– danielyhbi Dec 10, 2017
Table of Contents
A tram is a British term for a “streetcar”, “trolley car” or “trolley” that is known in North America. A tram car is known as a vehicle which is powered by electricity conveyed by overhead cables, and running on fixed rails what are laid in a public road . Trams tend to share the road with other traffic. However, more preferably, they would have their own right-a-way that is either on the side or center of a street. Below is a picture of a typical tram train in the city of Rome in Figure 1.
|Figure 1: Tram 3 entering Porta Maggiore Station.|
|Figure 2: Tram signal with other traffic sign|
Tram lines usually run within the city for most cases, they are easily definable by distinct overhead powerlines and tracks on the road. Tram station is usually larger as ones can see from Figure 1, compared to a normal bus stop which is always more of a hassle to find.
Nowadays, the tram system’s unique properties make itself sits in an awkward place in between bus and metro/light rail system. On one hand, bus system has the complete freedom and flexibility: It is mobile, and can be easily rerouted in response to change. On the other hand, the metro is way more sophisticated than tram system: The train runs longer, has the ability to carry more people, and it is completely isolated from other traffic with its own right-a-way. Figure 2 shows a couple of tram signals at an isolated part of tram 3 route.
With that being said, what is left for the tram system? In this article, we will use the city of Rome in Italy to explore the necessity and viability of current tram system that is on top of existing buses and metro lines. This article will start with an overview of existing tram as well as other public transit systems, then an evaluation and future of the current tram system.
1.2 Advantage of Tram
After all, despite all of concerns and disputes, trams hold several distinct advantages over buses.
Tram typically carries way more than an average bus could, and tram has more flexibility in responding to changes. For example, the newest tram model (9200 Series FIAT-1 Class) that runs on Line 3 and 8 in Rome has about 42 meters in length , compares to a typical Roman Mercedes Citaro bus that spans from 12 to 19 meters . This means a tram car can carry almost twice as much as a typical bus in Rome. In addition, trams have a better flexibility about capacity than buses. As the demand for ridership increases, a transit agent can easily attach another carriage to a tram, whereas a bus cannot be extended .
Walking next to Tiber River along the street Lungotervere dei Vallati, I can always see buses and trams that run at full capacity during peak hours. Since both transit modes carry full loads during peak hours and run on about the same schedule, Tram undoubtedly is able to carry more people to places.
Tram tracks and stations are easily visible thus serve as landmarks throughout the city—It’s rather easy since massive steel rails, overhead power lines, and extra long platforms are hard to miss out.
As we explored within the city of Rome during our study abroad time, a group of us tend to look for tram landmarks such as overhead power lines and steel rails to guide us as we navigate. This makes me think how more convenient it will be for other people to explore an unfamiliar part of the city. Use Figure 3 as an example, by looking for tram cables or tracks, ones can quickly travel to the correct location or find a tram station and ride back home.
Furthermore, Transit agencies always like to put out tram/light rail maps at prominent locations to aid tourists and visitors for ease of commuting. As I landed at Fiumicino airport, stepped into Roma Termini, and walked into a Metro station, I was always greeted by a sizable poster that shows me the rail network map. The permanence of tram not only helps to serve as a distinct landmark but also contributes to the transit network maps .
|Figure 3: Tram 3 Aventino Station. I bet this is easier to spot than a tiny bus stop.|
Reduction of Urban Pollution 
Trams are fairly environmental friendly since the majority of the tram lines run completely on electricity. More importantly, tram contributes to lower carbon emission which helps to keep a lower pollution level within the city.
