What is a Commuter Rail?

Mary McMahon

A commuter rail service is a train service which connects a central business district to outlying areas. This allows people to commute into the city from suburbs and neighboring towns and cities. Often, commuter rail connects with city transit, such as a subway or metro system, allowing the passengers to move on to their next destination easily. Many large cities have commuter rail service, which is often sponsored in part by the local or national government.

Light rail trains are commonly used for mass transit in cities and their surrounding suburbs.
Light rail trains are commonly used for mass transit in cities and their surrounding suburbs.

Several things distinguish a commuter rail service from other train services. The first is that it is designed to accommodate very large numbers of passengers, not always entirely comfortably, because it is not designed to travel very long distances. The second is that a commuter rail runs at regularly scheduled times, unlike many metro and light rail services, which run at specific intervals. Commuter rail is also distinguished from light rail by using heavy rail trains, which can share tracks with freight trains and long distance passenger trains.

Commuter rail reduces congestion and parking problems in cities.
Commuter rail reduces congestion and parking problems in cities.

There are numerous advantages to installing a commuter rail service. The service encourages people to use public transportation, rather than driving into a city. This, in turn, reduces congestion and parking problems in the city. It is also more energy efficient, since a commuter rail train may use green energy sources. For passengers, a commuter rail is a convenient way to get into the city without having to drive, allowing them to relax, read, or work on work projects on the way in.

Commuter rail planners must consider the potential for expansion and shifting landscapes when choosing a commuter rail route.
Commuter rail planners must consider the potential for expansion and shifting landscapes when choosing a commuter rail route.

Since a commuter rail system often uses existing tracks, it may not be as expensive to install as a light rail or metro system. In some areas, bridging sections of track are needed to get the commuter rail system all the way into the city, or to link it up with city transportation services, but the expense for these is minimal when compared to laying down an entirely new track. Since a commuter rail train can often use existing infrastructure, the company running the commuter rail can focus on purchasing extremely fast, high capacity trains, which are in great demand.

Commuter rails often take people to and from a city's suburbs.
Commuter rails often take people to and from a city's suburbs.

Because most commuter rail trains connect with other methods of transportation, they are also very convenient. Once passengers disembark from the commuter rail train, they can use city transportation to get to their end destinations. This sharing of services across several networks is highly efficient, and it encourages people to be confident in public transportation. With a growing interesting in relieving congestion and reducing energy use in the 1990s, many cities started to make serious investments in commuter rail.

Commuter rail systems often connect to a subway or metro.
Commuter rail systems often connect to a subway or metro.

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Discussion Comments

anon317360

What are some of the advantages of a commuter railway service?

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