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Stimulating economic vitality and advancing the Louisville region’s quality of life must be the ultimate goal of the transportation strategy behind Move Louisville, Mayor Greg Fischer‘s in-the-works long-range multimodal transportation plan. To achieve this desired outcome, a “high-line” tram along the city’s riverfront would provide a dynamic, progressive solution for mobility and a connection for Louisville’s waterfront neighborhoods.

Similar in design to circulator systems at international airports, this tram would connect Louisville’s dense Downtown with the city’s highest-density residential neighborhood, Portland. This tram could significantly foster revitalization along the western waterfront where there is tremendous potential for both affordable and upscale housing developments. And, it would allow fast, convenient access for those living in this west-side area into downtown for work, entertainment, restaurant, and other urban destinations.

Proposed route for the "High-Line Tram." (Courtesy Steve Wiser)
Proposed route for the “High-Line Tram.” (Courtesy Steve Wiser)


Elevated to avoid street-level congestion as well as periodic Ohio River flooding, this tram would be a sleek, modern vehicle that would be highly attractive to the younger generation as well as older adults who seek a less-stressful commute.

Above-level trams are being used in distinctive cities such as Portland, Ore., Seattle, Las Vegas, and Sydney, Australia. And the High Line linear park in New York City, which converted an elevated rail trestle into a lush garden, while not a tram, is a comparable people-mover concept.

Examples of elevated trams. (Courtesy Steve Wiser)
Examples of modern elevated trams. (Courtesy Steve Wiser)


Transit stations would be positioned at the following primary access points: Slugger Field; the KFC Yum! Center; the Belvedere / Galt House; the West Main Street Museum District; East Portland / Shippingport; McAlpine Lock & Dam; and 22nd / Portland district. It would also extend eastward to Frankfort Avenue, with stops at Waterfront Park, the Big Four Bridge, and planned Waterfront Botanical Gardens. Future extensions could head northward to southern Indiana via the K&I Bridge crossing as well as to the south toward Old Louisville and beyond.

An elevated rail line once followed Louisville's riverfront, seen here at Fourth Street. (Courtesy UL Photo Archives - Reference)
An elevated rail line once followed Louisville’s riverfront, seen here at Fourth Street in 1927. (Courtesy UL Photo Archives – Reference)


This tram would produce immediate financial impact and provide noticeable livability and health improvements as opposed to any other transportation initiative. Rider fees and tax increment financing can help fund this proposal.

More specific benefits of implementing this high-line tram include: reducing automobile use, which lessens pollution and congestion; revitalizing inner-city affordable housing; encouraging new developments that offer spectacular scenic settings; promoting sustainable, “green” growth; and offering a fun, enjoyable visitor attraction along the waterfront. Residents and visitors could walk, bike, or ride small circulator buses to the tram stations.

This would be an exciting, bold transportation project that would transform Louisville in a very positive, modern manner. A high-line tram would move Louisville forward from a 21st-century vision to a desirable reality, making our community a much better place in which to live, work, and play. Let’s not spend years studying this proposal. This is a very doable project that can be implemented now!

[Top image: An elevated rail line running through Rotterdam, the Netherlands features a distinctive design. (Christopher A. Dominic / Flickr)]

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Branden Klayko


  1. see I dont think a rail-Line parallel to the river would be that beneficial… your not bring people to louisville… …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… I think an elevated rail line from the falls of the ohio (maybe to Jeffersonville (stop at restaurant row), and go between the I65 bridges.. go past waterfront park.. then up main street… to museum row.. cut back to liberty then down 3rd street.. past the universities.. and let it go to the expo center then the airport then up to the zoo.. so people would be pulled into louisville.. not crossed it..

  2. Now doubt, I can see the benefits of the rail line suggested in the article, but first a foremost, as suggested by Daniel, should be a line between downtown and the airport. This would be a dream come true…. not sure I’ll ever see it, though.

  3. Now your acting like the city with a future. Thank you Mr. Fischer. Connect ups and airport with downtown and you have a winner. You can’t afford not to do this.

  4. Elevevated Trams or Monorails are typically nothing more than pretty tourist attractions. The Monorail in Seattle, where im from, is not utilized as a viable mass transportation alternative. I think Porter Stevens with “An Old Way Forward” has a much more viable concept in a 4th street corridor Streetcar line that would provide needed access from the University of Louisville to Downtown. This could be expanded with lines to the east (Bardstown rd, Frankfort ave, brownsboro rd, newburg rd Corridors) and west (Broadway, Market, Portland) and as far south as Iroquois park with offshoots to the airport, the fairgrounds and the UPS/Ford plants.

