Commuter rail in North America

Commuter rail services in the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, and Costa Rica 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.

NJ Transit has an extensive commuter rail system connecting New Jersey to New York City and Philadelphia.
A Metra train in West Chicago, IL.


Many, but not all, newer commuter railways offer service during peak times only, with trains into the central business district during morning rush hour and returning to the outer areas 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.

Other commuter rail services, many of them older, long-established ones, operate seven days a week, with service from early morning to after midnight. 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. The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) is the only commuter railroad that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in North America.

A rebuilt GO Transit Bombardier cab car at Toronto's Scarborough Station.

Almost all commuter rail services in North America are operated by government entities or quasi-governmental organizations. Most 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 (970 km) 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.[1] 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.

Some transit lines in the NYC metropolitan areas have commuter lines that act like a regional rail network, as lines often converge at one point and pass as a main line to the destination station. They also pass through large business areas (ie Harlem, Jamaica, Stamford, Metropark), and some lines operate every 5-10 minutes during peak hours, and roughly every 15 minutes during off hours.


The two busiest passenger rail stations in the United States are Pennsylvania Station and Grand Central Terminal, which are both located in the Borough of Manhattan in New York City, and which serve three of the four busiest commuter railroads in the United States (the Long Island Rail Road and NJ Transit at Penn Station, and the Metro-North Railroad at Grand Central Terminal). The commuter railroads serving the Chicago area are Metra (the fourth-busiest commuter railroad in the United States) and the South Shore Line. Other notable commuter railroad systems include SEPTA Regional Rail (fifth-busiest in the US), serving the Philadelphia area; MBTA Commuter Rail (sixth-busiest in the US), serving the Greater Boston-Providence area; Caltrain, serving the area south of San Francisco along the peninsula as far as San Jose; and Metrolink, serving the 5-county Los Angeles area.

There are only three commuter rail agencies in Canada: GO Transit in Toronto (the fifth-busiest in North America), Exo in Montreal (eight-busiest in North America), and West Coast Express in Vancouver. The two busiest rail stations in Canada are Union Station in Toronto and Central Station in Montreal.

A suburban train in Bejucal, Cuba

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 then, commuter rail networks have been inaugurated in Dallas–Fort Worth, Los Angeles, San Diego, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Orlando, among other cities. Several more commuter rail projects have been proposed and are in the planning stages.

Rolling stockEdit

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 and Austin's Capital MetroRail. These systems use vehicles supplied by Stadler Rail or US Railcar (formerly Colorado Railcar).

List of North American commuter rail operatorsEdit

Metropolitan area(s) Country System Province / State Number of lines Avg. Weekday
(Q4 2018)[2]
Denton County   USA A-train Texas 1 1,500
San JoseTri-ValleyStockton   USA Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) California 1 (1 under construction) 6,100
San FranciscoSan Jose   USA Caltrain California 1 57,000
Austin   USA Capital MetroRail Texas 1 2,700
SacramentoSan Francisco Bay Area   USA Capitol Corridor[note 1] California 1 5,700
San DiegoOceanside   USA Coaster California 1 4,500
BrunswickPortlandBoston   USA Downeaster[note 1] Maine / New Hampshire / Massachusetts 1 1,300
Montreal   CAN Exo Quebec 6 83,300
OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo   USA FrontRunner[3] Utah 1 19,200
TorontoGreater Golden Horseshoe   CAN GO Transit Ontario 7 217,500
New HavenHartfordSpringfield   USA Hartford Line Connecticut / Massachusetts 1[4]
Havana   CUB Havana Suburban Railway La Habana / Artemisa / Mayabeque / Matanzas 8
Greater Metropolitan Area   CRI Interurbano Line San José / Alajuela / Cartago / Heredia 3
HarrisburgPhiladelphiaNew York City   USA Keystone Service[note 1] Pennsylvania / New York 1 5,000
New York CityLong Island   USA Long Island Rail Road New York 11 360,000
BaltimoreWashington, D.C.   USA MARC Train Maryland / West Virginia / District of Columbia 4 23,500
Boston / Worcester / Providence   USA MBTA Commuter Rail Massachusetts / Rhode Island 12 (1 under construction) 121,600
Chicago   USA Metra Illinois / Wisconsin 11 277,100
Los AngelesSouthern California   USA Metrolink California 7 (1 under construction) 37,600
New York City / New Haven / Poughkeepsie   USA Metro-North Railroad New York / Connecticut 8 315,700
Nashville   USA Music City Star Tennessee 1 1,100
Northern New JerseyNew York City
PhiladelphiaAtlantic City
  USA NJ Transit Rail Operations New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania 12 (1 under construction) 238,082 (FY2017)[5][note 2]
AlbuquerqueSanta Fe   USA New Mexico Rail Runner Express New Mexico 1 2,500
Minneapolis–Saint Paul   USA Northstar Line Minnesota 1 2,600
Panama CityColón   PAN Panama Canal Railway Panamá / Colón 1 1,500 (2013)[6][needs update]
Denver   USA Regional Transportation District Colorado 4 28,700
Santa RosaSan Rafael   USA Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit California 1
ChicagoSouth Bend   USA South Shore Line Illinois / Indiana 1 (1 under construction) 10,900
Philadelphia   USA SEPTA Regional Rail Pennsylvania / New Jersey / Delaware 13 126,000
New HavenNew London   USA Shore Line East Connecticut 1 1,800
EverettSeattleTacoma   USA Sounder Washington 2 18,300
Greater Orlando   USA SunRail Florida 1 5,600
Fort Worth   USA TEXRail Texas 1
Mexico City   MEX Tren Suburbano Mexico City / State of Mexico 1 (2 under construction) 195,000 (2017)[7]
Dallas–Fort Worth   USA Trinity Railway Express Texas 1 6,800
Miami–South Florida   USA Tri-Rail Florida 1 (1 under construction) 14,600
Washington, D.C.   USA Virginia Railway Express Virginia / District of Columbia 2 16,800
Vancouver   CAN West Coast Express British Columbia 1 9,900
Portland   USA WES Commuter Rail Oregon 1 1,600