Pollution is a concern in the city of Rome. The smell of car exhaust is fairly noticeable as one walk alongside a road. There are a plenty of cars in Rome that runs on fossil fuels, and the city has already restricted private car usage within the city for a while . As of Rome’s public transit, all 6 tram lines are operated with electric vehicles, whereas most of the buses in Rome run on diesel . Imagine what will happen if all trams in Rome are replaced by diesel buses, and imagine the case if all the public transits are run on electricity. Tram contributes less or no carbon emissions during operations which in a way reduces the pollution within Rome.
|Figure 4: Tram’s go signal at Porta Maggiore. Porta Maggiore is the biggest tram connecting station in Rome.|
Reduction of Noise Level 
Tram is overall quieter than the bus. Although tram is a notch louder than bus when operates at speed due to rail-wheel interaction, it is the bus’s peak engine noise that makes bus create louder noise than the tram. A noise impact study from Loughborough University shows that the max bus noise measured from 7.5m is 93dB(A), whereas it is 87 dB(A) for the tram. More data can be found below in Table 4-A and Figure 4-B .
|Table 4-A. Summary of the result from the noise impact study. Sound measured normalized to 7.5m. Sound collected at Lace Market Curve which its pavement is in a good condition.|
|Figure 4-B: Noise data for bus and tram passes at Lace Market stop/curve. Sound measured normalized to 7.5m. (Note vehicles travel slowly here) |
In Rome, the noise situation for buses might be even worse due to the less ideal condition of the pavement. Bumps and dips are present on the pavement, and the traditional Roman cobblestone paved road next to the Colosseum is quite a bumpy road for buses to drive on (noticed by the author). In those cases, buses may create more noticeable noises than tram during operation.
It is easy to imagine the noise level with this observation in downtown and high-density residential areas where plenty of public transit modes are present. It will be loud during daytime and be disturbing at night time. Loud and frequent noises in not only make the street unpleasant, but also induce stress levels in various unhealthy ways such as hypertension, annoyance, and sleep disturbance . Tram, as a substitute for the traditional bus, can bring the noise level down and create a better urban experience.
Due to the nature of tram that is discussed above, tram not only brings the noise of the city down but also provides more comfort to the passengers who ride the tram. General public prefers tram as well. An Australian study indicated that over 54% of the people prefer modern light rails (another equivalent rail transit like the trams), where only about 15% of the population prefer modern BRT across 6 Australian cities . Personally, I have taken many rides on both trams and buses. The entire ride is very smooth and enjoyable, whereas I have to hold on tight to a waggling strap during the entire bus ride to avoid getting knocked back and forth by the bus.
Trams provide traffic calming in the city . People tend to drive a lot faster than the speed limit, this behavior especially becomes more dangerous in the city where the streets are less spacious and the population is much denser—drivers are facing more risk of collisions and damages. However, if a tram is present on the street, the tracks and the cars themselves are likely to cause drivers to move more cautiously. By being more careful of their surroundings, drivers tend to slow down without noticing it. In this way, trams calm down the traffic because drivers do not want to hit the train. Therefore, it provides a safer street for everyone.
1.3 Disadvantage of Tram
Trams ≠ Better Transit
|Figure 5: Tram interacting with other Traffic. (Tram 3 crossing the Tiber River)|
It is easy to develop and build a tram line because ones’ desire while ignoring the fact that a tram route will not single-handedly solve the transit problem. As a post from human transit pointed out,
Where a streetcar is faster or more reliable than a bus route doing the same thing, this is because other improvements were made with the streetcar — improvements that could just as well have been made for the bus route. These improvements may have been politically packaged as part of the streetcar project, but they were logically independent, so their benefits are not really benefits of the streetcar as compared to the bus. “ 
Tram can be reliable and promote urban development. However, if the route is poorly planned and delivered, the route can just be a disaster as a bus route. If trams are not given a signal priority at the intersection, the train will get cut off by other faster vehicles. If the route doesn’t have a reliable time schedule, riders will choose other better options for their commute. If tram route is not grade separated with other traffic, the train will get stuck in traffic along with other cars on the street. Therefore, having trams do not automatically grant you a better transit option—it’s all about the planning and site improvements with it. This leads to the second disadvantage of tram.
High Up-Front Cost
A tram, or streetcar project always has a much higher up-front cost compares to a bus route. According to the fact book from American Public Transportation Association in 2016, Streetcar/light rail has about $123.3 million dollars on average of project, whereas a bus has about $4 million dollars on average . Although the data is originated from the United States, one can still use the cost difference between the two. By comparison, the cost of having one bus route is only a fraction of the cost for a rail project. And there’s no doubt on why a tram/light rail project is so expensive. It requires more effort on designing the roadway, stations, and alignments. In addition, a huge chunk of the cost comes from either digging the tunnel underground or purchasing right-of-ways above grounds. At the end of the day, a tram project will always be expensive in comparison to building a bus route.
