Light Rail Transit

Since the 1970s when passenger rail travel reached an all-time low in this country there has been an increasing interest in commuter/light rail transit (LRT) options by those wishing to escape the "rat race" of highways and freeways when heading to and from work.  This effort has been aided by states, such as California and North Carolina, that have spent millions in recent years to promote such travel for the public.  Traditionally, rail has received far less in subsidies than highways and airlines even though it, too, is not directly profitable from the fares.  Hopefully, in the future other states will jump on board the LRT bandwagon as the public has often responded very positively.  Provided here are several of the most well known commuter rail services from Chicago's Metra to Philadelphia's Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

Altamont Commuter Express


Florida Tri Rail


Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority



Metro-North Railroad

New Jersey Transit

New Mexico Rail Runner

Shore Line East

Sound Transit

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

Virginia Railway Express

ACE F4OPH-3C #3101 and its all-matching bi-level cars makes a station stop in Lathrop, California on October 21, 2005.

Altamont Commuter Express,
Serving Stockton and San Jose

The Altamont Commuter Express commuter rail service, better known as simply ACE, is a relatively new commuter operation having just been started in 1998. It has become steadily popular over the years (going from operating two trains a day to four) and currently operates over Union Pacific Railroad trackage connecting Stockton and San Jose, California on a route that covers nearly 90 miles. Because of the success ACE has had since its inception future plans are already in the works to extend the system to Pittsburg (via Stockton) and a connection between Sacramento and Modesto. All in all if you live in the San Francisco Bay area and the ACE is an option for you to commute to work you may want to consider using their trains as it sure beats the rush of the highway.  California is continually growing its commuter, transit, and light rail systems (LRT, or light rail transit).

The state is a leader in commuter railroad operations and one reason behind this is its attempt to find ways to reduce its large amounts of carbon monoxide emissions, mostly from highway traffic. The state’s commuter rail system includes the CalTrain (the Bay Area), Metrolink (Southern California), and Altamont Commuter Express (serving the Central valley and the Silicon valley). Of course, the state is also home to plenty of local services like Amtrak’s Surfliner and Capitol Corridor operations part of the passenger carrier’s and state’s Amtrak California services as well as San Francisco’s famous trolley system.  The Altamont Commuter Express, named for the Altamont Pass in which the Union Pacific line passes through between Stockton and San Jose, has its beginnings dating as far back as 1989.  The current ACE system, which stretches 86 miles, serves ten stations and connects with three other commuter/light rail systems which include Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and Caltrain (which connects Gilroy with San Francisco).

The stations the system serves include (from south to north) San Jose, Santa Clara, Great America, Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, Vasco Road, Tracy, Lathrop/Manteca, and finally Stockton.  One note about Caltrain, it is another of California’s many commuter rail agencies serving the San Francisco region. Fully funded and operated by the City of San Francisco, San Mateo County Transit District, and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority it came about after the venerable Southern Pacific opted out of commuter rail service to the region in the late 1970s (the railroad once had extensive commuter rail operations throughout California, this during a time well before state/city funded such operations).  Between 1980 and 1987 Southern Pacific continued to operate commuter service to the San Francisco area under contract by the California Department of Transportation. After 1987 the Caltrain service was launched operating its own equipment and connecting Gilroy with downtown San Francisco. Since its inception the service has become very popular with several future extensions and upgrades already either in the planning stages or soon to happen.

F40PH-2 #800 hustles its commuter train northbound through Mount View on October 20, 2005.

Caltrain, Serving The San Francisco Bay Area

Caltrain is another of California’s many commuter railroad agencies serving the San Francisco region. Fully funded and operated by the City of San Francisco, San Mateo County Transit District, and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority it came about after the venerable Southern Pacific Railroad opted out of commuter rail service to the region in the late 1970s (the railroad once had extensive commuter rail operations throughout California, this during a time well before state/city funded such operations). Between 1980 and 1987 SP continued to operate commuter service to the San Francisco area under contract by the California Department of Transportation. After 1987 the service was launched operating its own equipment and connecting Gilroy with downtown San Francisco. Since its inception the service has become very popular with several future extensions and upgrades already either in the planning stages or soon to happen.

