Commuter rail in North America

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New Jersey Transit has an extensive commuter rail system connecting New Jersey to New York City and Philadelphia.
A Metra train in Chicago.

Commuter rail services in the United States, Canada, and Mexico provide common carrier passenger transportation along railway tracks, with scheduled service on fixed routes on a non-reservation basis primarily for short-distance (local) travel between a central business district and adjacent suburbs and regional travel between cities of a conurbation. It does not include rapid transit or light rail service.


Many, but not all, newer commuter railways offer service during peak times only. For example, West Coast Express commuter rail runs trains only into Downtown Vancouver during the morning rush hour, and out to the suburbs during the evening rush hour. This mode of operation is in many cases simplified by ending the train with a special passenger carriage (referred to as a cab car), which has an operating cab and can control the locomotive remotely so as to avoid having to turn the train around at each end of its route. Other systems avoid the problem by using bi-directional multiple units.

GO Transit operates mainly during peak rush hour, but offers limited service off hours during the week and on weekends along a single route. Most of GO's routes radiate from downtown Toronto. Future plans for all day service on some lines are in the works (under the Big Move plan by Metrolinx).

The Utah Transit Authority operate the FrontRunner (which connects the Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo metropolitan areas, or Wasatch Front) that runs on thirty-minute headways during weekday rush hours and sixty-minute headways during all other times on weekdays and Saturdays (no Sunday service). Service runs until after midnight on weekday and just after 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The FrontRunner service is also bi-directional during the entirety of its operating hours.[1]

A few older, established commuter rail services operate seven days a week, with services from early morning to just after midnight. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the only 24/7 commuter railroad in North America. The Metro-North Railroad, also serving the New York City Metropolitan Area, only stops services in the very early morning hours; usually between 3 and 5 am. The planned East Line and the planned Gold Line, both part of Denver's FasTracks program, will run 24/7 with reduced service late nights and early mornings. On these systems patrons use the trains not just for work, or school, but for attending sporting events, concerts, theatre, and the like. Some also provide service to popular week-end getaway spots and recreation areas.

Most commuter rail services in North America are operated by government entities or quasi-governmental organizations. Some share tracks or rights-of-way used by longer-distance passenger services (e.g. Amtrak, Via Rail), freight trains, or other commuter services. The 600 mile-long (960 km long) electrified Northeast Corridor in the United States is shared by commuter trains and Amtrak's Acela Express, regional, and intercity trains.

Commuter rail operators often sell reduced fare multiple-trip tickets (such as a monthly or weekly pass), charge specific station-to-station fares, and have one or two railroad stations in the central business district. Commuter trains typically connect to metro or bus services at their destination and along their route.


The two busiest passenger rail stations in the United States are Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, which are both located in New York City, and which serve three of the four busiest commuter railroads in the United States (the LIRR and New Jersey Transit at Penn Station, and Metro-North Railroad at Grand Central Terminal). The commuter railroads serving the Chicago area are Metra and the South Shore Line. Another notable commuter railroad system is Boston's MBTA Commuter Rail, the fifth busiest in the U.S. (after only New York, New Jersey, and Chicago area systems) with a daily weekday ridership of 130,600 as of Q4 2011. It serves the Greater Boston metropolitan area, and extends as far south as Wickford, Rhode Island. The next largest commuter railroads are SEPTA, serving the Philadelphia area; CalTrain, serving San Francisco to points south along the peninsula; and Metrolink, serving the 5 county Los Angeles area.

There are only three commuter rail agencies in Canada, GO Transit in Toronto, Agence métropolitaine de transport in Montreal and West Coast Express in Vancouver. The two busiest rail stations in Canada are Union Station in Toronto and Central Station in Montreal.

