The Third Rail @

July 2000 / Looking Back to 1975

Light Rail Notes
by James Seamon

Standard LRV on Test Track
A U.S. Standard Light Rail Vehicle, on its test track, done up in San Francisco Muni paintjob.

Copyright 1975 Third Rail Press. Reprinted by permission.
Copyright 2000 The Composing Stack Inc.

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Editor's Notes: The Standard Light Vehicle Rail (SLRV) was the U.S. government's showy attempt to signal its commitment to street railways and light rail transit. The price of this commitment was that U.S. systems were expected to buy this equipment as a condition of Federal Aid, rather than buy off-the-shelf foreign-built equipment. Eventually, the SLRV proved wanting and the U.S. light rail market was opened up to world suppliers. Did the SLRV help or hinder the survival and expansion of U.S. light railways? That's a question worthy of discussion. It did provide a stopgap between aging PCC fleets and the future.

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When the 1966 "pilot" edition of The Third Rail published an article of advocacy for modern light railways a decade before the below article was written, the term "Light Rail Transit" had yet to be coined. The Third Rail called the mode "trolley-rapid" or "light rapid transit." The Electric Railroader's Association magazine Headlights termed the mode "limited tramlines," borrowing European practice. By 1975, the mode has matured enough to acquire its modern nomenclaure and it held its first national conference, described below.

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If enthusiasm can be interpreted into action, the first national conference on Light Rail Transit held in Philadelphia on June 22-25[, 1975] was a major step forward for this medium-capacity transit mode.
     An unexpectedly large crowd of 550 heard speakers from the United States, Canada and West Germany describe the advantages of "light rail." "Light Rail Transit," or LRT, is the comprehensive generic term which is rapidly replacing the less descriptive terms "streetcar," "trolley," etc., in North America, and "tram" in some overseas usage. The term encompasses many variations, but is most often used to describe systems using electric rail vehicles of less than heavy rapid transit size on systems employing substantial private right-of-way, with or without grade crossings.
     LRT's principal advantage is its flexibility and adaptability, which makes it much more economical to construct and somewhat more economical to operate than full rapid transit in many cases, while providing a service much superior to buses.
     The conference included field trips on the light rail line to Media and on the third-rail Norristown run, plus a trip to the Boeing Vertol helicopter plant (the former Baldwin Locomotive Works) to inspect assembly of the U.S. Standard Light Rail Vehicle (SLRV), and enjoy a test ride on the Boeing property.
     An informal field trip to the Lindenwold Shop of the Delaware River Port Authority's high-speed line was a late night attraction.
     Speakers at the conference not only identified the advantages of LRT, but presented hard data on costs of construction and operation. Several excellent slide presentations covered North American and western European light rail systems, including a show by General Motors.
     Edmonton, Alberta (Canada) showed slides of its system currently under construction, which includes a subway for Central Business District operations and median operation between tracks of the Canadian National Railway.

Continued on page 2

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