Investment costs in light rail transport are high, and thus the challenge is to develop the right mode in response to the right transport need. Light rail is the ideal mode for carrying between 3.000 and 11.000 passengers per hour per direction, informs the International Association of Public Transport.
Currently, light rail systems can now be found on all continents. There are now over 400 light rail transit and tramway systems, in 50 countries. In addition, over 100 light rail systems are being planned worldwide. The challenge in designing light rail systems is to realize the potential of this transport system to provide fast, comfortable service while avoiding the tendency to overdesign that results in excessive capital costs beyond what is necessary to meet the public’s needs. However, the European railway industry has managed to overcome this challenge by providing competitive and very efficient products to local and international markets.
The light rail has shown that it can reduce the dependence on the use of the private car in urban environments and has many positive attributes that benefit a town or city. Its development has been very successful over the last two decades, and there is every reason to expect that it will go on.
A study conducted by ERRAC in 2009, in fact, the latest such study, identified the exact situation of light rail transport systems per groups of countries, therefore, the study includes the EU 15 Group, the new EU member states which accessed the Union after 2004 and 2007 (including only those countries which have a light rail transport systems), made of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia. The study also includes the countries outside the EU 27, such as Norway, Switzerland and candidate countries Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. In the Eurasian platform, countries such as Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have light rail transport systems.
The study offers additional information on passenger traffic as well as the characteristics of infrastructure for this type of transport including the separation level from the general road traffic.
Light rail can only be implemented successfully if it is integrated with all other public transport modes in the city. A second criterion for success is that light rail must have the means to develop its full potential for speed and reliability; this means having separate right-of-way wherever possible and priority at traffic lights to get rid of external disruption.