Commuter rail networks outside of densely populated urban areas like the Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto metropolitan areas have historically been sparse. Since the 1990s, however, several commuter rail projects have been proposed and built throughout the United States, especially in the Sun Belt and other regions characterized by urban sprawl that have traditionally been underserved by public transportation. Since the late 1990s, commuter rail networks have been inaugurated in Dallas, San Diego, Minneapolis, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Orlando, and Albuquerque, among other cities. Several more commuter rail projects have been proposed and are in the planning stages.

Rolling stock[edit]

Commuter trains are powered by diesel-electric or electric locomotives or use self-propelled cars. A few systems, particularly around New York City, use electric power—supplied by a third rail or via overhead catenary wire—where it provides quicker acceleration, lower noise, and fewer air-quality issues.

Diesel-electric locomotives based on the EMD F40PH design as well as the MP36PH-3C are popular commuter motive power. Manufacturers of coaches include Bombardier, Kawasaki, Nippon Sharyo, and Hyundai-Rotem. A few systems are using Diesel multiple unit vehicles including the Westside Express Service in Portland, Austin's Capital MetroRail, and South Florida's Tri-rail. These systems use vehicles supplied by Stadler Rail or US Railcar (formerly Colorado Railcar).

List of North American commuter rail operators[edit]

System Metropolitan area Province / State Daily Ridership (weekday)(Q1 2014) Source
A-train Denton County Texas 2,100 [2]
Agence métropolitaine de transport Montreal Quebec 72,600 [2]
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) San JoseStockton California 4,400 [2]
Caltrain San FranciscoSan Jose California 51,300 [2]
Capital MetroRail Austin Texas 2,900 [3]
Coaster San Diego California 5,400 [2]
GO Transit Toronto Ontario 197,000 (2013) [4]
Long Island Rail Road New York CityLong Island New York 337,800 [2]
MARC Train BaltimoreWashington, DC Maryland / West Virginia / District of Columbia 33,400 [2]
MBTA Commuter Rail Boston Massachusetts / Rhode Island 131,000 [2]
Metra Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 281,200 [2]
Metrolink Los AngelesSouthern California California 41,300 [2]
Metro-North Railroad New York City; New Haven; Poughkeepsie New York / Connecticut 274,900 [2]
Music City Star Nashville Tennessee 1,000 [2]
New Jersey Transit Rail Operations North Jersey; New York City
PhiladelphiaAtlantic City
New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania 276,459 (2012) [5][6]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express Albuquerque - Santa Fe New Mexico 3,600 [2]
Northstar Commuter Rail Minneapolis – St. Paul Minnesota 2,400 [2]
South Shore Line Chicago - South Bend Illinois / Indiana 11,200 [2]
SEPTA Regional Rail Philadelphia Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware 127,100 [2]
Shore Line East New HavenNew London Connecticut 2,200 [2]
Sounder SeattleTacoma Washington 11,800 [2]
SunRail Orlando Florida 4,100 [7]
Trinity Railway Express DallasFort Worth Texas 8,100 [2]
Tri-Rail MiamiSouth Florida Florida 15,300 [2]
Utah Transit Authority (the FrontRunner) OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo Utah 15,200 [2][8]
Virginia Railway Express Washington, DC Virginia / District of Columbia 17,400 [2]
West Coast Express Vancouver British Columbia 1,100 [2]
Westside Express Service Portland Oregon 2,000 [2]

Proposed and under construction[edit]

There are several commuter rail systems currently in development in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Metropolitan Area Province(s) System Official site Other sites
Ottawa Ontario/Québec Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew* [9] [10]
Metropolitan Area State(s) System Official site Other sites
Aguascalientes Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [11][12]
Guadalajara Jalisco Tren Suburbano [13]


United States of America
Metropolitan Area State(s) System Official site Other sites
Anchorage Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [15] [16]
Ann Arbor Michigan WALLY [17] [18]
Atlanta/Athens/Macon Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,

