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 cabcar 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.


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).

In terms of ridership, Canadian systems tend to have dramatically higher per capita ridership than American counterparts, echoing patterns in light rail transit and other system types.

List of North American commuter rail operatorsEdit

System Country Metropolitan area Province / State Number of lines Avg. Weekday
(Q4 2018)[2]
A-train   USA Denton County Texas 1 1,500
Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)   USA San JoseTri-ValleyStockton California 1 (1 under construction) 6,100
Caltrain   USA San FranciscoSan Jose California 1 57,000
Capital MetroRail   USA Austin Texas 1 2,700
Capitol Corridor[note 1]   USA SacramentoSan Francisco Bay Area California 1 5,700
City Rail   HON La Ceiba Atlántida Department 1
Coaster   USA San DiegoOceanside California 1 4,500
Downeaster[note 1]   USA BrunswickPortlandBoston Maine / New Hampshire / Massachusetts 1 1,300
Exo   CAN Montreal Quebec 6 83,300
FrontRunner[3]   USA OgdenSalt Lake CityProvo Utah 1 19,200
GO Transit   CAN TorontoNiagaraHamiltonKitchenerGuelphBarrie Ontario 7 217,500
Hartford Line   USA New HavenHartfordSpringfield Connecticut / Massachusetts 1[4]
Havana Suburban Railway   CUB Havana La Habana / Artemisa / Mayabeque / Matanzas 8
Keystone Service[note 1]   USA HarrisburgPhiladelphiaNew York City Pennsylvania / New York 1 5,000
Long Island Rail Road   USA New York CityLong Island New York 11 (15 former) 360,000
MARC Train   USA BaltimoreWashington, D.C. Maryland / West Virginia / District of Columbia 4 23,500
MBTA Commuter Rail   USA Boston / Worcester / Providence Massachusetts / Rhode Island 12 (1 under construction) 121,600
Metra   USA Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 13 277,100
Metrolink   USA Los AngelesSouthern California California 7 (1 under construction) 37,600
Metro-North Railroad   USA New York City / New Haven / Poughkeepsie New York / Connecticut 8 315,700
Music City Star   USA Nashville Tennessee 1 1,100
NJ Transit Rail Operations   USA Northern New JerseyNew York City
PhiladelphiaAtlantic City
New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania 12 (1 under construction, 1 former) 238,082 (FY2017)[5][note 2]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express   USA AlbuquerqueSanta Fe New Mexico 1 2,500
Northstar Line   USA Minneapolis–Saint Paul Minnesota 1 2,600
Panama Canal Railway   PAN Panama CityColón Panamá / Colón 1 1,500 (2013)[6][needs update]
Regional Transportation District   USA Denver Colorado 4 28,700
Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit   USA Santa RosaSan Rafael California 1
South Shore Line   USA ChicagoSouth Bend Illinois / Indiana 1 (1 under construction) 10,900
SEPTA Regional Rail   USA Philadelphia Pennsylvania / New Jersey / Delaware 13 (1 former) 126,000
Shore Line East   USA New HavenNew London Connecticut 1 1,800
Sounder   USA EverettSeattleTacoma Washington 2 18,300
SunRail   USA Greater Orlando Florida 1 5,600
TEXRail   USA Fort Worth Texas 1
Tren Suburbano   MEX Mexico City Mexico City / State of Mexico 1 (2 under construction) 195,000 (2017)[7]
Tren Urbano de Costa Rica   CRI San JoséCentral Valley San José / Heredia / Cartago 4
Trinity Railway Express   USA Dallas–Fort Worth Texas 1 6,800
Tri-Rail   USA Miami–South Florida Florida 1 (1 under construction) 14,600
Virginia Railway Express   USA Washington, D.C. Virginia / District of Columbia 2 16,800
West Coast Express   CAN Vancouver British Columbia 1 9,900
WES Commuter Rail   USA Portland 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
Ottawa   CAN Ontario / Québec Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew[note 3] [8] [9]
Aguascalientes   MEX Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [10][11]
Guadalajara   MEX Jalisco Tren Suburbano [12][13]
Mexico City megalopolis   MEX Mexico & Mexico City Toluca–Mexico City commuter rail [14]
Monterrey   MEX Nuevo León FIDEPROES [15]
Alameda County / San Joaquin County   USA California Valley Link [16] [17]
Anchorage   USA Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [18][19][20] [21]
Ann Arbor   USA Michigan WALLY [22] [23]
Atlanta / Athens / Macon   USA Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
Atlanta / Clayton County   USA Georgia MARTA Clayton County commuter rail [24]
Charlotte   USA North Carolina LYNX Red Line [25] [26]
Cleveland   USA Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [27] [28][29]
Cincinnati   USA Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [30]
Dallas   USA Texas DART Silver Line [31]
Detroit   USA Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [32][33][34]
Fort Worth   USA Texas Burleson commuter rail [35]
Greensboro   USA North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [36]
Harrisburg / Lancaster   USA Pennsylvania Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit) [37]
Houston   USA Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [38][39]
Jacksonville   USA Florida First Coast Commuter Rail
Madison   USA Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,
Transport 2020 Commuter Rail
Miami   USA Florida Brightline commuter rail [42][43]
Minneapolis   USA Minnesota Dan Patch Corridor [44]
Orlando   USA Florida Orange Blossom Express
Phoenix   USA Arizona Arizona Passenger Rail Corridor Study
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] [48]
San Diego   USA California SANDAG Transit Leap [49]
San Luis Obispo   USA California Coast Rail Corridor Study [50]
Santa Cruz   USA California Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Railroad [51]
St. Louis   USA Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [52]
Tampa   USA Florida HART CSX Urban Rail [53]
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.
  3. ^ The proposal in Ottawa is actually 2 organizations proposing similar systems.


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  6. ^ Panama Canal rail traffic hit by computer glitch, Reuters, 22 March 2013.
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  34. ^ (PDF) Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007. Retrieved December 24, 2006. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  35. ^ Basnet, Neetish (3 January 2019). "Burleson first on list for new commuter rail service". Burleson Star. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-05-29. Retrieved 2007-04-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  37. ^ "Welcome to our Site". Retrieved 7 April 2018.
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  41. ^ "Transport 2020 Project Site". Retrieved 7 April 2018.
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  43. ^ Price-Williams, Abigail. "MEMORANDUM" (PDF). Miami Dade County. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
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  55. ^ 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.