lines? It is painful to see them building new streetcar lines that aren’t built in a smart way.

We have several examples of this. In cities such as Washington D.C., Kansas City, Memphis, Charlotte, and even Oklahoma City they have introduced new streetcar lines that share the road with cars. It is obvious that these systems don’t give them an advantage over the cars. So it really seems as if the American cities like to build these new streetcar lines for political reasons or even save money doing so?

See how inefficient the Oklahoma City Streetcar Service is

If you want to introduce a new low floor streetcar service to your towns in the USA. Then please have a look at how Santa Cruz de Tenerife solved the issue in the inner-city parts of the town. When you place a streetcar line together with cars it means that the politicians have a good reason for talking down the usage of streetcars. Because these should be effective in every city.

Here are some important Tips for Improving the lives

  • All sorts of Streetcars or trams should never share the same lines with cars and buses
  • Any new streetcar train or light rail train should have a segregated track
  • No street-level stations for the new low floor streetcars should be made
  • Only low floor leveled stations should be built for fully supporting strollers and wheelchairs
  • All traffic lights should give full Priority to any streetcar train or light rail train
  • City streets with only streetcar or light rail tracks should only be accessible by trucks or no traffic at all if it is possible

What do you think that the cities should focus on? Both streetcar trains and light rail trains are good. But if you want to introduce the most comfortable way of travel for the citizens, then our biggest advice is to use a light rail tram system. With it, Everyone can travel safe and feel worthy. Also, do remove the street level stations and add platform stations that reach the doors of a low floor streetcar or light rail. Berlin is one of the towns that should do this.

What do you like the most? Do you like streetcars (trams) trains or light rail trains?