Tram navigates through a permanent track, which means it cannot just jump into another lane if there is an obstacle blocking the track. A big debris is enough to stop the tram from going forward, therefore cause a delay for the entire route. In contrast, buses can easily turn around if there is a blockage on one lane. 
In addition, the transit agency can easily reroute buses if the serving area shows a decrease in ridership, where trams are rather permanent which means the only options are to either keep the line running or shut down the station. It’s interesting that how the non-flexibility of trams can serve as both an advantage and disadvantage.
Last but not least, tram tracks are not necessarily friendly to bikers . A case study from the University of Tennessee shows that more than 50 accidents had occurred on both sides of the street in two months in 2014. Most of the bikers broke balance while crossing the train track, some even caused serious injuries. Therefore, putting more tram tracks on the street may cause potential injuries and discouragement for bikers . Figure 6 shows a railroad switches of tram 3 near Trastevere, this should be a route that a biker should avoid.
|Figure 6: Railroad switches as tram 3 tracks merge with tram 8 tracks.|
2. Tram System in Rome
Started in 1877, Rome has a decent size of existing tram network as more routes were added over time. As shown in Figure 7, It consists 6 lines that spam across the whole city. Roman trams also connect the metro, commuter rails, as well as the bus or the night bus. The whole network has 192 stations forming a rail network of 22 miles , and it is operated by ATAC (Azienda Tramvie ed Autobus del Comune di Roma). The direct English translation of ATAC stands for Tramways and Bus Company of Rome Municipality.
|Figure 7: Rome tram map.|
Here is the detail of the 6 lines:
|Table 1: Overview of the Rome tram system. Each line’s end stations, connectivity to other transit mode.|
Line 2: Shortest line that exists on the network
Line 3: Second longest line, going around the city center. Features a fleet of new tram models. Used to be partially opened until 2016. South end connects to Trastevere regional railway station.
Line 5: Connects to Termini railway and metro station. The tram fleet has a lot of old models.
Line 8: Newest line in the system. Features a fleet of new tram models. It reaches furthest into the historic city center. Unfortunately, this line doesn’t connect to most of the transit network.
Line 14: Mostly follows to line 5. Actually awfully similar to line 5, so ones can start to wonder why the two lines run this way.
Line 19: Longest line in the tram network. The line connects to the Vatican City. This tram fleet also has a lot of old models. Connects to every tram line except 8.
2.2 Tram Models
All trams that are currently in use are powered by electricity, and they are articulated to an overhead powerline. There are 4 models that are in the tram fleet: 7000, 9000, 9100, and 9200 series. 7000 Series is the oldest, and the model gets newer as the number increases, which means 9200 series is the newest .
|Figure 8: 7000 Series model tram has 6 axles with two railway carriages (railroad cars) connected. This is one of the earliest model delivered between 1948-49 under ATAC. Line 5 and 14 still have this tram model.|
|Figure 9: 32 trams of 9000 Series were delivered between 1990-1992. Seems like a much better looking upgrade. Also, they have low-floor central areas.|
|Figure 10: 9100 Series model were made around the year of 1999. They have a 70% low-floor configuration, with raised areas over the power bogies. Overall a much modern looking design.|
|Figure 10: 9200 Series were made right after 9100. They are either 8-axle or 10-axle trams, with 100% low-floor layout. 9200 Series is currently the newest model.|
With an unclear detail time schedule from ATAC, trams usually have an average headway of 6 minutes according to google map’s transit direction. However, it is good to know that the system runs from 5:30 am until midnight. After midnight, night buses will replace each tram buses that run on the same route .
Personally, I’ve taken a lot of trams in Rome to get to other places. The frequency definitely varies—sometimes I see 3 trams that followed each other closely, sometimes there would be no trams at all for 20 minutes. However, one can expect a tram to come through usually within 6 mins, which is definitely less of a disaster than buses. If you miss a bus, you might be doomed because the next bus might not come in an hour. In contrast, you will be more likely to feel less stressed if you miss a tram, since you know the next one is coming soon.