California is continually growing its commuter, transit, and light rail systems. The state is a leader in commuter rail and one reason behind this is its attempt to find ways to reduce its large amounts of carbon monoxide emissions, mostly from highway traffic. The state’s commuter rail system includes the CalTrain (the Bay Area), Metrolink (Southern California), and Altamont Commuter Express (serving the Central valley and the Silicon valley). Of course, the state is also home to plenty of local services like Amtrak’s Surfliner and Capitol Corridor operations part of the passenger carrier’s and state’s Amtrak California services as well as San Francisco’s famous trolley system.  While Caltrain currently only operates one route covering some 77 miles (serving 32 stations), running due south, it is broken down into six different zones (the zones are in place for pricing purposes and the further your trip the higher the price).

The different zones are (by stations):

· Zone 1: Serving San Francisco, 22nd Street, Bayshore, South San Francisco, and San Bruno.

· Zone 2: Serving Millbrae, Broadway, Burlingame, San Mateo, Hayward Park, Hillsdale, Belmont, San Carlos, and Redwood City.

· Zone 3: Serving Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Stanford, California Avenue, San Antonio, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale.

· Zone 4: Serving Lawrence, Santa Clara, College Park, San Jose DIRIDON, and Tamien.

· Zone 5: Serving Capitol and Blossom Hill.

· Zone 6Serving Morgan Hill, San Martin, and Gilroy.

The service continues to grow in popularity, today seeing nearly 40,000 weekday riders. It’s most popular service is currently the Baby Bullet Express, which shaves down transit times by making fewer stops, while future plans include extensions in downtown San Francisco, south of Gilroy, electrifying the system’s tracks, and wireless Internet access. All in all Caltrain has grown to become a very reliable and quite efficient operation, enabling commuters another option of mass transit in the Bay Area.

Resplendent in the old New Haven's "McGinnis" livery is a former NYNH&H FL9 leading a Shore Line commuter run near Manitou, New York on July 25, 1999.

Shore Line East

Shore Line East is the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s (ConnDOT) commuter rail system, which connects New Haven with New London, Connecticut. Since the service’s inception more than 20 years ago it has become a very successful operation, which is one reason it was saved from an attempted shutdown by one-time governor Lowell Weicker. For railfans, however, what makes Shore Line East’s operations so unique and interesting is its nod to history. Because SLE operates over the ex-New Haven Railroad’s main line, which connects Boston and New York City, it has painted its locomotive fleet in the road’s famous “McGinnis” livery of eye-catching orange, white, and black.

A relatively newer commuter operation, Shore Line East dates back to 1990 when it was created by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to serve Union Station in New Haven and a connection with Amtrak at New London. Connecting services at the system’s two determination points also allow riders to reach further points like Boston and New York City. Even the Shore Line East’s name is a nod to the New Haven as the section of line the commuter service operates on was originally called the Shore Line by the NYNH&H.  The New Haven Railroad, its complete name the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, was a mid-sized Northeastern carrier that is best remembered for moving more people than freight (interestingly it derived a good portion of its revenues from commuter services).

Since 1990 SLE has steadily been growing and today serves 11 different stations operating its trains in the “push-pull” fashion using diesel locomotives for faster operations (thus saving time). The idea behind push-pull operation is instead of having to run the lead locomotive around the train to be on the head-end once it completes it journey it simply pushes the train from behind (thus making the last car the head-end). While this may seem unsafe the FRA has concluded that there has been no evidence to prove such and you are just as safe riding in push mode as you are in pull mode (this following the deadly Metrolink accident in California in 2005 when a fool parked his SUV on the tracks causing a horrendous crash among three different trains).

The future for the Shore Line looks even brighter. Now that Amtrak has electrified its Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston the commuter line is seriously contemplating purchasing electric locomotives to replace its diesel fleet, which should allow for even faster transit times (if they do purchase electrics this will do away with the push-pull operations). So, even after 30+ years since the New Haven pulled its last commuter train, most of its routes, especially its New York-Boston main line, continue to be a vital link for commuters heading to work all along the New England coast.

F40PH-2C #807 makes a station stop at West Palm Beach on July 20, 2002.

Florida Tri Rail

The Florida Tri-Rail commuter railroad system, operated and maintained by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (or SFRTA), has been in operation since 1987 and today is a north-south linear system stretching 72 miles from the Florida Miami International Airport to Mangonia Park Station where it connects with Amtrak’s Silver Service operation. Interestingly Tri-Rail was initially meant only as a temporary means of mass transit until upgrades to Interstate 95 were completed but became so popular in the Miami area that has remained in operation for the last 20+ years and extended to its current length in 1998. Today, it has become an even popular mode of transportation for commuters and vacationers in and around the Miami region, particularly as gas prices continue to rise.

