I had to see that I was too dismissive of elevated railways in the original version, so I made up for it with additions to multiple sections, here I unite these.
While elevateds lost out to subways as the dominant form of urban rapid transit a century ago, they are the preferred choice in some situations now. In monsoon-frequented Delhi, and a number of high-density East Asian cities, putting heavy rail on long concrete bridges became common practice. The latter are typically in suburbs.
Since 2004, Binhai Mass Transit's 45.4 km (28.3 mi) JinBin line runs from a suburb of Tianjin to the Tianjin Economic Developing Area, mostly elevated, though the in-construction downtown extension is in tunnel. Here one of the automatic trains (made by Chanchun Railway Vehicles) turns at the temporary terminus Zhongshanmen, with the ramp to the subway extension visible. Tianjin also has a subway, China's second-oldest. Photo by Pierre2427 from 2427junction.com
The idea of rubber tyres on rail, and the ideas of platform doors and automation were united in the VAL type metro, first realised in the French city of Lille. These can be counted as light metro, or some just as peoplemover (a category I didn't deal with in detail).
A four-car train (VAL256 type of French maker Matra [now Siemens]) reaches Zhongxiao Fuxing station on Taipei Metro's first line, the elevated Muzha Line, June 2005. After initial troubles, it is well-frequented at over 100,000 riders a day. Photo by user Kwb from Japanese Wikipedia
There are a number of elevated light metros, for example Vancouver's SkyTrain. But, like normal trams, they have a capacity limit, and thus are no substitute for heavy metro in larger cities. Indeed, all other lines of Taipei Metro (see below) are heavy metro, and mostly subway. In Bangkok, even if both lines of the BTS SkyTrain are to expand, two further lines will be heavy metro subways, and a normal rail rapid transit network is also in construction.
I added more on rapid metro expansion in Asia, beginning with the system the above VAL is part of.
The metro of Taiwanese capital Taipei is only 11 years old, but during the same time the expensive Taiwan High-Speed Rail was constructed (it opened in January this year), Taipei Metro expanded to a network of six lines totalling 74.4 km (46.2 mi), carrying over a million daily riders, and these numbers are to be tripled in another 11 years.
As example of extra-rapid Chinese development, Guangzhou Metro's current four lines totalling 89.7 km (55.7 mi) were built in a mere ten years, and just counting in-construction lines, network length is to triple by 2010!
A subway train (made by Siemens & Zhuzhou Electrical Locomotive Works) arrives at its terminus under Guangzhou East Railway Station on the just 22-month-old line 3. All stations on the Guangzhou Metro have transparent platform doors. Photo by Pierre2427 from 2427junction.com
Metros are expanding in other parts of Asia, too. In India, the now three-line Delhi Metro started less than five years ago. Iran isn't only busy building a nuclear industry, but Tehran Metro, too. In the rich oil-producing Arab countries, the in-construction Dubai Metro will be the first urban rail system.
Extreme capacity: two five-car bi-level EMUs (Z1547 and another type MI2N of Paris transport authority RATP) on RER A outer branch A3 near Achères, April 7, 2007. The inner part of RER A is one of the busiest railways in the world. Photo by Patrick Meunier from RailFanEurope.net
As an addendum, I note that one of the Paris-RER-inspired projects I mentioned, London's Crossrail, got the decisive go-ahead (that is, the approval of the financial scheme) from the Brown government just this past week – impressive from a post-Thatcher British government, considering that the price tag ballooned to £17 billion.
A French-made tram in an Aussie town, courtesy of BruceMcF:
Yarra Trams class C tram No. 3008 (low-floor type Citadis 202 of French maker Alstom) in Melbourne; January 24, 2003. Photo by Stuart Jackson from Perthtrains
In the dKos version, I added two paragraphs on economics:
Since light rail can determine cityscape, projects can become prestige objects, with municipalities accepting higher costs. The latter can result from senseless spending on glitch, but also from well thought-through planning, especially in France. For example, while line extensions in Germany cost as little as 10 million ⁄km (22 million $⁄mi), Houston's METRORail 43 million $⁄mi, and Minneapolis's Hiawatha Line (which has a tunnel section!) 60 million $⁄mi; Paris's 7-month-old T3 line comes in at around $87 million per mile.
But benefits like commercial development in a more attractive area with more greenery, traffic also reduced by taking 1-1 lanes away from a busy road, while the 304-place trams provide twice the capacity of the earlier bus line at a 38% higher travel speed, made it worth, with extensions underway. And even with such high-cost, high-quality light rail projects, French cities manage to simultaneously expand their bus services (for example Strasbourg).
Stylish low-floor trams in Strasbourg (three types: the 7-part/33.1 m and 9-part/43 m versions of the ABB [now Bombardier] EUROTRAM used since the 1994 opening, new 7-part/45.056 m [147.8 ft] Alstom Citadis 403 (2005)), January 2007. Video by YouTube user Roberto Amori
I later photographed Strasbourg's trams during my vacation. For the dKos series, I included one own photo, picked from a dozen shots made extra for the tram diary:
Giant caterpillar: tram No. 2008 (Siemens type Combino Supra) on the Grand Boulevard in Budapest, in front of West Terminus railway station. With a length of 53.99 m (177'1½"), they are only surpassed by Dresden's CarGoTram. My own photo of July 5, 2007
This section was entirely new, so I include the text, too.
Electric buses (trolley-buses) have the carbody of buses, but transformers and inverters in place of the diesel. They are bound to certain streets by poles having to reach overhead wires, but drive normally on streets. They can get their own special lane, though, and special guiding tracks or fixed route markers an automated system could keep the vehicles to. What they won't have is light rail capacity (whatever US Bus Rapid Transit advocates claim).
Now what if we start with a tram, put rubber tyres on its wheels, and replace its two riding rails with guiding rails? Is that a trolley-bus? Well, it has pantograph rather than poles, has a different and larger carbody, is fixed guideway, and operates just like light rail, though these differences might get further diluted in the future, if a new niche is found. But the only obvious benefit over normal light rail I can see at the moment is not cost, certainly not ride quality, but the ability to climb higher grades.
The described 'off-rail light rail' of French company Lohr Industries was pioneered with a test track in Paris, there are a few applications elsewhere so far.
Translohr vehicle No. 004 on Binhai Mass Transit's guided-rail, which serves Tianjin Economic Technological Development Area (TEDA) near Tianjin, China since May this year. Photo by Pierre2427 from 2427junction.com
Example of a Stadtbahn:
Looks like a tram, but runs in a subway: then new K4513 (from Bombardier's Felxity Swift family) at station Ebertplatz of Cologne's Stadtbahn, September 6, 2006. Photo by Valentin Brückel from RailFanEurope.net under Creative Commons
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I closed the series on dKos with a video filmed from a Thalys train on a 300 km/h test run on the Antwerp–Amsterdam high-speed line, overtaking cars on the parallel highway:
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