The biggest difference in this light rail vs rapid transit is not easy to reveal without lots of discussions giving huge battles about what’s right or not. But yes. There is a huge difference. Mainly because the light rail is tied to be bigger and faster tramways that use rails while Rapid Transit can be everything from long busses, awkward trams as the one in Venice, Italy or the People Mover in Miami, USA.

Let’s introduce you to Light Rail

Light Rail is also a train type that uses rails that can be used in areas using them in avenues, on train railway tracks or on small stretches within a city on street level with cars. But this should never cross the border of 7 percent.

It is a nice percent number to remember regarding what is a light rail, a suburban tramway or a tram. Because there is light rail vs rapid transit differences that you should know.

More than 7 percent is a vital fact for light rail

The new light rail tram-train system in Aalborg, Denmark
  • If its more than 7 percent then it can be called a suburban tramway like the one running on the coast of Belgium. It is a suburban tramway because many of the sections run through cities on street level while the sections between the cities on the coast are mostly run on avenues or on railway alike sections.
  • If a tram crosses 47 percent running on-street sections with cars it is a tram. Also, trams tend to be much smaller like the ones in Lisbon, Portugal.

Including running on areas with less than 7 percent on-street sections. Light Rail can also be described as Tram-Train. So Light Rail and Tram-Train is the closest meaning to each other, while Rapid Transit differs much more.

Rapid Transit is a diversion of the Light Rail meaning

O-Bahn in Adelaide, Australia is a Rapid Transit bus system that should be replaced by a light rail route

Light Rail can also be Rapid Transit but this word means a lot more to it than meets the eye because Rapid Transit word includes odd systems that are trying to be replacements for light rail or tramways but they aren’t.

Rapid Transit itself is a word that is a political word, in my opinion, that has been used as a negative word than positive as it clearly tries to say that light rail systems are too expensive to build. Politicians that loves busways promotes this to be much better but at the same time, these systems are much more expensive to build.

Rapid Transit is also used in context with rapid bus systems like O-Bahn in Adelaide, Australia which is a system that should have light rail tracks or have a trolley bus system. If you scroll down a bit in this article. I write about the solution that they did in Oberhausen, Germany.

There they managed to mix both tramway and buses on the same stretch. So, why can’t this be done in Adelaide, Australia?

Biggest Issues with these Rapid Transit Bus systems

I know from my own knowledge and experiences that light rail can be a much faster choice and also be much longer in length which means that they can take many more passengers! A unique rapid transit bus system is one that looks like a tramway in Venice which is a hybrid between a bus and a tram.

You can also find the same system in Paris, France. They are related to trolleybuses but because they have a third rail in the ground that is connected to them. It is not the same! It seems to me like they use 3 wheels. Two for the asphalt and one for the rail.

Unique Rapid Transit Bus Systems are Not cheap

  • Proprietary vehicle
  • Rails and tools can only be bought from the company that builds them
  • Much less flexibility
  • Vehicles doing more harm

Once any company that has built a unique type of rapid transit bus system with a proprietary system and vehicles goes bankrupt, then it takes the whole system with it often. They are not as flexible as upgrades of these systems are very expensive.

A European city that is known for have changed from Rapid Transit tram-sur-pneu system to Light Rail in Europe is Caen in France. Their reason for changing is that even though their system was the same as the one used in Venice, Italy. These vehicles had so many issues that it wasn’t worth it to keep it.

The turnover operation was indeed quite something for Caen in France. The present light rail system that exists today replaced the original tram-sur-pneu which had ceased operations on 31 Dec 2017. It’s been the best decision that they’ve ever made for sure.

The network largely replaces Caen’s TVR 15.7km guided trolleybus system, which was beset by technical problems between its opening in November 2002 and closure in December 2017.

The entire Rapid Transit system in Caen was then rebuilt into a conventional light rail (plus a new 700 m branch to Presqu’Île). Because it is much easier getting cheaper parts for light rail than for the rapid transit system named tram-sur-pneu. For some, it looks to have become a tramway, but it uses light rail type of trains and never shares its tracks with the cars. Just crossing roads.

Extra-long Buses in Bergen Sold

Not only Caen in France had seen problems with trying to think that they save money on choosing Rapid Transit buses. These buses are not the same as trolleybuses which should give Rapid Transit a positive vibe at all. But they are long and they try to look like a light rail but it is not!

Bergen is Norway’s second-largest city that had issues with their longest buses ever to have driven on the streets there. The so-called “super buses” cost 20 million back in 2014 are unsuitable for Bergen and are to be sold now in 2020.

These types of super buses are too long and they couldn’t handle the hills or even the snow in Bergen. The public transportation company in Bergen thought that this would be the future together with their focus on light rail. But now they will be used somewhere else.

They look like light rail. But they aren’t near that in service at all

A light rail is much better suited for a city that is the wettest city in the world with a few snowy days each year. Then Bergen needs a system that is way more reliable in all types of weather.

