What is a "light railway"?

"Light railway" is a generic term which covers a wide variety of railways and tramways. The term light railway implies economy of construction in one or more ways, for example: light weight rails, wooden rails, light bridges, minimal earthworks, sharp curves and steep gradients, narrow track gauge.

The term "light railway" includes electric mass-transit passenger railways, also known as street tramways, rapid transit, or trolley lines. This type of light railway is outside the main field of interest of the LRRSA, since there are other organisations in Australia actively interested in light railways of this type.

Examples of the types of railways covered by the LRRSA include:

Many of these railways worked in remote areas, and often in rugged terrain. Ingenuity and economy often characterised their construction, and they were associated with lifestyles and technologies which have gone forever. They were also run with an apparent disregard for basic safety, and many of the everyday operating practices would not be permitted today.

Whilst most of Australia's light railways belong to the past, there are notable exceptions. Specialised railways are still used in underground mining, and in the tourist industry. In Queensland, the sugar industry relies on a vast network of 2 ft gauge tramways. These were first built in the 1880s and have naturally evolved since that time to take advantage of technological changes.

Generally the word "tramway" has been used in Australia to describe lightly built, special purpose railways. The use of this word is usually based on legal requirement. To build a railway, an Act of Parliament is required. This is a lengthy, costly and difficult process for a private company. Building a tramway, on the other hand, does not require an Act of Parliament.