List of under construction and planned systemsEdit

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
Aguascalientes   MEX Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [8][9]
Guadalajara   MEX Jalisco Tren Suburbano [10][11]
Mexico City megalopolis   MEX Mexico & Mexico City Toluca–Mexico City commuter rail [12]
Monterrey   MEX Nuevo León FIDEPROES [13]
Alameda County / San Joaquin County   USA California Valley Link [14] [15]
Anchorage   USA Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [16][17][18] [19]
Atlanta / Athens / Macon   USA Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
Atlanta / Clayton County   USA Georgia MARTA Clayton County commuter rail [20]
Dallas   USA Texas DART Silver Line [21]
Detroit   USA Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [22][23][24]
Durham   USA North Carolina GoTriangle commuter rail (no official name) [25] [26]
Fort Worth   USA Texas Burleson commuter rail [27]
Houston   USA Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [28][29]
Miami   USA Florida Brightline commuter rail [30]
Minneapolis   USA Minnesota Dan Patch Corridor [31]
New York   USA New York / New Jersey Lackawanna Cutoff
Oklahoma City   USA Oklahoma Oklahoma City commuter rail [32]
Phoenix   USA Arizona Arizona Passenger Rail Corridor Study
San Diego   USA California SANDAG Transit Leap [33]
San Bernardino / Redlands   USA California Arrow Commuter Rail [34]
San Luis Obispo   USA California Coast Rail Corridor Study [35]
Santa Cruz   USA California Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railroad [36]
Under construction


The following systems have ceased operations since the formation of Amtrak in 1971.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c State sponsored Amtrak route with commuter rail focus
  2. ^ This figure is from NJ Transit's Fiscal Year 2017, which covers the calendar period July 2016 to June 2017.


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  24. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "Ready For Rail NC". GoTriangle. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  26. ^ Krueger, Sarah (3 May 2021). "Durham gets update on commuter rail proposal". WRAL. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  27. ^ Basnet, Neetish (3 January 2019). "Burleson first on list for new commuter rail service". Burleson Star. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  28. ^ METRO, "METRO Home". Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  29. ^ "All about Metro and public transport vehicles in the United States". Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
  30. ^ "Brightline and Miami-Dade County Agree to Access Fee for New Commuter Rail System". Brightline. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  31. ^ " - Cocktail im Casino trinken". Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  32. ^ Crum, William. "OKC could finally get a commuter rail line connecting downtown to Will Rogers World Airport". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 10 July 2021.
  33. ^
  34. ^ "Redlands Passenger Rail Project (Arrow)". SBCTA. Retrieved 2021-01-15.
  35. ^ Coast Rail Corridor Study
  36. ^ "Alternatives Analysis".
  37. ^ Sanders, Craig (2006). Amtrak in the Heartland. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 184. ISBN 978-0-253-34705-3.
  38. ^ 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.