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, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama 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, the West Coast Express commuter rail line 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, to avoid having to turn the train around at each end of its route. Other systems avoid the problem entirely by using bi-directional multiple units.

GO Transit in Toronto operates mainly during rush hours 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 Toronto Union Station downtown. Future plans for all-day, bidirectional service on all lines are in the works under Metrolinx's "The Big Move" plan.

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

Most older, established commuter rail services operate seven days a week, with service 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, runs at all times except the very early morning hours (usually between 3 and 5 am). The planned East Line and Gold Line, both part of Denver's FasTracks program, will run from 3 am to 1 am and 4 am to 12:30 am, respectively, with reduced service late at night and early in the morning. On these systems, patrons use the trains not just to get to and from work or school, but also for attending sporting events, concerts, theatre, and the like. Some also provide service to popular weekend getaway spots and recreation areas.

Most commuter rail services in North America are operated by government entities or quasi-governmental organizations. Almost all 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-price 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.

After the completion of SEPTA Regional Rail's Center City Commuter Connection in 1981, which allowed through-running between two formerly separate radial networks, the term "regional rail" began to be used to refer to commuter rail (and sometimes even larger heavy rail and light rail) systems that offer bidirectional all-day service and may provide useful connections between suburbs and edge cities, rather than merely transporting workers to a central business district.[2] This is different from the European use of "regional rail", which generally refers to services midway between commuter rail and intercity rail that are not primarily commuter-oriented.


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 the 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 or sixth busiest in the U.S. (after the New York, New Jersey, and Chicago area systems, and approximately on par with Philadelphia's SEPTA Regional Rail) 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, Réseau de transport métropolitain 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 either powered by diesel-electric or electric locomotives, or else use self-propelled cars (some systems use both). A few systems, particularly around New York City, use electric power, supplied by a third rail and/or overhead catenary wire, which provides quicker acceleration, lower noise, and fewer air-quality issues. Philadelphia's SEPTA Regional Rail uses exclusively electric power, supplied by overhead catenary wire.

Diesel-electric locomotives based on the EMD F40PH design as well as the MP36PH-3C are popular as motive power for commuter trains. Manufacturers of coaches include Bombardier, Kawasaki, Nippon Sharyo, and Hyundai Rotem. A few systems use 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 Number of lines Avg. Weekday
(Q4 2016)[3]
A-train  USA Denton County Texas 1 2,000
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)  USA San JoseStockton California 1 (1 proposed) 5,200
Caltrain  USA San FranciscoSan Jose California 1 (1 proposed) 56,100
Capital MetroRail  USA Austin Texas 1 (2 proposed) 2,700
Capitol Corridor  USA SacramentoSan Francisco Bay Area California 1 5,100
Coaster  USA San DiegoOceanside California 1 4,600
El Tren Suburbano  MEX Mexico City Distrito Federal 1 (2 under construction) 88,000[4][needs update]
FrontRunner[5]  USA OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo Utah 1 17,200
GO Transit  CAN Toronto Ontario 7 198,200
Havana Suburban Railway  CUB Havana La Habana / Artemisa / Mayabeque / Matanzas 8
Long Island Rail Road  USA New York CityLong Island New York 11 (15 former) 354,800
MARC Train  USA BaltimoreWashington, D.C. Maryland / West Virginia
/ District of Columbia
4 33,300
MBTA Commuter Rail  USA BostonWorcesterProvidence Massachusetts / Rhode Island 14 (1 under construction, 5 former) 127,500
Metra  USA Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 13 (2 planned) 283,700
Metrolink  USA Los AngelesSouthern California California 7 (3 planned) 39,500
Metro-North Railroad  USA New York City; New Haven;
New York / Connecticut 8 305,700
Music City Star  USA Nashville Tennessee 1 (6 planned) 1,200
NJ Transit Rail Operations  USA North Jersey; New York City
Philadelphia; Atlantic City
New Jersey / New York
/ Pennsylvania
12 (1 under construction, 1 former/planned, 3 proposed) 308,523 (FY2015)[6][note 1]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express  USA AlbuquerqueSanta Fe New Mexico 1 2,700
Northstar Line  USA Minneapolis–Saint Paul Minnesota 1 (7 proposed) 2,400
Panama Canal Railway  PAN Panama CityColón Panamá / Colón 1
Regional Transportation District  USA Denver Colorado 2 (2 under construction) 19,400
Réseau de transport métropolitain  CAN Montreal Quebec 6 83,100 [7]
Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit  USA CloverdaleLarkspur California 1
South Shore Line  USA ChicagoSouth Bend Illinois / Indiana 1 (1 proposed) 11,700
SEPTA Regional Rail  USA Philadelphia Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ Delaware
13 (1 former) 134,000
Shore Line East  USA New HavenNew London Connecticut 1 1,900
Sounder  USA SeattleTacoma Washington 2 15,800
SunRail  USA Orlando Florida 1 (1 proposed) 3,200 (Q4 2014)[8]
Tren Urbano de Costa Rica  CRI San JoséCentral Valley San José / Heredia / Cartago 4
Trinity Railway Express  USA DallasFort Worth Texas 1 7,700
Tri-Rail  USA Miami–South Florida Florida 1 (2 planned) 14,200
Virginia Railway Express  USA Washington, D.C. Virginia / District of Columbia 2 (1 planned) 17,900
West Coast Express  CAN Vancouver British Columbia 1 10,600 (Q4 2014)[8]
WES Commuter Rail  USA Portland Oregon 1 1,700

List of under construction and planned systems[edit]