  5. While the route is seemingly in a good place, I do question if an elevated line is necessary (although the idea to have a raised platform again is cool from a historical point of view). Louisville’s rail ROW seems to have quite a bit of excess room and the existing street ROW’s are huge when compared to other cities. I understand the need to avoid street congestion, but the fact is that Louisville really doesn’t have street congestion.

  6. This Louisville tram concept is rather Disneyesque and socialist. Orlando has just completed a project connecting the outlining metropolitan area counties with one north-bound rail line that connects to the heart of downtown. Another link will connect to the international airport–eventually, as funding sources and public support abounds. Certainly, public transportation linking the main population centers to work and entertainment centers will ideally cut back on auto-congestion, pollution, and out of pocket costs, and resolve other health concerns. But what about that love affair with auto? And, George Will once wrote a criticism to any subsidized public transportation– it will just increase taxes and take away another individual freedom– to choose when and where to drive…to be continued….

  7. Anyone want to fact check the claim that Portland is the densest neighborhood in Louisville? Seems pretty hollowed out to me. If I recall correctly, the census tract (2010) average population for Old Louisville was something like 12,000 per square mile which, I thought, was the highest in the city.

  8. Installing a fixed rail line is a tricky proposition. What happens when population, for whatever reason shifts? What happens when movement patterns shift?

  9. The proposed $ 50 million removal of the Ninth Street ramp and relocation to 14th street is just one example of the billions spent each year on concrete state highway transportation and maintenance. The public is being tapped for transportation every year and that has historically only increased by fuel tax revenues or direct budget appropriation. Now the transportation cartels are out in the street crying ‘failing infrastructure!!’ They want Congress and state governments to move more public billions into major engineering firms coffers.
    This has been dubbed the ‘transportation -industrial complex.’ Its addicted to carbon emitting highways.

    Any alternative that moves people is probably better than rubber tired combustion fume emitting single driver autos. Each year we put hundreds of thousands of tons of sodium chloride on concrete and asphalt roads with the result that when spring comes we have millions of potholes that require millions more dollars of pavement repair. The Sherman Minton bridge is an example of how road salt corrodes major bridge infrastructure into rusting junk. They build for millions, corrode it for millions and then rebuild it for millions in an insane and wasteful cycle. The public sucks fumes causing an asthma and heart disease epidemic–the transportation complex gets rich.

    The majority of cross river commuting traffic could have been accommodated with a no or low emissions light rail system before we dedicated $ 10 billion of tax payer and toll payer money to the Bridge to River Ridge. That light rail line alternative sensibly could eliminate the need for the Downtown doubled span. Too late to call back the billions we’ll be paying the concrete cartel. Mayor Fischer, Mayor Abramson and the Metro Council–not to mention Anne Northrup and Congressman Yarmuth carried this disaster forward.

    The concept of a Portland to Crescent Hill or Highlands line elevated in the river flood plain is affordable if we shift funds out of concrete highway building and dedicate them to a no emissions light rail future.Concepts should consider improved mobility for moving poor people to job locations in the booming east end. Pretty ideas die for lack of political support in a world of PAC money.

  10. I have an idea: Let’s try to write a comment that isn’t so riddled with grammatical issues that it’s unintelligible. I have no idea what the first four comments even mean.

  11. This idea was proposed as a waterfront trolley back when everything was still in place by three members of the old Louisville Harrods Creek and Westport Railway Board and the Louisville railroad Task Force. Louisvillians Leslie Shivley now deceased and John Caperton who is now 94 years young bought an English steam, locomotive and a coach which sat at the Pennsylvania Rail Yard at 14th and Rowan Streets. Meetings were held with the Waterfront Development to retain the L&N Beargrass Branch trackage and the Waterfront track which was located where Witherspoon Street is today Today the right of way is blocked by the Witherspoon Parking Garage and the elevation by the Galt House removed in the 1990s. As normal Waterfront Development had no vision.and we have a waterfront park only acessable by automobile or on foot

  12. It would be nice to see an effort to look up the remaining members of the Louisville Railroad Task Force to shed some light on the rail situation here in Louisville and what has and has not been done in the past regarding these issues. While it is nice to see folks chiming in about these issues there are a few of us left who had direct contact with the older generation of folks many now in their late eighties and beyond or they are deceased……. Fortunately I was one of these folks who learned from these folks first hand and we have an near intimate knowledge on the subject. But that knowledge ends with some of the boomers and unfortunately the Gen xers, Hipsters and others born 1990 or later did not get the chance to lean what we did. Perhaps you should feature some of us who know the facts and where everything was, could still be etc etc to talk about streetcars in Louisville it would be an education