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Urbos 3 Class Light Rail Vehicle 2116 at Dulwich Grove station with a Central-bound service on the Sydney Light Rail line, 19 April 2017.

Flexity 2 Light Rail Vehicle number 18, Broadbeach South station, G :link (Gold Coast Light Rail line), 13 January 2018.

Light Rail in Australia

David Matheson

19 July 2018


Light rail provides an efficient form of urban public transport. Although similar to tramways, light rail generally operates with multiple unit vehicles that are faster and have a higher passenger capacity than older trams. Light rail mostly operates along its own right-of-way, but may also include some sections where the track is laid along streets used by road vehicles and pedestrians. Light rail became increasingly popular from the 1980s and various new systems were opened around the world, particularly in cities in Europe and North America.


Australian light rail systems are in operation in Sydney and the Gold Coast. Light rail is currently being extended in Sydney, while new systems are under construction in Canberra and the New South Wales city of Newcastle. A new system is also planned for Parramatta in western Sydney. Melbourne has an extensive tramway system, including two routes, from the CBD to St Kilda and to Port Melbourne, which operate as light rail lines. The Glenelg tram line in Adelaide also has many characteristics of a light rail line. All light rail lines in Australia are standard gauge (1435 mm).


Sydney Light Rail

The light rail network in Sydney is owned by the New South Wales Government, but services are operated by Transdev Sydney on behalf of the government agency Transport for NSW. When the first section of the line opened from Central station to Wentworth Park in August 1997, it was the first time that regular passenger rail services operated in Sydney’s streets since the final closure of the extensive Sydney tramway system in 1961. The light rail line was extended to Lilyfield in August 2000 and Dulwich Hill in March 2014. The network now extends from Central station to Dulwich Hill through Darling Harbour, Pyrmont, Glebe, Lilyfield and Lewisham West. It is 12.7 km in length and includes 23 stops. Over 8.4 million passenger journeys are made annually, with patronage increasing. Much of the Sydney Light Rail line is on the formation that was previously used by the Metropolitan Goods railway line.

A fleet of 12 Urbos 3 Light Rail Vehicles operate over the Sydney Light Rail line. They are five-section articulated light rail vehicles, and are currently the only Light Rail Vehicles in service in Sydney after earlier models were withdrawn. After assembly in Spain, they were separated into sections for shipping to Australia, and began service in 2014. The Urbos 3 Class vehicles are completely low-floor and their body is made of aluminium. They have a maximum speed of 80 km/h and seating for 74 passengers. Urbos type Light Rail Vehicles are also in service in numerous cities in Europe, North America, South America and Asia.


Gold Coast Light Rail (G:link)

The Gold Coast light rail system is called G:link, commonly referred to as the G. It was built and is operated and maintained by GoldLinQ, a privately-owned company, which the Queensland Government contracted to build, operate and maintain the Gold Coast light rail system. The first section of the line opened in July 2014 between Gold Coast University Hospital and Broadbeach South. It was extended from Gold Coast University Hospital to Helensvale heavy railway station in December 2017, in time for the Commonwealth Games, which were held on the Gold Coast in April 2018. The line extends 20 km, has 19 stations, and operates with 750 volts DC. It carried 7.97 million passenger journeys in 2016–17.


Services on the Gold Coast Light Rail line are operated by Flexity 2 Light Rail Vehicles. The Flexity 2 Class was introduced to inaugurate the line in 2014. These Light Rail Vehicles consist of seven modules. They are the longest type of tram or light rail vehicle to ever have been used in Australia, with a total length of 43.5 m, and have a maximum speed of 70 km/h. Built in Germany by Bombardier Transportation, 14 Flexity 2 Class members initially entered service, followed by a further four in 2017.


Planning has begun for possible further extensions from Broadbeach South to Burleigh Heads, with the eventual aim of the line running to the Gold Coast Airport at Coolangatta. The section from Broadbeach South to Burleigh Heads would be around 7 km in length, and from Burleigh Heads to the airport and Coolangatta would be around 15 km. Consideration could also be given to extending the network further inland to Robina, Nerang, Bundall and Biggera Waters. The Gold Coast currently has a population of around 550,000. This figure is projected to reach 800,000 by 2031 and 930,000 by 2038, and with 12,000,000 tourists visiting each year, the Gold Coast Light Rail line will be a vital part of the city’s ongoing public transport needs.