The Florida Tri-Rail trackage was purchased from CSX Transportation in 1989 of ex-Seaboard Coast Line trackage although CSX continues to dispatch and maintain the route through contract with the Florida Department of Transportation and Veolia Transportation, who currently manages the system, although eventual plans hope to allow the commuter system to do its own maintenance and dispatching.  Today, the service sees daily ridership exceeding 15,000 commuters serving 18 stations and a system that just completed a double-tracked route in 2007 allowing for even faster and more efficient commuting times between all three of South Florida’s international airports (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood, and Palm Beach).  Even Tri-Rail’s equipment is the latest featuring bi-level coaches from both Bombardier and Colorado Railcar bedecked in a flashy tropical theme of blue, white, orange, and green. The agency’s motive power fleet is all-EMD either rebuilt or currently being modified for commuter rail service:

· #801 – 805: F40PHL-2 - Rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen

· #807 – 809: F40PH-2C - Rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen

· #810 and #811 : F40PHR - Ex-Amtrak rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen

· #812 – 817: GP49PH – Ex-Southern GP49s rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen

All in all, the system has become a much more successful and larger endeavor than ever originally planned or anticipated. However, since its inception it has given commuters and travelers another means of transportation, particularly one that is less stressful and more pleasant than facing nearby congested I-95. Future plans hope to see the system extended onto the nearby Florida East Coast Railway and expanding commuter rail operations further throughout Florida, which, with any luck, will become reality.

GP39H-2 #70 leads a westbound commuter train past the historic Point of Rocks depot in Maryland on August 21, 1992.

MARC Train

MARC Train, also known as the Maryland Rail Commuter Service, is a commuter railroad agency funded by the State of Maryland and operated by the Maryland Transit Association (which is part of the Maryland Department of Transportation). It has been in operation since 1984 and operates mostly over ex-Baltimore & Ohio Railroad trackage under contract with CSX Transportation (successor to the B&O). MARC has become an increasingly popular mode of transportation for those who live and work in and around Baltimore/Washington, D.C. (stretching as far west as Martinsburg, WV), opting to take commuter trains over the increasingly-busy Interstate and highways.

When the service began in 1984 it took over many of the commuter operations once handled by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and later Chessie System in and around the Baltimore region. The ability of the transit service to revive the B&O’s operations is a testament to the adage; particularly regarding passenger railroading that if the service is provided and reliable riders will come.   Today, the service has three main railroad lines, which include the Camden Line, Brunswick Line, and Penn Line. Also, the commuter railroad plays host to over 30,000 daily passengers and currently makes stops at 43 different railroad stations. Here is more information regarding all three lines:

Penn Line

MARC Train's Penn Line, the busiest of its three seeing around 20,000 commuters daily, is named after the station which it serves, sBaltimore's Penn Station. Along with serving this station the route also serves Union Station in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; Bowie State University; Odenton; Perryville; Aberdeen; Edgewood; and Martins Airport. The Penn Line is partially operated along Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and also is the only route that offers mid-day service between D.C. and Baltimore.

Brunswick Line

The Brunswick Line is MARC Train's second busiest seeing about 7,000 commuters daily. It serves such points as Brunswick; Washington Union Station; Frederick; Gaithersburg; Rockville; Silver Spring; and lastly, even Martinsburg, West Virginia. This route is not owned by MARC as it has been granted trackage rights over CSX Transportation along its Cumberland Subdivision, including the famed B&O's Old Main Line (its original line built in the early 19th century).

Camden Line

The Camden Line sees the fewest commuters of the three lines at around 4,500. This route also operates on ex-B&O trackage which dates also dates back to the early 19th century and is the oldest route in the United States still in existence serving passenger trains on a daily basis. Stops along the route include the famed Camden Yards (once a B&O yard now home to the Baltimore Orioles Major League Baseball organization), Washington Union Station; Dorsey; Laurel; and College Park (home of the University of Maryland).

MBTA F40PH #1011 leads a four-car commuter train into Boston's South Station on August 3, 1981. Note the signal bridge still sporting venerable semaphores.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, MBTA

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, better known as simply the MBTA (or just “The T” by local residents), offers multiple modes of transportation for those living in and around Boston. These modes include commuter rail, bus, trolley, light rail, subway, and ferryboat just to name a few. For purposes of this site we’ll focus on the MBTA’s rail operations including the subway, light rail, and commuter rail operations. While the MBTA itself has only been in operation since the 1960s some form of commuter rail transport has been in place around Boston since the late 19th century and today remains just as important to folks heading to and from the workplace as it was during the days before the automobile.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was formed in 1964 to manage and oversee all commuter operations in and around the greater Boston region, which for rail operations included the commuter rail, light rail, trolley, and subway systems. Combined these rail systems see over 760,000 travelers during the workweek making the MBTA one of the busiest commuter systems in the country.  The MBTA’s commuter rail system operates 12 different railroad lines, serving 123 different stations, radiating away from downtown Boston all of which connect to either North Station or South Station. In all the system stretches throughout most of eastern Massachusetts and also connects Providence, Rhode Island. Below is a brief overview of each line:

· Fairmount Line: Connects South Station with Readville to the southeast.

