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

How to Help

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LEARN about Transit and why there's room for subways, light rail, and streetcars throughout our region. Combining different modes can often be a great city-building choice for the medium-density and 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, and Waterfront East are achievable if we learn from successful transit networks around the world.

TELL your friends and family that new rapid transit is amazing - it really is! - but unless we stabilize and grow operations funding we risk leaving people waiting for crowded buses for decades longer.

Did you know: The bus routes on Finch carry as many riders per day as the population of North Bay! Routes on Lawrence, Jane, and elsewhere also carry a huge number of riders per day. We are decades behind and need more and better transit options for our residents now, not just small extensions that use up all the budget.

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