Common terms used when talking about Light Rail

Confused by our terminology? That happens easily, because changes over the years, fashion, and differences between US and UK usage have produced several different terms for the same concept. Hopefully this glossary will dispel some of the confusion ...


an electrically-propelled rail transit vehicle designed to be used safely in the street environment

light rail vehicle (LRV)

a modern (1970s onwards) synonym for 'tram'

light rail transit (LRT)

an urban passenger transport system using light rail vehicles. Generally used, particularly in the US, for systems with long lines into the suburbs on private right of way and relatively short sections in the downtown street environment


generally US term for trams which run mainly or wholly in the downtown street environment at low speeds and making frequent stops. Functions as a 'downtown circulator'. Restored or replica old, or 'heritage', trams can be used, as in Christchurch, San Francisco and New Orleans, and/or modern low-floor vehicles as in Portland and Seattle. The downtown track infrastructure can be shared with LRT or tram-train serving the suburbs 


Trans-Action's branding of a tram-train system which would extend the regional rail system along the Golden Mile (stage 1) then to the Regional Hospital (stage 2) and the Airport (stage 3). (A 1992 proposal by Transport 2000, forerunner of Trans-Action, branded 'Superlink', proposed the same route south of the Railway Station but did not envisage the extension of regional rail services, other than Johnsonville, along it.)


an urban transit system featuring trams (LRVs) running on street trackage in the city centre and ordinary (heavy) rail tracks in the suburbs, thus providing an unbroken journey from suburb to city centre – see our mission statement. The fairly obvious term is actually only about 5 years old, and French in origin, but examples of tram-train date back to the 19th century and it was first proposed in Wellington in 1878. Modern examples include Karlsruhe and Kassel


mainly US synonym for 'tram' or 'streetcat'. Also commonly used in Wellington as shorthand for 'trolleybus'.