· Fitchburg Line: Connects North Station with Fitchburg to the northwest.

· Framingham/Worcester Line: Connects South Station with Worcester/Union Station to the west.

· Franklin Line: Connects South Station with Forge Park to the southwest.

· Greenbush Line: Connects South Station with Greenbush to the southeast, along the coast.

· Haverhill Line: Connects North Station with Haverhill to the north.

· Kingston/Plymouth Line: Connects South Station with Kingston and Plymouth to the southeast.

· Lowell Line: Connects North Station with Lowell to the north.

· Middleborough/Lakeville Line: Connects South Station with Middleborough/Lakeville to the south.

· Needham Line: Connects South Station with Needham Heights to the west.

· Newburyport/Rockport Line: Connects North Station Rockport to the northeast along the coast.

· Providence/Stoughton Line: Connects South Station with Providence, Rhode Island to the south.

The subway, light rail, and trolley services are lumped together as just the subway system by the MBTA. They are recognized, however, by their “line” color. For instance, the true subway systems are designated as the Red, Orange, and Blue Lines while the light rail and trolley lines are designated as Green Line, Silver Line, and the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line (which is part of the Red Line). All in all, if you are commuting to or from work and live in the greater Boston region at some point you have probably used “The T” at some point and with over one million riders using the entire railroad system daily it is a crucial part of the area’s transportation network.

Lining up to say "cheese" are F40PHs #104 and #105 along with F40PHM-2 #213 at Blue Island, Illinois on October 6, 1996.


Metra (technically known as the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation) is the Chicago region’s long established commuter rail system fanning out from the downtown area to serve seven different counties. The system’s history dates back to several Class I railroads that once served the area including the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (the Milwaukee Road); Illinois Central; Chicago & North Western; and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island). Metra itself began to take shape as early as the 1970s when the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) was created to provide assistance to the private railroads operating commuter operations in the region (during this time nearly all of the private freight railroads still provided commuter services to local regions and cities).

It was after the fall of the Rock Island, which was shutdown in 1980 that Metra truly began to take shape. In the wake of the Rock Island collapse the RTA acquired ownership of its lines and operations around Chicago and in 1984 Metra was born. Over the years the system continued to grow purchasing the ex-Illinois Central electrified commuter lines in the late 1980s and today operates commuter services over several Class I systems. In total the system operates 11 different corridors fanning out south, north, and west of Chicago that connect suburban areas with four stations; LaSalle Street Station, Union Station, the Ogilvie Transportation Center, and Millennium Station. From north to south the agency’s lines include:

Union Pacific District North Line: Connects the Ogilvie Transportation Center with Kenosha.

Union Pacific District Northwest Line: Connects the Ogilvie Transportation Center with Harvard.

Milwaukee District North Line: Connects Union Station with Fox Lake.

North Central Service: Connects Union Station with Antioch.

Union Pacific West Line: Connects the Ogilvie Transportation Center with Elburn.

BNSF Railway Line: Connects Union Station with Aurora.

Heritage Corridor: Connects Union Station with Joliet.

SouthWest Service: Connects Union Station with Manhattan.

Chicago to Joliet Suburban Service: Connects LaSalle Station with Joliet.

Chicago to University Park Suburban Service: Connects Millennium Station with 93rd Street, Blue Island, and University Park.

Milwaukee District West Line: Connects Union Station with Elgin and Big Timber Road.

One important note about Metra that must be mentioned. While the operation appears as its own self-contained and operated commuter rail service (with both matching locomotives and commuter cars), outside of the former Illinois Central commuter operations and a few other lines owned by the NIRC this is not the case as.  Commuter services operated over Union Pacific and BNSF Railway lines are dispatched, crewed, and fully maintained by their respective railroads receiving annual subsidies by Metra to provide commuter rail services to the region.  One of the most popular commuter rail services in the country today it operates nearly 500 route miles, sees nearly 300,000 daily riders, and already has several future expansions on tap to further serve the communities surrounding Chicago.