Yarra Trams (Melbourne)

Yarra Trams operates the Melbourne tram network, which consists of 250 km of double track, making it the largest operating tram network in the world. Approximately 80 per cent of the network is built on roads and is largely a tramway network rather than a light rail network. However, two lines are in effect light rail lines: Route 96 from Southbank Junction to St Kilda, and Route 109 from Southbank Junction to Port Melbourne. Both of these light rail lines were built as railway lines, but converted to light rail in 1987. The Melbourne to St Kilda line opened as a railway in 1857, and opened as a light rail line on 20 November 1987. The Melbourne to Port Melbourne line was Australia’s first steam-powered railway when it opened in 1854, and after conversion, it opened as a light rail line on 18 December 1987. Both of these railways were broad gauge (1600 mm) lines and were converted to standard gauge (1435 mm) when converted to light rail.


Services on Route 96 to St Kilda are typically operated by C2, E and E2 Class trams. The C2 Class are five-section low-floor articulated light rail vehicles that were manufactured by Alstom at La Rochelle in France. They were obtained second-hand from the city of Mulhouse in France, and entered service in Melbourne in 2008. They have seating for 56 passengers.

The E Class has 55 members, the first of which entered service in 2013. They are three-section articulated light rail vehicles that were built by Bombardier Transportation in Melbourne, although some components were manufactured in Germany. At over 33 metres in length, they are Melbourne’s longest trams or light rail vehicles, and have seating for 64 passengers. The E2 Class are Melbourne’s newest trams and began operating in 2017.  Thirty are being built at Dandenong in Melbourne, but not all have commenced service yet. The E2 Class trams are very similar to the E Class, but have a redesigned cab, reduced glare to improve visibility for the driver, and additional handholds for passengers. They have seating for 64 passengers.


Services on Route 109 to Port Melbourne are typically operated by A1, A2 and C1 Class trams. The A1 Class are three-door, bogie saloon trams that were built by Commonwealth Engineering at Dandenong in Melbourne. They commenced operating in 1984. Both the A1 and A2 Class trams have seating for 42 passengers. The A2 class are similar to the A1 Class and commenced service in 1985. They have some upgraded features, such as improved braking, and were built with pantographs, a new fixture for Melbourne trams at the time. The C1 Class are three-section low-floor articulated light rail vehicles that were manufactured by Alstom at La Rochelle in France. They commenced service in 2001 and have seating for 54 passengers.


Adelaide Metro

Adelaide Metro owns and operates the Adelaide tramway network. It currently has one line that is 15 km in length and runs from the Entertainment Centre at Hindmarsh through the Central Business District to Moseley Square at Glenelg. Much of the line has its own right of way that is separate from road traffic, and can be considered a light rail line. Work is underway to extend the line along North Terrace to the East End, including three new stops; and also 100 metres north along King William Road from North Terrace to the Festival Centre, with one new stop. In 2016–17 there were 8,922,000 tram passengers that boarded Adelaide Metro services.


The Glenelg line is currently serviced by the Flexity Classic and Citadis 302 light rail vehicles. The Flexity Classic type are three-section articulated low-floor light rail vehicles that were built by Bombardier Transportation at Bautzen in Germany. Fifteen members of the class are in service in Adelaide, and they are similar to trams operating in a number of European cities. They first entered service in 2005 and were ordered to replace some of the older H Class trams that had been in service in Adelaide since the 1920s. Each Flexity Classic tram has seating for 64 passengers. They have raised end sections with motors underneath and are low-floor throughout the remainder of the vehicle.


The Citadis 302 type are five-section articulated low-floor light rail vehicles that were designed for service in Madrid in Spain, but became surplus and were purchased by Adelaide Metro. They were built by Alstom in La Rochelle, France. Six entered service in late 2009 and early 2010. They are completely low-floor vehicles and are similar to the C2 Class trams in service in Melbourne. Another three Citadis 302 trams were ordered by the South Australian Government in 2017. They were built in 2010, and then stored in Madrid until arriving in Adelaide in late 2017, and commencing service in 2018. The Citadis 302 trams have seating for 54 passengers.



Adelaide Metro <>.

G:link <>.

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‘Going for gold’, Tramways & Urban Transit, no. 964, April 2018, pp. 134–5.

Government of South Australia, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure, Annual report 2016–17, Adelaide, 2017.

Here and There, Supplement to the Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 604, February 1988, p. 10.

Here and There, Supplement to the Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, no. 603, January 1988, p. 3.

Keys, E, ‘Light rail development in Australia, 2012–2016’, 2016 Australian Transport Research Forum papers, 2016.

‘Rethinking Adelaide’, Tramways & Urban Transit, no. 964, April 2018, p. 140.

‘Systems factfile no. 126: Sydney, Australia’, Tramways & Urban Transit, no. 964, April 2018, pp. 142–8.

Trainline 5 Statistical Report, Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Canberra, 2017, p. 66.

Transdev <>.

Yarra Trams <>, <>.

Former Port Melbourne railway station. Although it as at the terminus of Route 109, the building and platform are not used as a light rail station, 18 December 2017.



Flexity Classic tram 111, North Terrace, Adelaide, 17 January 2017.

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