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 Regional Rail, 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. SEPTA Regional Rail in Philadelphia exclusively uses electric power supplied by overhead catenary wire.

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 WES Commuter Rail near 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 Country Metropolitan area Province / State Avg. Weekday
(Q4 2013)[2]
A-train  USA Denton County Texas 2,000
Agence métropolitaine de transport  CAN Montreal Quebec 74,100
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)  USA San JoseStockton California 4,100
Caltrain  USA San FranciscoSan Jose California 50,800
Capital MetroRail  USA Austin Texas 2,400
Coaster  USA San Diego California 5,200
Ferrocarril Suburbano de la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México  MEX Mexico City Distrito Federal 88,000[3]
GO Transit  CAN Toronto Ontario 197,000 (2013)[4]
Long Island Rail Road  USA New York CityLong Island New York 334,100
MARC Train  USA BaltimoreWashington, DC Maryland / West Virginia
/ District of Columbia
MBTA Commuter Rail  USA Boston Massachusetts / Rhode Island 124,400
Metra  USA Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 292,600
Metrolink  USA Los AngelesSouthern California California 40,800
Metro-North Railroad  USA New York City; New Haven;
New York / Connecticut 298,700
Music City Star  USA Nashville Tennessee 900
New Jersey Transit Rail Operations  USA North Jersey; New York City
Philadelphia; Atlantic City
New Jersey / New York
/ Pennsylvania
302,000 (FY2013)[5][note 1]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express  USA AlbuquerqueSanta Fe New Mexico 3,500
Northstar Commuter Rail  USA Minneapolis–St. Paul Minnesota 2,500
South Shore Line  USA ChicagoSouth Bend Illinois / Indiana 11,600
SEPTA Regional Rail  USA Philadelphia Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ Delaware
Shore Line East  USA New HavenNew London Connecticut 2,200
Sounder  USA SeattleTacoma Washington 11,900
SunRail  USA Orlando Florida 4,100[6]
Trinity Railway Express  USA DallasFort Worth Texas 8,000
Tri-Rail  USA MiamiSouth Florida Florida 15,300
Utah Transit Authority (the FrontRunner)[7]  USA OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo Utah 14,700
Virginia Railway Express  USA Washington, DC Virginia / District of Columbia 15,900[note 2]
West Coast Express  CAN Vancouver British Columbia 11,000 (Q1 2014)[8]
WES Commuter Rail  USA Portland Oregon 2,000

List of under construction and actively planned systems[edit]

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

Metropolitan Area Country Province(s) System Official
Ottawa  CAN Ontario / Québec Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew* [9] [10]
Aguascalientes  MEX Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [11][12]
Guadalajara  MEX Jalisco Tren Suburbano [13][14]
Anchorage  USA Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [15] [16]
Ann Arbor  USA Michigan WALLY [17] [18]
Atlanta / Athens / Macon  USA Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
Charlotte  USA North Carolina LYNX Red Line [21] [22]
Cleveland  USA Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [23] [24][25]
Cincinnati  USA Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [26]
(San Francisco Bay Area)
 USA California SMART [27]
Dallas / Fort Worth  USA Texas Tarrant Express (TEX)
/ DART Cotton Belt Rail Line
Denver / Boulder  USA Colorado FasTracks [30]
Detroit  USA Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [31][32][33]
Greensboro  USA North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [34]
Harrisburg / Lancaster  USA Pennsylvania Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit) [35]
Houston  USA Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [36][37]
Indianapolis  USA Indiana IndyConnect Green Line [38] [39]
Jacksonville  USA Florida First Coast Commuter Rail
Madison  USA Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,
Transport 2020 Commuter Rail
Minneapolis  USA Minnesota Red Rock Corridor [42]
New Haven / Hartford / Springfield  USA Connecticut / Massachusetts New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line [43]
OxnardSanta Barbara  USA California Santa Barbara - Ventura County Commuter Rail [44][45]
Pittsburgh  USA Pennsylvania Eastern Corridor Transit Study
(no official name as of 2010)
[46] [47]
Raleigh / Durham / Cary
(Research Triangle)
 USA North Carolina Durham-Wake Corridor [48]
San Antonio / Austin  USA Texas LSTAR [49]
Scranton, Pennsylvania
/ New Jersey / New York City
 USA Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ New York
Lackawanna Cutoff [50]
St. Louis  USA Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [51]
  • The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organization proposing similar systems.


The following systems have ceased operations since the 1970s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This figure is from NJ Transit's Fiscal Year 2013 First Quarter, which covers the calendar period July 2012 to September 2012.
  2. ^ This figure is obtained by taking the total Q4 2013 ridership figure for the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) from the APTA report, and dividing it by 64 (the number of weekdays in a 90-day quarterly period) – the VRE does not run on weekends, so the ridership figure provided by APTA is accumulated entirely from weekday ridership.


  1. ^ "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014. 
  2. ^ "APTA Ridership Report - Q4 2013 Report" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA) (via: ). February 26, 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
  3. ^ McKegney, Tony (Summer 2012). "¡Subir Tren Suburbano! Commuter Rail Emerges in Mexico’s Largest City". Rail Magazine: 39–43. 
  4. ^ "Info to GO" (PDF). GO Transit. Retrieved 2011-05-24. 
  5. ^ "QUARTERLY RIDERSHIP TRENDS ANALYSIS - First Quarter, Fiscal Year 2013 - July through September, 2012" (pdf). NJ Transit. November 2012. p. 17. Retrieved 2013-10-26. 
  6. ^ Tracy, Dan (May 20, 2014). "SunRail paid ridership below expectations". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  7. ^ "Five Years of FrontRunner". Utah Transit Authority. April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  8. ^ "APTA Ridership Report - Q1 2014 Report" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA) (via: ). May 21, 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-03. 
  9. ^ Welcome / Bienvenue
  10. ^ Transport Pontiac-Renfrew
  11. ^
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  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. ^ "Red Line Project". Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  22. ^ "Home". RedLine Regional Rail. Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  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. ^ Ann Arbor Detroit Rapid Transit Study
  32. ^[dead link]
  33. ^[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. ^
  45. ^ "The Leading In Motion Site on the Net". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  46. ^ Eastern Corridor Transit Study: Transitional Analysis To Locally Preferred Alternatives
  47. ^
  48. ^ Durham-Wake Corridor
  49. ^ Lone Star Rail District | Home
  50. ^ Penn Jersey Rail Coalition Home Page
  51. ^ St. Louis Rapid Transit Connector Study