2.4 Integration with Other Traffic
With Other Transit Modes
Tram integrates nicely with other transit modes. Each line connects to a fair amount of other transit modes. Namely, Metro lines and other regional/commuter rail lines. For each transfer station, time to walk to another transit mode is usually minimal. Metro station is usually a street across the station, and Tram 3 will drop you right in front of the Trastevere station. Note that unlike switching from one metro line to another metro line, there is no direct connecting walkway from the tram station to another transit mode. Figure 11 shows that the tram station for Roma Termini is outside of the station, with no direction connecting walkways.
|Figure 11: Passengers boarding tram 14 at Termini Station.|
For connecting to buses, the bus stops are usually placed either a street across the station, or directly at the tram station.
|Figure 12: At Farini station, there are two tram limes, one express bus, and one night bus.|
The right-of-way situation for trams is not ideal. There are usually dedicated lanes for Trams, but none of the routes in Rome are fully separated from other traffic such as cars and buses. By personal observation, tram gets its dedicated lanes when it can—when streets are wide enough to allocate 2 lanes (See a case in Figure 12). However, when a street is narrow, trams are forced to share the same lane with other vehicles. For most of the cases, the lane that has tram tracks is usually dedicated for transit/taxi. Without curbs to isolate tram tracks, other vehicles tend to cut through another vehicle by entering and exiting the tram lane, which often times partially blocks the lane enough that a tram cannot pass through. As a result, without their separate right-of-ways, when traffic jam happens, trams usually ends up getting stuck along with other traffic.
|Figure 13: A section of tram 3 has very nice dedicated lanes for their right-of-ways.|
|Figure 14: Trams 5 and 14 are sharing the lanes at Farini Station.|
However, for most of the times, trams can usually bypass a fair amount of traffic using either its full right-of-way lanes or “shared” lanes with other public transits. Tram works well as long as the road is not heavily congested.
Tram system, as the backbone of city transit, mainly serves the residents as the lines connect to several key residential areas and work areas. None of these lines has any special attractions for tourists since none of them reaches the city center. 
Tram has a decent number of riders. Personally, I ride trams frequently at various time and various routes throughout a day to get to places. I came up with a maximum number of people (about 94 people) that can fit on the bus with less or no floor spaces by scanning and count around the whole tram during rush hours. By my observations (also lack of reliable data, as it will be explained in 3.5 Issues), tram cars are usually 70% full most of the time, and it is about 65 people per tram. It is never a problem to get a tram or us full of people, since most of the people rely on public transit to go to places. In addition, with zone controls for cars and other difficulties such as narrow streets and lack of parking spots, ones can find the majority of people using public transits.
|Figure 15: Interior of Tram 5. That is the usual amount of riders in each tram.|
3. Overview of Transit Systems in Rome
To further evaluate the tram system, it is necessary to look into other transit modes in Rome in order to understand the entire transit network as a whole. ATAC, the company that operates trams, also operates all other transit modes in Rome. Namely, Rome’s Metro lines, buses, and urban/commuter rails. This section will briefly provide an overview of the whole transit system network.
|Figure 16: Rome Transit Network|
There are 3 existing metro lines in Rome (Line A, B and C), while C is running with 80% completion. Those three lines span the entire city up until the city limit. With great connectivity with each other (except line C), metro lines are carrying a large amount of commuters daily. See Table 2 for a summary for lines.
|Table 2: Summary of metro lines in Rome. Metro system serves as the main transit mode in Rome, as people are encouraged to park their car in plenty of Park & Rides away from the city center.|
*West end of Metro line C is still under construction. It is expected to reach near the Vatican City.
There are plenty of other transit modes in Rome, such as buses, commuter rails, and regional trains. This article will mainly just focus on the tram network.
There’s no doubt that the transit system and even ATAC are facing several issues.
