Advanced light rail transit systems that use low-floor streetcars will be set up in about 10 cities across the country by fiscal 2016, sources at the transport ministry said Wednesday.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry will request 300 million yen in the fiscal 2007 budget for the project’s preliminary phase, the sources said.

There is growing public recognition of the benefits of using light rail for travel over relatively short distances within a city and its outskirts, as such systems are easy for the elderly to use as well as environmentally friendly.

A loop line will likely be set up in the city of Toyama, where another system went into operation near the port and its environs in April. Other cities that are tipped to host the new rail systems include Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, and Sakai, Osaka Prefecture.

The final decisions on the 10 or so locations will be made by the ministry in fiscal 2008 or later, the sources said.

Cities that are interested will be required to draw up a comprehensive plan for the development and use of their public transportation systems, incorporating light rail, in cooperation with local businesses and residents.

The ministry will consider having both the central and local governments own and take charge of facilities maintenance while outsourcing the operation of the rail service to private companies to lessen the burden on the contractors, according to the sources.

It costs about 1.5 billion yen to 2.5 billion yen to build 1 km of light rail line, about a tenth of the comparable cost for a subway.

The port of Toyama line has seen a steady increase in passengers, attracting interest from local governments across the country.

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