Commuter rail services in the United States, Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama 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, the West Coast Express commuter rail line 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, 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.
GO Transit in Toronto operates mainly during rush hours 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 Toronto Union Station downtown. Future plans for all-day, bidirectional service on all lines are in the works under Metrolinx's "The Big Move" plan.
The Utah Transit Authority operates the FrontRunner (which connects the Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo metropolitan areas, or Wasatch Front), running on thirty-minute headways during weekday rush hours and sixty-minute headways at all other times on weekdays and Saturdays (there is no Sunday service). Service runs until after midnight on weeknights, and until just after 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. The FrontRunner is bidirectional during the entirety of its operating hours.
Most older, established commuter rail services operate seven days a week, with service 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, runs at all times except the very early morning hours (usually between 3 and 5 am). The A Line and the planned Gold Line, both part of Denver's FasTracks program, will run from 3 am to 1 am and 4 am to 12:30 am, respectively, with reduced service late at night and early in the morning. 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.
Most commuter rail services in North America are operated by government entities or quasi-governmental organizations. Almost all 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-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 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 the 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 or sixth busiest in the U.S. (after the New York, New Jersey, and Chicago area systems, and approximately on par with Philadelphia's SEPTA Regional Rail) 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, Réseau de transport métropolitain 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.
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, Austin's Capital MetroRail, and South Florida's Tri-Rail. These systems use vehicles supplied by Stadler Rail or US Railcar (formerly Colorado Railcar).
|System||Country||Metropolitan area||Province / State||Number of lines||Avg. Weekday|
|Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)||USA||San Jose-Stockton||California||1 (1 planned)||5,200|
|Caltrain||USA||San Francisco-San Jose||California||1 (1 proposed)||62,190(February 2017 average)|
|Capital MetroRail||USA||Austin||Texas||1 (2 proposed)||2,700|
|Capitol Corridor||USA||Sacramento-San Francisco Bay Area||California||1||5,100|
|El Tren Suburbano||MEX||Mexico City||Distrito Federal||1 (2 under construction)||[needs update]88,000|
|FrontRunner||USA||Ogden-Salt Lake City-Provo||Utah||1||17,200|
|Hartford Line||USA||New Haven / Hartford / Springfield||Connecticut / Massachusetts||1|
|Havana Suburban Railway||CUB||Havana||La Habana / Artemisa / Mayabeque / Matanzas||8|
|Long Island Rail Road||USA||New York City-Long Island||New York||11 (15 former)||354,800|
|MARC Train||USA||Baltimore-Washington, D.C.||Maryland / West Virginia
/ District of Columbia
|MBTA Commuter Rail||USA||Boston-Worcester-Providence||Massachusetts / Rhode Island||14 (1 under construction, 5 former)||127,500|
|Metra||USA||Chicago||Illinois / Wisconsin||13 (2 planned)||283,700|
|Metrolink||USA||Los Angeles-Southern California||California||7 (3 planned)||39,500|
|Metro-North Railroad||USA||New York City; New Haven;
|New York / Connecticut||8||305,700|
|Music City Star||USA||Nashville||Tennessee||1 (6 planned)||1,200|
|NJ Transit Rail Operations||USA||North Jersey; New York City
Philadelphia; Atlantic City
|New Jersey / New York
|12 (1 under construction, 1 former/planned, 3 proposed)||[note 1]308,523 (FY2015)|
|New Mexico Rail Runner Express||USA||Albuquerque-Santa Fe||New Mexico||1||2,700|
|Northstar Line||USA||Minneapolis-Saint Paul||Minnesota||1 (7 proposed)||2,400|
|Panama Canal Railway||PAN||Panama City-Colón||Panamá / Colón||1|
|Regional Transportation District||USA||Denver||Colorado||2 (2 under construction)||19,400|
|Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit||USA||Cloverdale-Larkspur||California||1|
|South Shore Line||USA||Chicago-South Bend||Illinois / Indiana||1 (1 proposed)||11,700|
|SEPTA Regional Rail||USA||Philadelphia||Pennsylvania / New Jersey
|13 (1 former)||134,000|
|Shore Line East||USA||New Haven-New London||Connecticut||1||1,900|
|SunRail||USA||Greater Orlando||Florida||1 (1 proposed)||3,200 (Q4 2014)|
|Tren Urbano de Costa Rica||CRI||San José-Central Valley||San José / Heredia / Cartago||4|
|Trinity Railway Express||USA||Dallas-Fort Worth||Texas||1||7,700|
|Tri-Rail||USA||Miami-South Florida||Florida||1 (2 planned)||14,200|
|Virginia Railway Express||USA||Washington, D.C.||Virginia / District of Columbia||2 (1 planned)||17,900|
|West Coast Express||CAN||Vancouver||British Columbia||1||10,600 (Q4 2014)|
|WES Commuter Rail||USA||Portland||Oregon||1||1,700|
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*|||||
|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 Commuter Rail|
|Charlotte||USA||North Carolina||LYNX Red Line|||||
|Cleveland||USA||Ohio||Cleveland commuter rail|||||
|Cincinnati||USA||Ohio||Eastern Corridor Commuter Rail|||
|Dallas / Fort Worth||USA||Texas||Tarrant Express (TEX)|||
|Dallas||USA||Texas||DART Cotton Belt Rail Line|||
|Denver / Boulder||USA||Colorado||RTD commuter rail|||
|Detroit||USA||Michigan||SEMCOG 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
|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|||
|San Antonio / Austin||USA||Texas||LSTAR|||
|St. Louis||USA||Missouri / Illinois||St. Louis Commuter Rail|||
|Worcester / Providence||USA||Massachusetts / Rhode Island||Boston Surface Railroad|||
The following systems have ceased operations since the 1970s.