Georgia Brain Train

Charlotte North Carolina LYNX Red Line [21][22]
Cleveland Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [23] [24][25]
Cincinnati Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [26]
Cloverdale - Larkspur (San Francisco) California SMART [27]
Dallas/Fort Worth Texas Tarrant Express (TEX)/

DART Cotton Belt Rail Line

Denver/Boulder Colorado FasTracks [30]
Detroit Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [31][32][33]
Greensboro North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [34]
Harrisburg/Lancaster Pennsylvania Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit) [35]
Houston Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [36][37]
Indianapolis Indiana IndyConnect Green Line[38] [39]
Jacksonville Florida First Coast Commuter Rail
Madison Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,

Transport 2020 Commuter Rail

Minneapolis Minnesota Red Rock Corridor [42]
New Haven/ Hartford/ Springfield Connecticut / Massachusetts New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line [43]
Oklahoma City Oklahoma OnTrac [44] [45]
Oxnard - Santa Barbara California Santa Barbara - Ventura County Commuter Rail [46][47]
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Eastern Corridor Transit Study (no official name as of 2010) [48] [49]
San Antonio/Austin Texas LSTAR [50]
Scranton, Pennsylvania / New Jersey / New York City Pennsylvania / New Jersey / New York Lackawanna Cutoff [51]
St. Louis Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [52]
  • The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organization proposing similar systems.


The following systems have ceased operations since the 1970s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x American Public Transportation Association: Q1 2014 ridership report
  3. ^ American Public Transportation Association: Q1 2014 ridership report
  4. ^ "Info to GO" (PDF). GO Transit. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "New Jersey Transit facts-at-a-glance". June 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2013. 
  6. ^ Q1,2014 daily average Not Available but Q1 ridership was 4.89% high than in 2013.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Five Years of FrontRunner". Utah Transit Authority. 25 April 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014. 
  9. ^ Welcome / Bienvenue
  10. ^ Transport Pontiac-Renfrew
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Alaska Railroad Corporation > Home
  16. ^
  17. ^ WALLY - The Washtenaw and Livingston Line
  18. ^ The Ride - Ann Arbor Transportation Authority
  19. ^ Buy Prada Handbags Online - USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Europe, UAE
  20. ^ Web hosting provider - - domain hosting - PHP Hosting - cheap web hosting - Frontpage Hosting E-Commerce Web Hosting Bluehost
  21. ^
  22. ^ [1][dead link]
  23. ^ Appendix D
  24. ^ Ohio News - OH News | The Morning Journal
  25. ^ — Rachel Carson (2007-01-13). "Lorain to Cleveland commuter rail | GreenCityBlueLake". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  26. ^ Oasis Rail Transit Introduction
  27. ^ Smart Train North Bay Sonoma Marin | SMART – Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit | Passenger train and multi-use pathway project
  28. ^ TEX Rail | Home
  29. ^ "Cotton Belt Public Private Partnership Request for Information". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  30. ^ FASTRACKS - Redirect
  31. ^ Annarbordetroitrapidtransitstudyコム
  32. ^ [2][dead link]
  33. ^ [3][dead link]
  34. ^
  35. ^ Welcome to our Site
  36. ^ METRO - Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston, Texas
  37. ^ "All about Metro and public transport vehicles in the United States". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  38. ^
  39. ^ Marion County | Indianapolis Star |
  40. ^ Dane County Commuter Rail
  41. ^ Transport 2020 Project Site
  42. ^ Red Rock Corridor
  43. ^ DSF AppStart Error
  44. ^ OKC council asks for rail hub study | OnTrac
  45. ^ Oklahoma City council decision could lay tracks for commuter system | News OK
  46. ^
  47. ^ "The Leading In Motion Site on the Net". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  48. ^ Eastern Corridor Transit Study: Transitional Analysis To Locally Preferred Alternatives
  49. ^
  50. ^ Lone Star Rail District | Home
  51. ^ Penn Jersey Rail Coalition Home Page
  52. ^ St. Louis Rapid Transit Connector Study