CodeRedTO Report:
Light Rail in Historic Cities

Recent conversations about upgrading transit in the GTHA have often included discussion of Brampton’s beautiful downtown – an historic Ontario city first incorporated over 160 years ago. This got us thinking about trams, light rail, and how surface rail has been used around the world for far longer than the cars and trucks that travel through Brampton’s downtown today.

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile, the first car in North America, began production in 1896. But several surface rail systems, mostly what we would call streetcars and trams, began operation long before then:

  • 1862: Geneva, Switzerland
  • 1863: Alexandria, Egypt
  • 1865: Berlin, Germany
  • 1869: Brussels, Belgium
  • 1871: Bucharest, Romania
  • 1872: Barcelona, Spain
  • 1877: Rome, Italy

Over 80 surface rail systems opened before the Model T began production, including several in North America such as Toronto’s streetcar network.

However, the technology of modern light rail used today is quite advanced compared to some of those ancient systems, and LRT is fast becoming the transit mode of choice for improved coverage of medium-density areas such as Mississauga-Brampton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, northern Etobicoke and Scarborough, and others worldwide.

Since 2000, 27 cities have launched new light railnot streetcar – lines, including:

  • Valparaiso, Chile
  • Gold Coast, Australia
  • Seattle, WA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
  • Bergen, Norway
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Jerusalem, Israel

We counted, and there are over 80 cities worldwide which run light rail systems as part of their public transit networks. And many of these cities are much older than Brampton, with far less space to work with. Soon Kitchener’s historic downtown will join them with light rail as well.

But can historic cities make light rail work? In fact they do, in pedestrian-, cyclist-, tourist-, and business-friendly ways:


Reims, France (founded 80 B.C.E.)


Grenoble, France (settled ~43 B.C.E.)


Brussels, Belgium (settled ~580 C.E.)


Vienna, Austria (settled ~500 B.C.E.)


Ghent, Belgium (first churches founded ~650 C.E.)
(Note the wooden bridge structure)


Amsterdam, Netherlands (founded ~1300 C.E.)


Tel Aviv, Israel

The Colosseum in Rome

The Colosseum in Rome

Click here to learn more about the Hurontario-Main LRT coming to Mississauga and Brampton
Click here to download this report in PDF format

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LEARN about Transit and why there's room for subways, light rail, and streetcars in our region, and how light rail is actually a great city-building choice for the lower-density neighbourhoods in Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York, Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

CALL your City Councillor, and tell them that you want rational, affordable, and rapid transit in Toronto to benefit everyone, not just one small section of the city. Rapid transit to Malvern, Morningside, Jane & Finch are achievable if we learn from successful transit networks around the world.

TELL your friends and family that subways are amazing - they really are! - but with limited funding we have to make rational decisions about whether to support more residents or leave people waiting for crowded buses for decades longer.

Did you know: The bus routes on Finch have over 85% of the ridership of the (much shorter) Sheppard Subway, and the bus routes on Eglinton already have over 140%! The lengths differ but the need is common in many areas of the city. We are decades behind and need better transit options for our residents now, not just small extensions that use up all the budget.

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