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Designing New Light Rail: Taking Engineering Beyond Vanilla

This paper provides a survey of the critical engineering “systems” that comprise a light electrified passenger railway, and suggests those that are most significant in affecting innovative operational practices. It illustrates the model relationship between operations and systems design by a case study based on the first implementation of express service on a modern LRT system.

As light rail transit (LRT) systems mature and expand, outlying passengers are faced with increasingly longer trip times to reach the urban core. Providing service to these customers by conventional means can be disproportionately expensive for the transit carrier in terms of operating and capital expense. Innovative operational practices to expedite train movements, however, are often confounded by current LRT design and deployment methods. This is partly attributable to design methods that follow a “stovepipe” approach to individual engineering disciplines and components, rather than directing focus on optimizing railway functionality and flexibility as a comprehensive entity. It is also attributable, in part, to a failure to address the ultimate potential of a railway at the definition/developmental stage and to subsequently articulate and document the operational requirements that are necessary to support the stated mission.