In-Street Light Rail vs. Streetcar

In this editorial in the Indy Star, there is a mention of in-street light rail along Washington Street, which prompted me to ponder the difference between in-street light rail and streetcars. I did a bit of research on the issue to see if I could clear this up. I have to mention that I used Wikipedia, but I don’t mind that website on non-controversial issues such as this. There is also a nice comparison that I found (via google) that originated in the City of Tucson, although this features a dedicated right-of-way, as opposed to the in-street variety proposed in Indianapolis’ long-range plan.

Basically, there are 2 main distinctions between these two modes:

  • They are designed to have higher speeds.
  • They have a larger carrying capacity.

There may be others that I’m not aware of, and if you know of any please let me know in the comments.

With regards to the specific proposal (number of stops and overall design), we will have to wait to see what Indy Connect will plan, as it is planned to take place after the more conventional Fishers Light Rail line is in service. Also, others have mentioned that a light rail extension from Washington Street to the airport terminal is needed, and I certainly can not disagree on this. Having traveled quite a bit, I know that among the first things that I look for when I land is the rail connection to the downtown area.

Comments 3

  • The encouraging part about that editorial are the 3 authors who penned it, and who they represent.

    The distinction between light rail and streetcar is a tough one to make at times. I browse through a lot of the wiki-pedia transportation systems and sometimes it can be difficult to call it light rail or streetcar.

    I think there will be some "streetcar" news hitting the waves soon. We shall see.

  • I didn't notice the job titles of the authors until you mentioned it. Nice.

  • I agree there is little difference between the two, although I think a streetcar in the traditional sense just stops anywhere and people step up off the pavement, where the LRT might still have stations. An advantage of LRT is the flexibility to become a streetcar if conditions warrant. Generally that means that the handicapped can't get on so it doesn't happen (any more).

    This is the advantage to using a heritage trolley as a start-up to your LRT system. You can just get some tracks and wire in, and use a traditional streetcar from the early 20th Century. These cars are exempt from ADA laws, and if you are running it as demonstration service it begins to build up ridership.

    Charlotte NC, Memphis TN and Dallas TX are some good examples of heritage trolleys. By the way, there is a fleet of heritage electric interurban cars up in Noblesville, waiting for someone to fix them!

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