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 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.[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 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.

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 2014)[2]
A-train  USA Denton County Texas 1,900
Agence métropolitaine de transport  CAN Montreal Quebec 75,600
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)  USA San JoseStockton California 4,600
Caltrain  USA San FranciscoSan Jose California 56,700
Capital MetroRail  USA Austin Texas 2,800
Coaster  USA San Diego California 4,900
Ferrocarril Suburbano de la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México  MEX Mexico City Distrito Federal 88,000[3][needs update]
GO Transit  CAN Toronto Ontario 197,000 (2013)[4]
Long Island Rail Road  USA New York CityLong Island New York 337,800
MARC Train  USA BaltimoreWashington, DC Maryland / West Virginia
/ District of Columbia
MBTA Commuter Rail  USA Boston Massachusetts / Rhode Island 130,600
Metra  USA Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 290,500
Metrolink  USA Los AngelesSouthern California California 41,200
Metro-North Railroad  USA New York City; New Haven;
New York / Connecticut 298,900
Music City Star  USA Nashville Tennessee 1,000
New Jersey Transit Rail Operations  USA North Jersey; New York City
Philadelphia; Atlantic City
New Jersey / New York
/ Pennsylvania
295,173 (FY2014)[5][note 1]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express  USA AlbuquerqueSanta Fe New Mexico 3,400
Northstar Commuter Rail  USA Minneapolis–St. Paul Minnesota 2,500
South Shore Line  USA ChicagoSouth Bend Illinois / Indiana 11,800
SEPTA Regional Rail  USA Philadelphia Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ Delaware
Shore Line East  USA New HavenNew London Connecticut 2,200
Sounder  USA SeattleTacoma Washington 13,700
SunRail  USA Orlando Florida 3,200
Trinity Railway Express  USA DallasFort Worth Texas 8,200
Tri-Rail  USA MiamiSouth Florida Florida 14,400
Utah Transit Authority (the FrontRunner)[6]  USA OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo Utah 16,800
Virginia Railway Express  USA Washington, DC Virginia / District of Columbia 17,900
West Coast Express  CAN Vancouver British Columbia 10,600
WES Commuter Rail  USA Portland Oregon 1,800

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/State System Official
Halifax  CAN Nova Scotia Halifax Transit [7]
Ottawa  CAN Ontario / Québec Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew* [8] [9]
Aguascalientes  MEX Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [10][11]
Guadalajara  MEX Jalisco Tren Suburbano [12][13]
Anchorage  USA Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [14] [15]
Ann Arbor  USA Michigan WALLY [16] [17]
Atlanta / Athens / Macon  USA Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
Charlotte  USA North Carolina LYNX Red Line [20] [21]
Cleveland  USA Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [22] [23][24]
Cincinnati  USA Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [25]
(San Francisco Bay Area)
 USA California SMART [26]
Dallas / Fort Worth  USA Texas Tarrant Express (TEX)
/ DART Cotton Belt Rail Line
Denver / Boulder  USA Colorado RTD commuter rail [29]
Detroit  USA Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [30][31][32]
Greensboro  USA North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [33]
Harrisburg / Lancaster  USA Pennsylvania Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit) [34]
Houston  USA Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [35][36]
Indianapolis  USA Indiana IndyConnect Green Line [37] [38]
Jacksonville  USA Florida First Coast Commuter Rail
Madison  USA Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,
Transport 2020 Commuter Rail
Minneapolis  USA Minnesota Red Rock Corridor [41]
New Haven / Hartford / Springfield  USA Connecticut / Massachusetts New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line [42]
OxnardSanta Barbara  USA California Santa Barbara - Ventura County Commuter Rail [43][44]
Pittsburgh  USA Pennsylvania Eastern Corridor Transit Study
(no official name as of 2010)
[45] [46]
Raleigh / Durham / Cary
(Research Triangle)
 USA North Carolina Durham-Wake Corridor [47]
San Antonio / Austin  USA Texas LSTAR [48]
Scranton, Pennsylvania
/ New Jersey / New York City
 USA Pennsylvania / New Jersey
/ New York
Lackawanna Cutoff [49]
St. Louis  USA Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [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 2014, which covers the calendar period July 2013 to June 2014.


  1. ^ "UTA FrontRunner" (PDF). Utah Transit Authority. 13 December 2013. Retrieved 8 Jan 2014. 
  2. ^ "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter and End-of-Year 2014" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA). March 3, 2015. Retrieved 2015-04-10 – via 
  3. ^ McKegney, Tony (Summer 2012). "¡Subir Tren Suburbano! Commuter Rail Emerges in Mexico’s Largest City" (PDF). Rail Magazine: 39–43. 
  4. ^ "Info to GO - Quick Facts" (PDF). GO Transit. Retrieved 2015-04-10. 
  5. ^ "New Jersey Facts at a Glance Fiscal Year 2014" (PDF) (PDF). NJ Transit. March 2015. p. 1. Retrieved 2015-04-10. 
  6. ^ "Five Years of FrontRunner". Utah Transit Authority. April 25, 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Welcome / Bienvenue
  9. ^ Transport Pontiac-Renfrew
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Alaska Railroad Corporation > Home
  15. ^
  16. ^ WALLY - The Washtenaw and Livingston Line
  17. ^ The Ride - Ann Arbor Transportation Authority
  18. ^ Buy Prada Handbags Online - USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Europe, UAE
  19. ^ Web hosting provider - - domain hosting - PHP Hosting - cheap web hosting - Frontpage Hosting E-Commerce Web Hosting Bluehost
  20. ^ "Red Line Project". Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  21. ^ "Home". RedLine Regional Rail. Retrieved 2014-09-06. 
  22. ^ Appendix D
  23. ^ Ohio News - OH News | The Morning Journal
  24. ^ Rachel Carson (2007-01-13). "Lorain to Cleveland commuter rail | GreenCityBlueLake". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  25. ^ Oasis Rail Transit Introduction
  26. ^ Smart Train North Bay Sonoma Marin | SMART – Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit | Passenger train and multi-use pathway project
  27. ^ TEX Rail | Home
  28. ^ "Cotton Belt Public Private Partnership Request for Information". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  29. ^ FASTRACKS - Redirect
  30. ^ Ann Arbor Detroit Rapid Transit Study
  31. ^[dead link]
  32. ^[dead link]
  33. ^
  34. ^ Welcome to our Site
  35. ^ METRO - Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Houston, Texas
  36. ^ "All about Metro and public transport vehicles in the United States". Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  37. ^
  38. ^ "Marion County". Indianapolis Star. 
  39. ^ Dane County Commuter Rail
  40. ^ Transport 2020 Project Site
  41. ^ Red Rock Corridor
  42. ^ DSF AppStart Error
  43. ^
  44. ^ "The Leading In Motion Site on the Net" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  45. ^ Eastern Corridor Transit Study: Transitional Analysis To Locally Preferred Alternatives
  46. ^
  47. ^ Durham-Wake Corridor
  48. ^ Lone Star Rail District | Home
  49. ^ Penn Jersey Rail Coalition Home Page
  50. ^ St. Louis Rapid Transit Connector Study