In 1975—at the time of the First National Light Rail Conference, which convened in Philadelphia—only seven U.S. metropolitan areas, one in Canada, and one in Mexico operated legacy streetcar and proto-light rail systems. The succeeding 37 years have seen much progress in developing such systems.
As of 2012, and considering only systems operated as part of a region’s public transit system (i.e., excluding museums), the statistics show:
Legacy light rail transit (LRT)/streetcar systems: 7 (Boston, MA; Newark, NJ; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Cleveland, OH; New Orleans, LA; San Francisco, CA)
New-age electric LRT systems: 18 (San Diego, CA; Buffalo, NY; Portland, OR; Sacramento, CA; San Jose, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore, MD; St. Louis, MO; Denver, CO; Dallas, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; Jersey City, NJ; Houston, TX; Minneapolis, MN; Charlotte, NC; Phoenix, AZ; Seattle, WA; Norfolk, VA)
New streetcar systems (historic or replica vintage vehicles in italic): 8 (Lowell, MA; Memphis, TN; Portland, OR; Tacoma, WA; Tampa, FL; Little Rock, AR; Kenosha, WI; Seattle, WA)
New light diesel multiple unit (DMU) lines: 4 (Camden-Trenton, NJ; Oceanside, CA; Austin, TX; Denton County, TX)
Legacy streetcar/LRT system: 1 (Toronto, ON)
New-age LRT systems: 2 (Edmonton, AB; Calgary, AB)
Light DMU: 1 (Ottawa, ON)
Legacy streetcar/LRT system: 1 (Mexico City)
New-age LRT systems: 2 (Guadalajara, Monterrey)
Three of these new start-ups opened to revenue passengers since TRB and APTA held their last National Light Rail Conference in 2009: the DMU lines in Austin, 2010, and Denton County, 2011, and Norfolk’s electric light rail line, 2011.
In addition, several systems extended existing lines and added new branches: Dallas, Edmonton, Jersey City (Bayonne), Los Angeles, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Portland (streetcar), Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Francisco.
Looking forward, the following cities have made commitments to construction of further LRT and/or streetcar extensions: Calgary, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Edmonton, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Ottawa (light DMU), Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, and Tucson. New streetcar lines are under construction in Atlanta, GA; Cincinnati, OH; Tucson, AZ; and Washington, DC.
Though not yet advanced into the final design or construction stage, several cities are pursuing plans to develop “new-start” streetcar circulator lines or systems. These include Detroit, MI (Woodward Avenue); Fort Lauderdale, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Kansas City, MO; Northern Virginia; Oklahoma City, OK; Providence, RI; San Antonio, TX; and Santa Ana, CA.
After nearly four decades of continuous development, the future for LRT, streetcar and similar light DMU projects continues to look bright. The APTA-TRB Light Rail Conference in Salt Lake City in November will provide much more information about modern-day surface electric rail transit systems.
Sound Transit’s Link light rail system in Seattle.