Light Rail

Why Light Rail Is Good For Us All

By Sean Burak
Published May 09, 2008

Originally published in the Corktown Crier.

On Thursday May 1, three presenters from varied backgrounds spoke to a packed room at the FRWY Coffee House. The topic? Light Rail (LRT) versus buses (BRT) for the future of Hamilton's transit system.

Hosted by our own ward councillor Bob Bratina, the evening's presentations came courtesy of the City of Waterloo's planning department, Hamilton's planning department, and the Hamilton Light Rail volunteer group.

The overwhelming response from the crowd was in favour of rail over buses. Luckily, the city's staff members are keen to hear the public's views on this matter before making a final decision. Questionnaires are available on the city's website to allow for citizens to provide feedback directly to the city staff who are responsible for making recommendations to council.

This important decision lies in our hands - we must make our voices heard. The following points were raised at the May 1 meeting:

  1. LRT stimulates local economies and attracts investors. Portland Oregon's Light Rail system cost $55 million to install, and provided $2.3 billion in private investment along the tracks. That is a 4,000 percent return on investment. LRT can make money for a city rather than being a financial drain on it. Buses simply do not attract investment.

  2. LRT costs less to operate per passenger. Because Light Rail vehicles carry significantly more people than buses, the same number of operators can service more riders.

    Additionally, LRT vehicles utilize electric motors, which are more efficient than diesel engines. With the steady rising costs of fuel, it makes economic sense to build a transit system that operates independent of oil price fluctuations. Operating expenses for diesel powered buses can only go up from here. Since these costs are covered partially by fares, and partially by taxes, it benefits us all to lower them in the long run.

  3. LRT is smooth, fast and efficient. Light rail is nothing like the TTC streetcar system. It is a closer relative to the subway, yet it runs above ground. It is fast, smooth, quiet, clean and efficient. It does not get stuck in traffic. It is more likely to get you to your destination on time. The rail experience cannot be matched by buses.

  4. LRT is fully accessible. Light Rail vehicles have more doors than buses, allowing easier access for everyone. Every door loads from the platform at ground level, and the entire train is "low floor". There are no steps and no raised seating areas in LRT vehicles. Unlike buses, rail cars start and stop smoothly, eliminating the problem of wheelchairs and strollers moving about within the vehicles.

  5. LRT increases ridership. People view light rail as efficient, speedy and even fun, whereas buses are viewed as slow, lumbering and annoying. Due to these perceptions, LRT has been shown to drastically increase ridership, which could help Hamilton meet its transit usage targets.

  6. LRT reduces traffic problems for cars. Because more people are inclined to take LRT than BRT, rail would effectively reduce the number of car-commuters on our major arteries.

    In addition, LRT runs in a dedicated lane, meaning cars are never stuck behind a transit vehicle nor do they have to yield to merging buses. The flipside of this effect is that the train is never stuck behind turning vehicles or other road obstructions. Every commuter benefits from having LRT in its own lane.

  7. LRT means cleaner air. Because LRT runs on electricity, and because it attracts riders who would otherwise drive, building a rail system will eliminate some tailpipe emissions and help the city to reduce the number of "smog days".

    As a bonus, Ontario is working toward shifting more of its power generation to cleaner sources, so electric trains offer a long term positive trend as opposed to buses, whose internal combustion engines become less efficient over time.

  8. LRT increases intensification. Hamilton is under a mandate to intensify the population - we need to fit more people on less area. Light Rail installations encourage high density residential development along their lines. This means that Hamilton's intensification can happen along the LRT lines, allowing us to reach our goals without paving over more farmland or building apartment blocks in the suburbs.

  9. LRT revitalizes neighbourhoods. In many examples in the United States and Europe, Light Rail installations through depressed neighbourhoods caused immediate improvements and eventually created complete turnarounds. In some cases, neighbourhood improvements and investments came immediately after LRT announcements and before the rails even hit the pavement.

    Light rail mixes well with cars, bikes and pedestrians. It puts more eyes on the streets which encourages residential and retail development along the entire line.

  10. LRT presents a world class image to visitors. Putting a brand new LRT system along the major transit routes in Hamilton will have an astounding effect on how the rest of the province, the country and even the world sees us. Investors and visitors will look up to us like never before. LRT can put Hamilton on the map in big bold letters - exactly where we belong.

LRT costs more to install than BRT, but the Province is footing the bill for the capital costs! For years, Hamilton has considered LRT an unattainable dream because the initial capital costs are higher than for buses.

The story has completely changed however, since the Ontario Government is being very generous with their transit funding right now. This is our chance to build a world class transit system without the property tax burden associated with it.

If we choose to wait and implement rail later, the money will not be there. We need to act fast on this amazing opportunity.

The decision to build LRT versus BRT could be one of the most important one the city makes during our lifetimes. LRT has the potential to completely change Hamilton's future.

It is imperative that we inform the city of our opinions on the transit improvements - they are truly listening!

Please visit the city's transit website and fill out a comment form (or email them directly):

For more information about Light Rail, please visit Hamilton Light Rail:

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.


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By KevODundas (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 20:09:53

You stated that "LRT increases ridership" and said it was fun and fast as your evidence. I agree with your conclusion - but not because of your reasoning. Truth is, the main increase is because people view the bus as "lower class" where the people who can't afford cars go in Hamilton and a light rail would avoid that stigma.

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By The Overhead Wire (anonymous) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 20:45:18

I would say that Portland example is technically wrong. That's just the downtown streetcar, not the whole system.

I've never ridden a TTA Streetcar, but streetcars are a subset of light rail. I think the quality of the ride depends on the track maintenance and vehicles. Since you're getting rid of those vehicles, you might change your mind about the difference between streetcar and LRT.

The traffic issue shouldn't be an argument. Technically its correct but there is such a thing as induced demand. When more space is on the road, more people use it.

I've been following this site for a while. Keep up the good work.

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By Curt (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2009 at 17:50:24

I am glad that Hamilton is pursuing a Light Rail Transit System, and i think that our Mayor Sam Katz should stop listening to bus favourtists, and start an action plan to build a LRT system in Winnipeg. I know for a fact it would increase our ridership of Winnipeg Transit, and if they connected it to The Forks and Downtown, that would be a huge tourist boom with the upcoming Human Rights Museum. I think Electric LRT is the clean,right,rapid,safe and smart decision for Hamilton and Winnipeg. And the cost.. well if the CPR worried about cost in 1881, we wouldent have a Transcontinental Railway the secured the promises of Confederation and kept America from encroaching into certain territories of Canada. Sometimes we all need to take risks, but i believe that if Sam Katz did, it would pay off big time, and provide Winnipeggers with a clean, efficient and rapid transit system....four words....LRT is the future

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