Other than the metro, the fair collection system for all other transits is flawed. Unlike the fair gate system in metro lines, fair for all other transit modes is collected through ticket reader machines after boarding the vehicle. The ticket reader machines are placed in the middle and end of the bus, and note that none of the readers are placed next to the bus driver! This placement gives commuters the opportunity to easily avoid paying the fair since bus driver does not have the role of fair enforcement. There’s less of none fair enforcement on the transit as well, by personal observation. Although trams and buses are always full, people rarely pay for the fair. Personally, I’ve been on many buses and trams during my visit in Rome. I’ve rarely heard any noises from the ticket reader machines—It makes loud noises while taking in and validating the ticket.
|Figure 17: Side view of a ticket reading machine|
On the other hand, there are problems within ATAC as well. Workers are unhappy about their compensation, and their working environment . They recently just had a day strike in Rome for one day which caused a lot of traffic jams and other delays .
The point is: Transit system will not be better if there are problems that are associated with the system and workers. A good transit network requires all of its parts to work in harmony. Those problems will also be considered during the evaluation of the tram system.
4. Evaluation of the Current Tram System
As we piece all the information about tram and other transit system together, it is time to form an evaluation for the current tram system.
This evaluation will be conducted based on a transit map that is created for this purpose. The map will show the whole tram network, as well as the metro lines (A, B and C). In addition, the map will also indicate key residential areas around the city of Rome, primary business areas, and significant landmarks.
The purpose of creating this map is to show whether the tram system in relation to other transits or areas in Rome. This will help to explore the coverage of tram network within Rome. An ideal situation for tram network is that it covers the majority of the residential and business areas, with a great connectivity to other transit modes.
Several types of demographics are considered during this evaluation. Namely, residents who commute to work, residents who travel to another attractions/region (train station), tourists that come to Rome and go to attractions. Does the tram system meet their travel needs? Is the system redundant around some areas? Is a further expansion needed for the tram system? After researching those questions, a conclusion will be discussed in regards to the future of tram system in Rome. Note any references from the previous section will be linked within the wikispace.
|Figure 18: A tram map that also includes metro lines and other highlighted areas such as residential areas (Green), commercial areas (Blue), and key landmarks (Purple).|
Based on the map, a summary table about neighborhoods is created according to the map.
|Table 3: A summary about the transit situations in various neighborhoods in Rome. Note that minimum means it covers less than 10% of the residential areas, Partial is less than 30%, good is less than 60%, and great is more than 60%.|
Based on the information in the map, there are a lot of transit options around red and purple areas. It seems like almost all the commercial areas and attractions are well covered by either a metro or trams.
The residential area that lacks transit the most is Trieste, and then it’s Balduina, Monteverde, and Trastevere. Residential areas that have the most transits are Bologna, San Lorenro, Parioli and Aventino.
4.4 Discussion and Conclusion
Tram system is okay for both residents and tourists. Based on the map shown, it covers or at least touches most of the residential areas. However, there is definitely more rooms for improvement. For example, tram (or even metro) barely touched Balduina which means there’s basically no transit options in that area at all other than the irregular buses. In addition, commuters most definitely have to walk more than 5 more minutes to get to a rail transit for district Trieste and Monteverde. Long walking time to a transit mode will discourage people to use public transit, and the current transit will suffer from losing revenge and ridership.
By my personal observation and the map that I made, I believe that people do reply on trams to get to places. Unlike the Seattle streetcar which is always empty, most of the trams in Rome have a lot of riders and the train is always full of riders even at night. In addition, riders enjoy them because of the comfort and reliability of the system. Therefore, people do have a reason to take the tram and it is not as redundant as I previously concerned.
We all know that improvements for transit if definitely needed. However, the question is how to improve the transit in the most efficient and budget-friendly way. With the full completion of Metro line C in the near future, Acentino, city center, and Trastevere will gain more access to more transit options. There are several suggested improvements that are listed below.
1) Create a short tram or BRT that connects Tram 8 from Via Del Casaletto to Metro line C (currently building) station that will be right below the Vatican city. The new line will add more fast transit options for Monteverde and Trastevere.
