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 rush hour on most lines, but offers all day service seven days a week along its busiest corridor, the Lakeshore East line and Lakeshore West line. All of GO's train routes radiate from downtown at Union Station (Toronto). Future plans for all day service on more 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 from 3AM to 1AM and from 4AM to 12,30AM 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 Pennsylvania 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 (North Kingstown), 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.
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
List of under construction and actively planned systems
There are several commuter rail systems currently under construction or in active development in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
- The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organizations 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 the early 1970s)
- Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad service from Pittsburgh to Beaver Falls, Pa.
- Parkway Limited, Pittsburgh, PA (1981)
- List of airport circulators
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- List of suburban and commuter rail systems
- List of rail transit systems in the United States
- List of tram and light rail transit systems
- List of United States commuter rail systems by ridership
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- This figure is from NJ Transit's Fiscal Year 2014, which covers the calendar period July 2013 to June 2014.
- "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014.
- "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter and End-of-Year 2014" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 3, 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-10 – via http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Pages/ridershipreport.aspx.
- McKegney, Tony (Summer 2012). "¡Subir Tren Suburbano! Commuter Rail Emerges in Mexico’s Largest City" (PDF). Rail Magazine: 39–43.
- "Info to GO - Quick Facts" (PDF). GO Transit. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
- "New Jersey Facts at a Glance Fiscal Year 2014" (PDF) (PDF). NJ Transit. March 2015. p. 1. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
- "Five Years of FrontRunner". rideuta.com. Utah Transit Authority. April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-08.
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