Commuter rail in North America

Commuter rail in North America
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, and on a round-trip basis. 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 at one end 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 issue entirely by using bi-directional multiple units.

Many older, established commuter rail services operate their routes on an seven day a week basis, with services running through from early morning to just after mid-night. Some, like the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), operate key routes on a 24/7 basis. On many of these older 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 agencies of government entities or quasi-governmental organizations. Some share the 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 stations in the central business district. Commuter trains are typically connected to metro or bus services both at their destination and along their route to extend the range of accessibility.


South Station in Boston, Massachusetts is a major transportation hub for the MBTA commuter rail.

In the United States, inter-city trains are operated by Amtrak over a network that is far less dense than ones found in Europe or Japan. The most heavily used routes with the greatest ridership and schedule frequencies are in the Northeast Megalopolis and the Chicago metropolitan area. About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation's rail riders live in the New York City metropolitan area.

The two busiest passenger rail stations in the United States are Penn 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.

Commuter rail outside of Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto metropolitan areas is more infrequent and less extensively used relative to networks in European and Japanese cities of comparable size.

Rolling stock

Long Island Rail Road bilevel coaches as seen in Bethpage, New York.

Commuter trains are usually powered by diesel-electric or electric locomotives, or in some cases use self-contained multiple units. Electric power in some instances is transmitted via third rail or overhead wire and catenary. Electric power is often favoured where it is available due to quicker acceleration, lower noise, and fewer air-quality issues. Electric power and even more so multiple-unit trains are, however, much less common than on European railways.

Diesel-electric locomotives based on the EMD F40PH design as well as the MP36PH-3C are popular commuter motive power. Major manufacturers of coaches include Bombardier, Kawasaki and Nippon Sharyo.

List of North American commuter rail operators

System Metropolitan area Province / State Daily Ridership (weekday)
Agence métropolitaine de transport Montreal Quebec 66100[1]
Altamont Commuter Express San JoseStockton California 2800[1]
Caltrain San FranciscoSan Jose California 37200[1]
Capital MetroRail Austin Texas 1600[1]
Denton County Transportation Authority Denton Texas 4000-5000 (projected)[2]
Ferrocarril Suburbano de la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México Mexico City Mexican Federal District, State of Mexico 140000[3]
FrontRunner Salt Lake City– Ogden Utah 5400[1]
GO Transit TorontoGolden Horseshoe Ontario 217000.[4]
Long Island Rail Road New York CityLong Island New York 345300[1]
MARC Train Baltimore–Washington, DC Maryland / West Virginia 31300[1]
MBTA Commuter Rail Boston Massachusetts / Rhode Island 129400[1]
Metra Chicago Illinois / Wisconsin 296600[1]
Metrolink Los AngelesSouthern California California 39500[1]
Metro-North Railroad New York City; New Haven; Poughkeepsie New York / Connecticut 286100[1]
Music City Star Nashville Tennessee 1000[1]
NCTD Coaster San Diego California 4800[1]
New Jersey Transit Rail Operations North Jersey; New York City
PhiladelphiaAtlantic City
New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania 301746[5]
New Mexico Rail Runner Express Albuquerque New Mexico 3900[1]
Northstar Commuter Rail Minneapolis – St. Paul Minnesota 2100[1]
South Shore Line Chicago Illinois / Indiana 11500[1]
SEPTA Regional Rail Philadelphia Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Delaware 125300[1]
Shore Line East New HavenNew London Connecticut 1900[1]
Sounder Seattle–Tacoma Washington 8600[1]
Trinity Railway Express Dallas–Fort Worth Texas 8300[1]
Tri-Rail MiamiSouth Florida Florida 13700[1]
Virginia Railway Express Washington, DC Virginia 19000[1]
West Coast Express Vancouver British Columbia 10900[6]
Westside Express Service Portland Oregon 1400[1]

Proposed and under construction

There are several commuter rail systems currently in development in Mexico and the United States.

Metropolitan Area State(s) System Official site Other sites
Aguascalientes Aguascalientes Tren Suburbano (no official name yet) [3] [4]
Guadalajara Jalisco Tren Suburbano [5]


United States of America
Metropolitan Area State(s) System Official site Other sites
Anchorage Alaska Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service) [7] [8]
Ann Arbor Michigan MDOT (Temporary commuter service to bypass construction on US 23, which may become permanent) [9], [10]
Las Vegas Nevada Vegas-Clark Railroad
Atlanta/Athens/Macon Georgia Georgia Rail Passenger Program,

Georgia Brain Train

[11], [12]
Charlotte North Carolina LYNX Red Line [13][14]
Cleveland Ohio Cleveland commuter rail [15] [16][17]
Cincinnati Ohio Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail [18]
Cloverdale - Larkspur (San Francisco) California SMART [19]
Dallas/Fort Worth Texas Tarrant Express (TEX),

DART Cotton Belt Rail Line

[20], [21]
Denver Colorado FasTracks [22]
Detroit Michigan SEMCOG Commuter Rail [23] [24] [25]
Greensboro North Carolina TRIAD Commuter Rail [26]
Harrisburg/Lancaster Pennsylvania CorridorOne (Capital Area Transit) [27]
Houston Texas Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas [28] [29]
Indianapolis Indiana IndyGo Commuter Rail [30]
Madison Wisconsin Dane County Commuter Rail,

Transport 2020 Commuter Rail

Milwaukee Wisconsin KRM Commuter Link [33]
Minneapolis Minnesota Red Rock Corridor [34]


New Haven/ Hartford/ Springfield Connecticut / Massachusetts New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail Line [35]
Oklahoma City Oklahoma OnTrac [36] [37]
Orlando Florida SunRail [38]
Oxnard - Santa Barbara California Santa Barbara - Ventura County Commuter Rail [39] [40]
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Eastern Corridor Transit Study (no official name as of 2010) [41] [42]
San Antonio/Austin Texas LSTAR [43]
Scranton, Pennsylvania / New Jersey / New York City Pennsylvania / New Jersey / New York Lackawanna Cutoff [44]
St. Louis Missouri / Illinois St. Louis Commuter Rail [45]


The following systems have ceased operations since the 1970s.

See also


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