So if your city plans to get these odd Rapid Transit bus solutions. They are blowing cash out into the air right now as I have written this article. Because they are expensive to get, expensive to repair and also expensive to run. Your city is bleeding money to the manufacturing company that has made them.

Make them change! Before it is too late if it is possible.

Mauritius went for light rail and have saved a lot of money for the future

Remarkable Rapid Transit Systems that is as good as Light Rail

Tram-sur-pneu that was in Caen but this trolley bus alike system is still available in Paris and Venice. The long buses in Bergen are also not in use anymore. These systems want to be Rapid Transit solutions, but they aren’t. The O-Bahn in Adelaide could have been it if all of the buses were trolleybuses that used the rapid road stretch.

The most remarkable rapid transit bus systems are those that use a trolleybus system. These are proven to work for a long time. Just look at cities such as San Francisco in California, USA, Budapest in Hungary, Moscow in Russia and Lublin in Poland.

Light Rail Construction Under the City
Bergen light rail is a huge success in Norway’s second-largest city

These trolley bus lines can be classified with being rapid transit bus systems since they are quite efficient. Most of them run on dedicated bus lanes on the streets and they don’t pollute at all. They are in fact more efficient than electric busses too which use a battery that needs to be charged.

These trolleybuses just run and run like any light rail or tramway system. O-Bahn in Adelaide, Australia should be converted to either trolleybus stretch or to a light rail system using the same light rail system that already exists in the city.

Any city in the world should try to avoid using systems that are hard to use and is too expensive to handle. Cities in the world need systems that work that can be handled easily for maintenance and improvement.

Shuttle Services that Works

The downtown Metromover in Miami opened on the 21st of April 1986. This is an elevated, rubber-tired, fully-automated rapid transit system which is not a light rail type of transport.

In Miami, the city got 3 lines with the oldest being the ring line. Later, in May 1994, two branches were also constructed. One north which is called Omni Loop and one south was also added. This is a much more effective rapid transit system, but the scale for it is way too funny for a city with 2.2 million inhabitants.

The Metromover in Miami links to Metrorail at Government Center and Brickell and runs 8-15 m above street level. All stations are wheelchair accessible and video surveyed. They run very slow but they are all automatic.

So this system in Miami is really handy the way they are where the trains are formed by one or two 12 m long cars. Those trains that are serving the oldest line which is the ring line only run clockwise in the Inner Loop. The other lines continuing on the two branches do so in an anticlockwise direction.

This is one of Rapid Transit systems that do it well. It is a cross between a Metro and a Monorail. The trains are very small, so it is quite crowded at times.

Miami is for sure one of the cities that should have got a proper light rail system instead. This system is not made for a million cities that Miami is in the metropolitan area. But it is way better than a rapid transit bus system even though it is so slow.

Metrolink in Miami, USA is at least good but if they really wanted to do something to get more people to jump from using a car to use public transportation that works. Then Miami should have chosen the Metro system that Copenhagen in Denmark got. They are also automated but they cover a lot more and are much faster.

There are also similar systems in Jacksonville that is much smaller with a similar system as in Miami.

Nice Rapid Transit section in Oberhausen, Germany

From Oberhausen Central station (Oberhausen Hbf) to Neumarkt where tram line 112 runs there is a rapid transit bus with tram tracks section that is shared. At least this solution is MUCH more efficient than the O-Bahn solution in Adelaide where only regular buses can use the stretch.

Oberhausen is a smaller town that is located north of Mülheim got a long bridge that is only used by buses and tramway lines 112. This solution is effective. You could say its more of a light rail type of stretch. So the tramway doesn’t get stuck in traffic in this stretch.

For all of the busses that are using this public transportation bridge, you can call it a much better rapid transit bus section solution than in Adelaide. But I will always prefer to take the tramway with the light rail section here.

For me, light rail is always the winner no matter what. Because I am fed up with Rapid Transit systems that try to be a light rail system fails. I just don’t get why these obscure systems are something that they want to have. Maybe a seller managed to trick every politician in it?

I simply don’t understand why these obscure Rapid Transit systems are bought. If you want to have an efficient system that is easy to build, easy to fix and easy to maintain. Then go for a light rail solution.

These obscure systems will only make your city pay more and you always send the bill to the people living in them rather paying for your own mistakes.

Also, you should all look at all of the cities in the world that got light rail or tramway solutions. Most of them have trains that are up to 30 years old and still doing great. These Rapid Transit systems that got odd systems to get people around won’t last as long for sure.

Just look at the streets of your city. How many new bus types have you seen within the last 30 years? I will bet it’s between 2 and 5 bus changes. So now you should understand that your city may have wasted tons of economy on public transportation systems that could have been half the price if your city went for a light rail or a tramway line instead.

Let’s make a change for the better together. Promote what works! For the sake of everyone’s future. Please!