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

Metropolitan Area Country Province/State System Official
Halifax  CAN Nova Scotia Halifax Transit [9]
Ottawa  CAN Ontario / Québec Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew* [10] [11]
Aguascalientes  MEX Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [12][13]
Guadalajara  MEX Jalisco Tren Suburbano [14][15]
Mexico City megalopolis  MEX Mexico & Mexico City Toluca–Mexico City commuter rail [16]
Alameda County  USA California Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority [17]
Anchorage  USA Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [18] [19]
Ann Arbor  USA Michigan WALLY [20] [21]
Atlanta / Athens / Macon  USA Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
Boston / New Bedford / Fall River  USA Massachusetts South Coast Rail [22]
Charlotte  USA North Carolina LYNX Red Line [23] [24]
Cleveland  USA Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [25] [26][27]
Cincinnati  USA Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [28]
Dallas / Fort Worth  USA Texas Tarrant Express (TEX) [29]
Dallas  USA Texas DART Cotton Belt Rail Line [30]
Denver / Boulder  USA Colorado RTD commuter rail [31]
Detroit  USA Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [32][33][34]
Greensboro  USA North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [35]
Harrisburg / Lancaster  USA Pennsylvania Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit) [36]
Houston  USA Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [37][38]
Jacksonville  USA Florida First Coast Commuter Rail
Madison  USA Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,
Transport 2020 Commuter Rail
Minneapolis  USA Minnesota Dan Patch Corridor [41]
New Haven / Hartford / Springfield  USA Connecticut / Massachusetts Hartford Line [42]
Pittsburgh  USA Pennsylvania Eastern Corridor Transit Study
(no official name as of 2010)
[43] [44]
Raleigh / Durham / Cary
(Research Triangle)
 USA North Carolina Durham-Wake Corridor [45]
Redlands  USA California Arrow [46]
San Antonio / Austin  USA Texas LSTAR [47]
Scranton, Pennsylvania
/ New Jersey / New York City
 USA Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ New York
Lackawanna Cutoff [48]
St. Louis  USA Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [49]
Worcester / Providence  USA Massachusetts / Rhode Island Boston Surface Railroad [50]
  • The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organizations 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 2015, which covers the calendar period July 2014 to June 2015.


  1. ^ "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014. 
  2. ^ "Public Transportation: Bus, Rail, Ridesharing, Paratransit Services, and Transit Security" (PDF). Transportation Research Record. Transportation Research Board. 1433: 81–112. 1994. 
  3. ^ "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter 2016" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 3, 2017. Retrieved March 26, 2017 – via 
  4. ^ McKegney, Tony (Summer 2012). "¡Subir Tren Suburbano! Commuter Rail Emerges in Mexico's Largest City" (PDF). Rail Magazine: 39–43. 
  5. ^ "Five Years of FrontRunner". Utah Transit Authority. April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  6. ^ "NJ Transit Facts at a Glance Fiscal Year 2015" (PDF) (PDF). NJ Transit. March 2016. p. 1. Retrieved 2016-05-27. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter and End-of-Year 2014" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 3, 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-10 – via 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "home - Moose Consortium Inc". Moose Consortium Inc. Retrieved 2017-05-01. 
  11. ^ Transport Pontiac-Renfrew Archived 2013-04-23 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  14. ^[permanent dead link]
  15. ^[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Tren InterUrbano
  17. ^ "AB-758 Transportation: Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority". Retrieved 17 October 2017. 
  18. ^ Alaska Railroad Corporation > Home
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-05-11. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  20. ^ WALLY - The Washtenaw and Livingston Line
  21. ^ The Ride - Ann Arbor Transportation Authority Archived 2012-10-13 at the Wayback Machine.
  22. ^ "South Coast Rail". Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2016. 
  23. ^ "Red Line Project". Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  24. ^ "Home". RedLine Regional Rail. Archived from the original on 2014-09-06. Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  25. ^ Appendix D Archived 2010-12-29 at the Wayback Machine.
  26. ^ Ohio News - OH News | The Morning Journal Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ Rachel Carson (2007-01-13). "Lorain to Cleveland commuter rail | GreenCityBlueLake". Archived from the original on 2012-09-22. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  28. ^ Oasis Rail Transit Introduction Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ TEX Rail | Home
  30. ^ "Cotton Belt Public Private Partnership Request for Information". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  31. ^ FASTRACKS - Redirect
  32. ^ Ann Arbor Detroit Rapid Transit Study
  33. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on August 16, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2006.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2006.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-05-29. Retrieved 2007-04-10. 
  36. ^ Welcome to our Site
  37. ^ METRO - Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston, Texas
  38. ^ "All about Metro and public transport vehicles in the United States". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  39. ^ Dane County Commuter Rail Archived 2007-04-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  40. ^ Transport 2020 Project Site
  41. ^ Red Rock Corridor
  42. ^ DSF AppStart Error
  43. ^ Eastern Corridor Transit Study: Transitional Analysis To Locally Preferred Alternatives
  44. ^
  45. ^ Durham-Wake Corridor
  46. ^ Redlands Passenger Rail Project
  47. ^ Lone Star Rail District | Home
  48. ^ Penn Jersey Rail Coalition Home Page Archived 2006-04-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  49. ^ St. Louis Rapid Transit Connector Study
  50. ^ Boston Surface Railroad Company
  51. ^ Baer, Christopher T. (April 2015). "A GENERAL CHRONOLOGY OF THE PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD COMPANY ITS PREDECESSORS AND SUCCESSORS AND ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT: 1980-1989" (PDF). Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society. 
  52. ^ Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0-253-34705-X.