Performance of Australian Light Rail and Comparison with U. S. Trends

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - australasia, place - north america, place - urban, mode - tram/light rail, planning - service level, ridership - growth, land use - planning, land use - impacts, operations - frequency, operations - service span


Light rail transit (LRT), ridership growth, service level, urban access, urban redevelopment


After a decade of busway investment, light rail transit (LRT) has reemerged as an inner-city transit investment in Australia. In the next decade, Australian LRT network size will grow by about 25%. Analysis shows that Australian LRT is dominated by the streetcar network in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (one of the largest in the world). Although LRT networks have not expanded much, ridership growth has been substantial (more than 46% between 2001 and 2012) and well above systemwide (all mode) growth of public transport ridership in most cities. In general, the service level (i.e., frequency and span of hours) on Australian trams was low compared with that of European and U. S. systems. Also, service levels did not keep pace with ridership growth, which acted to increase the ridership productivity of most Australian LRT. Melbourne led Australia in terms of ridership productivity (passengers per vehicle kilometer); Melbourne Tram Route 109 had the highest ridership (935,000 annually) and service effectiveness (11.5 passengers per vehicle kilometer). Between 2006 and 2013, Australian LRT ridership growth was higher than ridership growth in the United States. However, U. S. service levels grew substantially more than service levels in Australia did during this same period. The outcome was that, although Australian service effectiveness grew by 20%, service effectiveness in the United States fell by 8%. Recently, Australian LRT planning has focused on the so-called streetcar struggle (i.e., the action taken to reduce the congestion effects of growing road traffic on LRT performance). Medium-term plans for new system development identified LRT as a solution to facilitate urban access, urban redevelopment, and reliable and higher-capacity transit in congested inner-urban bus transit contexts.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.