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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
|System||Country||Metropolitan area||Province / State||Number of lines||Avg. Weekday|
|Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)||USA||San Jose-Tri-Valley-Stockton||California||1 (1 under construction)||6,100|
|Caltrain||USA||San Francisco-San Jose||California||1||57,000|
|Capitol Corridor[note 1]||USA||Sacramento-San Francisco Bay Area||California||1||5,700|
|City Rail||HON||La Ceiba||Atlántida Department||1|
|Downeaster[note 1]||USA||Brunswick-Portland-Boston||Maine / New Hampshire / Massachusetts||1||1,300|
|FrontRunner||USA||Ogden-Salt Lake City-Provo||Utah||1||19,200|
|Hartford Line||USA||New Haven-Hartford-Springfield||Connecticut / Massachusetts||1|
|Havana Suburban Railway||CUB||Havana||La Habana / Artemisa / Mayabeque / Matanzas||8|
|Keystone Service[note 1]||USA||Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York City||Pennsylvania / New York||1||5,000|
|Long Island Rail Road||USA||New York City-Long Island||New York||11 (15 former)||360,000|
|MARC Train||USA||Baltimore-Washington, 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 Angeles-Southern 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 Jersey-New York City
|New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania||12 (1 under construction, 1 former)||238,082 (FY2017)[note 2]|
|New Mexico Rail Runner Express||USA||Albuquerque-Santa Fe||New Mexico||1||2,500|
|Northstar Line||USA||Minneapolis-Saint Paul||Minnesota||1||2,600|
|Panama Canal Railway||PAN||Panama City-Colón||Panamá / Colón||1||1,500 (2013)[needs update]|
|Regional Transportation District||USA||Denver||Colorado||3 (1 under construction)||28,700|
|Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit||USA||Santa Rosa-San Rafael||California||1|
|South Shore Line||USA||Chicago-South Bend||Illinois / Indiana||1||10,900|
|SEPTA Regional Rail||USA||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania / New Jersey / Delaware||13 (1 former)||126,000|
|Shore Line East||USA||New Haven-New London||Connecticut||1||1,800|
|Tren Suburbano||MEX||Mexico City||Mexico City / State of Mexico||1 (2 under construction)||195,000 (2017)|
|Tren Urbano de Costa Rica||CRI||San José-Central 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|
There are several commuter rail systems currently under construction or in development in Canada, Mexico and the United States.
|Halifax||CAN||Nova Scotia||Halifax Transit|||
|Ottawa||CAN||Ontario / Québec||Moose/Transport Pontiac-Renfrew[note 3]|||||
|Aguascalientes||MEX||Aguascalientes||Tren Suburbano (no official name yet)|||
|Mexico City megalopolis||MEX||Mexico & Mexico City||Toluca-Mexico City commuter rail|||
|Alameda County||USA||California||Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority|||||
|Anchorage||USA||Alaska||Alaska Railroad (existing long-distance railroad, proposed commuter service)|||||
|Atlanta / Athens / Macon||USA||Georgia||Georgia Rail Passenger Program,
Georgia Brain Train
|Atlanta / Clayton County||USA||Georgia||MARTA Clayton County commuter rail|||
|Charlotte||USA||North Carolina||LYNX Red Line|||||
|Cleveland||USA||Ohio||Cleveland commuter rail|||||
|Cincinnati||USA||Ohio||Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail|||
|Dallas||USA||Texas||DART Silver Line|||
|Detroit||USA||Michigan||SEMCOG Commuter Rail|||
|Fort Worth||USA||Texas||Burleson commuter rail|||
|Greensboro||USA||North Carolina||TRIAD Commuter Rail|||
|Harrisburg / Lancaster||USA||Pennsylvania||Capital Red Rose Corridor (Capital Area Transit)|||
|Houston||USA||Texas||Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas|||
|Jacksonville||USA||Florida||First Coast Commuter Rail|
|Madison||USA||Wisconsin||Dane County Commuter Rail,
Transport 2020 Commuter Rail
|Miami||USA||Florida||Virgin Trains USA commuter rail|||
|Minneapolis||USA||Minnesota||Dan Patch Corridor|||
|Pittsburgh||USA||Pennsylvania||Eastern Corridor Transit Study
(no official name as of 2010 )
|Raleigh / Durham / Cary
|USA||North Carolina||Durham-Wake Corridor|||
|St. Louis||USA||Missouri / Illinois||St. Louis Commuter Rail|||
The following systems have ceased operations since the formation of Amtrak in 1971.