In Transport

Victor P Taffa

Essentially a light rail vehicle and a tram are one and the same. The main difference lies in the low entry floor level of a light rail vehicle against that of a raised entry point for a tram. Both light rail and trams operate on a road and their own reserved corridor. They can both utilise heavy railway tracks whereas metro rail is a separately functioning network that cannot operate on a street due to the dangerous function of the third ‘live’ rail.

When Sydney began operating horse drawn trams along Pitt Street in 1861, the rails were raised in the street surface and residents objected to this. Eventually the tracks were laid at surface level with the street and thus began 100 years of tramway operation in Sydney.

Light rail vehicles are a modern version of the tram. The electrical workings of the carriage have been placed in the roof so as to allow passengers with strollers, prams and wheelchairs easy access from a raised street platform. Trams on the other hand have the electrical workings in the floor thus requiring passengers to step up onto the tram to board and step down to alight.

Sydney R1 Tram

Sydney R1 Tram









Tram stops do not require a raised platform for passengers on the street however at the Milson’s Point tram station the tracks were raised to meet the level of the platform because the Milson’s Point station was originally intended for the Northern Suburbs Railway to Brookvale.

Milsons Point Tram and Railway Platforms

Milsons Point Tram and Railway Platforms











Trams were coupled together as railway carriages are joined and passengers could not walk between the two separate trams. However light rail vehicles are joined by a concertina link that enables passengers to walk between the linked carriages and also the concertina mechanism is more flexible when the vehicle travels along a tight alignment.

The frame of the light rail vehicle and a tram are of a lighter build than a Metro train although a heavy rail train carriage is the heaviest designed body due to its ability to sustain a heavier load and impact in a collision. Only heavy rail can operate freight trains. Light rail, trams and heavy rail utilise an overhead wiring system and have a pantograph that provides electrical current from the wiring to the motor. Metro rail on the other hand does not require a pantograph and overhead wire but relies on the third live rail.

Cable trams as used in Sanfrancisco are hauled by a cable that is underneath the street and thus does not require an overhead wire however the cable tram is not as powerful as an electric tram or light rail vehicle. Cable trams operated in Sydney and were particularly effective in the more hilly terrains around Neutral Bay and Darling Street Balmain.

Essentially the technology in a tram, light rail, metro and heavy rail carriages are very similar. Heavy Rail began in New South Wales in 1855, Metro began in London in 1863, Trams began in Sydney in 1861 and Light Rail began in Sydney in 1997.

Industry experts and enthusiasts will have a multitude of technical information that advances one type of rail based mode over another essentially the passenger who uses the service will only be concerned with the use of the transport mode that is on offer and as such this article seeks to address the differences between the various modes of rail based transport in such a way as the intending passenger can relate to easily.

Intending passengers simply want a service that is clean and reliable .Is there a difference between Light rail and Trams? Are Rolls Royce cars the same as a Mini Minor or are 747 Jumbo planes the same as a Tiger Moth plane?

Sydney does not need ‘new’ technology Metro rail, rather Sydney needs something before congestion grinds Sydney to a halt.

Route 59 Airport West bound tram on Swanston Street Melbourne

Route 59 Airport West bound tram on Swanston Street Melbourne


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