2) Extend the north end of Tram 8 (Piazza Venezia) and head northeast of Via dei Fori Imperiali street and all the way up to Termini. In this way, Tram 8 will connect to more historical sites which attract tourists, connect to a future station of Metro line C at Piazza Venezia, connect to existing Metro line A/B, and people from Monteverde and Trastevere will have a reliable transit all the way to Termini. Furthermore, street at Via del Fori Imperiali is wide enough to have space for Tram’s full right-of-way. This will be perfect for ax expansion for Tram 8
3) Combine the tram lines in San Loreneo, and upgrade to a newer tram model if possible. There are three tram lines that run the exact same route from Porta Maggiore to Prenestina. Combining redundant routes (and also keep the same frequency of trams) will help to reduce cost on maintenance, management, and make commuters less confused. There should not be two separate tram lines that run on the exact same route at all.
4) Create new tram or BRT for Trieste district. A good example to follow is Tram line 2 in Parioli district.
In this article, we discussed the advantage and downside about the tram, the current transit network in Rome, and case-studied the tram system in Rome in order to give out an evaluation and suggested improvements about the current tram system.
In short, tram provides more comfort to the commuters. It is faster and more reliable if the planning is done right. Although there are other rail-equivalent options such as better bus and BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), commuters continuously prefer to take the rail transit for its benefits .
As for the city of Rome, the tram network is not as a disaster as the bus system, but less superior than the metro system (which is as expected). Improvements can be made by both extending the tram network and shrinking down repetitive routes. With Metro line C getting closer to completion, there is definitely hope for a better public transit system in Rome in the future.
6. Personal Statement
|Figure 19: A group of students (including me) taking a selfie in front of Villa D’Este at Tivoli, Rome. Great memories!|
This article and analysis of tram system in Rome is written by Daniel Bi (me). I studied abroad in Rome through my university program called “Engineering Rome”. Through my 3 and a half weeks stay in Rome, I’ve experienced a lot of Roman cultures: their building style, residential life, the rich history, and amazing food. The reason that I choose to talk about tram is my great passion in the railway system. As I take trams nearly every day to visit different sites, I realized it is definitely more enjoyable and relieving to ride the tram instead of buses, and seems like there is a lot that can be done to improve the tram system. I want to find out how to make tram and the transit system in Rome better.
I have received a lot of much appreciated help from people that are along with me through the program. Great memories are made from learning about engineering in Rome, as well as classmates helping each other out with their projects. In addition, I would like to personally thank Steve Muench (my program professor), and Heta Kosonen (the teaching assistant for this class) for the guidance and feedback during my project. They have worked really hard to put together a great experience for the students in this program. I will treasure the moment that I spent with an amazing group of people in Rome, and I will not hesitate to join if there comes another chance for another journey.
As an undergrad student with limited knowledge of transportation engineering, I realized my evaluation and suggested improvements are far beyond perfect. However, if you want to know more about this article and my thoughts on this project, please contact me and I will love to answer questions at my best effort!
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This wiki page is at 100% completion
To do: DONE
Instructor Feedback on the first draft:
Your writing style needs a major English upgrade (proofread and change). Also, it reads like a blog by someone that didn’t really look up any evidence to substantiate their claims. That may be a result of you getting most of your information from general news articles and blogs. You need more empirical evidence to substantiate just about every claim you make. I suggest you go back and substantiate your claims with actual information. If you think ROW is not idea, compare it to a system that is better. Or bring in a resource that talks about tram ROW.
You spend a lot of space trying to define “tram” and distinguish it from other rail forms. This could be better. Just define what a tram is succinctly and say why how it is different from heavy rail, light rail, etc. It appears to have to do with stop frequency and perhaps right-of-way?
I think you would do better to put in the description of Rome’s tram system just after the introduction. In other advantages/disadvantages discussions you keep referring to Rome tram lines, but the reader doesn’t know what those are until you introduce them.
Advantages/disadvantages section: Structure it like this: use a reference that points out the major advantages/disadvantages. For each one, present what it is and then include your personal observations from Rome. Talk about whether your observations are consistent with the claim. You may find you don’t believe some.
Don’t bother explaining the rest of the ATAC system. Just concentrate on trams.
Changes based on the comments:
– 95% of the comments are addressed
– Revamped on the writing style
– Added more empirical evidences to multiple claims (Sec 1.2 & 1.3)
– Linked figures to the article
– Deleted description of other transit systems, one disadvantage of tram
– Relinked broken references