How big does a city need to be to sustain a light rail? And how easy or difficult is it to fit light rail into existing streetscapes? Can we make it happen in Galway? Looking beyond our own city boundaries to other European towns and cities such as Freiburg in Germany and Valenciennes in France can give us some answers.
Small Is Beautiful: Valenciennes' New Light Rail System (France)
Valenciennes in northern France is a small city with an industrial past and a semi-rural hinterland. The city itself has less than 43,000 inhabits while the conurbation has a population of approximately 390,000. Valenciennes is also home of the European Railway Agency (ERA). In the late 1990s and early 2000s there had been significant local interest in advancing light rail solutions for the region and Phase 1 of Valenciennes' new tram system was officially opened in 2006. Phase 2 was added in 2007 and there are concrete plans for a third phase, with construction to commence in 2008. The success of Valenciennes' new light rail system shows that smaller cities with a relatively sparsely populated hinterland (like (Galway) can benefit from a tram service connecting important sites (e.g. hospital, university, city centre, shopping areas). GLUAS would offer such a solution for Galway.
Grassed-tracked light rail in Valenciennes
Source: http://www.railway-technology.com/projects/citadis/citadis9.html (accessed 28/04/2008)
The Greenest City in the World: Light Rail in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany)
Freiburg im Breisgau in southwest Germany was recently hailed as perhaps the 'greenest city in the world?'1, and its highly efficient light rail system played a crucial role in achieving this. The Freiburg area is home to more than 200,000 people (equivalent to Galway city and its wider hinterland) and has had trams since 1901. In the early 1970s local politicians and planners decided against a switch from trams to bus-based public transport and today the citizens of Freiburg continue to enjoy fast and reliable public transport provided by four tram lines that run across the city. All four lines converge in the central business district and link up at the main train station bur also connect newer suburban developments to the older parts of the city.
Example of a 'Combino' tram, Freiburg im Breisgau (photo by U. Strohmayer).
Freiburg's light rail system uses low floor trams (in the form of 'Combino' trams which are also used in Amsterdam, Budapest and Melbourne). An innovative tariff system allows for effective integration of local and regional traffic. Moreover, the introduction of a 'green track' similar to that in Valenciennes (see above) greatly improved the quality and appearance of Freiburg's tram system.
The success of Freiburg's light rail and integrated transport system has been unparalleled and has greatly enhanced many people's quality of life. More importantly, the Freiburg case shows that light rail can also work in a place like Galway. Freiburg has a largely medieval city centre, a thriving tourist industry, a well-developed local economy, significant university-led research and development potential, a very young population and a vibrant cultural scene ' just like Galway. Looking at Freiburg's Stadtbahn gives us a glimpse of what the future may hold for public transport in our city!