Commuter rail in North America
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.
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 stations in the central business district. Commuter trains typically connect to metro or bus services at their destination and along their route.
In the United States, inter-city trains are operated by Amtrak over a nation wide network. The most heavily used routes with the greatest ridership and schedule frequencies are in the Northeast Megalopolis, the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Pacific Surfliner trains serving the Los Angeles area, the second busiest and profitable rail corridor for Amtrak outside the northeast. About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation's rail riders live in the New York City metropolitan area.
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. Interestingly, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is considered a commuter rail service with equipment similar to LIRR and Metro North that resemble metro subway cars as in Japan and Europe, but not like other commuter rail road cars most common in the U.S.. However, because BART operates similar to a heavy rail metro with subway stations predominantly in downtown San Francisco and Oakland, some may consider it a metro system. However, BART's service area and majority of its stations are in the near and far flung suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area primarily designed to get its passenger in and out of San Francisco and Oakland, again resembling LIRR or Metro-North. However, it is less expansive with more frequent head ways to use SF Muni (a true Metro service) trains that serve some of the same BART stations plus additional underground stations for intra-city transit than BART for the same purpose.
Alaska Railroad provides passenger service with the state of Alaska. In contrast to Amtrak, the train schedules are seasonal in nature.
In Canada, inter-city trains are primarily operated by Via Rail over the railroad network that's largely owned by Canadian National Railway. Most of the travel occurs within the Quebec City – Windsor Corridor. Ontario Northland Railway and Algoma Central Railway provides passenger rail service throughout northern Ontario, reaching areas that are difficult to reach by road. Tshiuetin Rail Transportation provides passenger rail service throughout western Labrador and northeastern Quebec. Keewatin Railway Company provides passenger service in Northern Manitoba, between The Pas, and Pukatawagan.
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 outside of Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto metropolitan areas are more infrequent and less extensively used.
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
Proposed and under construction
There are several commuter rail systems currently in development in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
- The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organization proposing similar systems.
The following systems have ceased operations since the 1970s.
- OnTrack, Syracuse, New York (until 2007)
- Champlain Flyer, Burlington, Vermont (until 2003)
- PATrain, Pittsburgh, PA (until 1989)
- SEMTA, Detroit, Michigan (until 1983)
- Former Erie-Lackawanna, later Conrail, service between Cleveland and Youngstown, Ohio (until 1977)
- Former Milwaukee Road service Milwaukee to Watertown, Wisconsin (until early 1970s)
- Former Missouri Pacific service St. Louis, Missouri to Kirkwood, Missouri (service ended in 1961)
- Parkway Limited, Pittsburgh, PA (1981)
- "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014.
- American Public Transportation Association: Q4 2012 ridership report
- American Public Transportation Association: Q3 2012 ridership report
- "Lista la empresa para ampliar Tren Suburbano hasta Huehuetoca". 2013-10-09. Retrieved 2013-10-17.
- "Info to GO" (PDF). GO Transit. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
- "New Jersey Transit facts-at-a-glance". June 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
- "Five Years of FrontRunner". rideuta.com. Utah Transit Authority. 25 April 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014.
- APTA, [http://] Transit Ridership Report.
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