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It takes strategy to realise light rail's potential

Photo: COWI

​The establishment of light rails does not necessarily equal urban development, decreased CO₂levels and reduced car traffic in the cities. A new PhD project from COWI shows that the success of a light rail project highly depends on how you use light rail as a strategic tool in a larger perspective.

​A small carbon footprint and a boost of urban development are arguments often associated with the development of light rails. However, these benefits do not just emerge ripe for picking. In the end, it is necessary to activate the potential of the light rail, says Mette Olesen, the author of the PhD project entitled "Light rail in a mobility perspective – experience, effects, and rationality".

Through case studies of four European cities – Strasbourg, Angers, Freiburg and Bergen – the project shows many examples of how to activate light rail's potentials and how not to.

Development presumes support

According to Olesen's project, it is necessary to introduce supporting initiatives. As an example, Freiburg, Germany, made light rail part of a larger strategy aiming for a "city of short distances". The light rail is therefore accompanied by a large pedestrian zone in the central part of the city, new large roads that redirect traffic around the city, and a park-and-ride concept that makes it easy and useful to use the light rail.

Cohesion and synergy are necessary for success

In Bergen, Norway's first light rail city, the goal was to decrease car traffic. However, the project has yet to succeed. According to Olesen, the project can only reach its goals by introducing traffic restrictions similar to those found in Freiburg.

"The development you want the light rail to create must be supported by principles and initiatives that support a larger goal. It's all about creating cohesion and synergy," Olesen concludes.


By Puk Holm Hansen
and Karen Øksnebjerg
Published 18.08.2014

LAST UPDATED: 16.09.2016