F59PH #868 heads away from downtown Los Angeles near Glendale on the afternoon of August 2, 2007.


Metrolink is one of California’s many regional commuter railroad operations serving southern areas of the state, particularly Los Angeles. While the commuter service is a relatively new system it has become very popular since it began operations in the early 1990s (especially now as gas prices continue to shoot skyward). Today, it sees over 42,000 daily boardings on a system that stretches over 500 miles serving six different counties. So, if you live in the Southern California/Los Angeles region and looking for another means of commuting work you may want to seriously consider using their services, which continues to grow and expand.    The system began operations in the fall of 1992 operating over trackage originally owned by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific railroads today of which is part of Union Pacific and BNSF Railway. In total the system operates 512 miles on seven different lines serving 55 stations. Below is a brief overview about each line:

Ventura County Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with Ventura (70 miles).

Antelope Valley Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with Lancaster (76 miles).

91 Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with Riverside-Downtown (61 miles).

Inland Empire-Orange County Line: Connects San Bernardino with Oceanside (100 miles).

Orange County Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with Oceanside (87 miles).

Riverside Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with Riverside-Downtown (76 miles).

San Bernardino Line: Connects downtown Los Angeles (Union Station) with San Bernardino/Riverside-Downtown (56 miles).

As you can tell almost all of these routes serve the famous Los Angeles Union Station, originally known as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT). Los Angeles Union Station is the last of our great railroad stations designed in California’s traditional mission-style architecture and completed at a cost of $11 million in 1939, having been financed by the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific railroads.   While the station was built and completed towards the end of the railroad industry’s heyday of passenger rail travel it was still very busy and saw over 7,000 folks daily through the facility in the 1940s. The station also saw its three builders’ most prominent passenger trains with names like the Super Chief (Santa Fe), Daylight (Southern Pacific), and City of Los Angeles (one of the Union Pacific’s famous fleet of City trains). Before 2005 Metrolink (technically known as the Southern California Regional Rail Authority or SCRRA) was operated by Amtrak and today is under contract to Veolia Transportation, where it continues to grow and become more popular.

A pair of Metro North FL9s, led by #2017, load passengers at the station in Danbury, Connecticut on October 23, 1999.

Metro-North Railroad

The Metro-North Railroad is the commuter railroad system operated and maintained by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) of New York State (which also includes other transit services like subway and buses). Like New Jersey Transit which serves communities to the south of New York City, Metro-North serves communities to the north of the city using five different rail lines. For the past 25 years the Metro-North has been providing reliable and efficient commuter rail services to northern New Jersey, southern New York, and the southern coast of Connecticut and without it many commuters would have a difficult and time-consuming effort getting to work.  The Metro-North began operations in 1983 to take over commuter services originally provided by the New York, New Haven & Hartford and New York Central Railroads.

Following the collapse of the Penn Central Corporation in the early 1970s, which eventually led to the formation of Conrail in 1976, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority took over commuter operations north of the New York City region in 1972 to serve the suburbs and towns located there, which eventually led to the Metro-North’s creation.  While the New York Central had extensive operations in the area, no railroad is better remembered, particularly in the New England region, for its commuter operations than the NYNH&H. The New Haven Railroad was a mid-sized Northeastern carrier that is best remembered for moving more people than freight (interestingly it derived a good portion of its revenues from commuter services).  Today the Metro-North serves five different lines, all of which eventually terminate at either Hoboken Terminal or Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal located in downtown Manhattan:

Port Jervis Line: In conjunction with NJ Transit connects Hoboken Terminal and Penn Station with Port Jervis, New York.

Pascack Valley Line: In conjunction with NJ Transit connects Hoboken Terminal and Penn Station with Spring Valley, New York.

Hudson Line: Connects Grand Central Terminal with Poughkeepsie, New York along the Hudson River.

Harlem Line: Connects Grand Central Terminal and Harlem with Wassaic, New York.

New Haven Line: Operating over the ex-New Haven main line connects, New Haven, Danbury, and Waterbury, Connecticut in conjunction with Shore Line East with Grand Central Terminal.

Today the NYNH&H main line continues to be an important link to both freight and passengers between Boston and New York, especially Amtrak where the line is part of the carrier’s Northeast Corridor (or NEC for short). All in all, if you live in any of these communities and work in New York City or somewhere along the Long Island Sound you may want to consider using the Metro-North Railroad, especially in this day of ever-rising gas prices.

While these trains appear to be going the same direction they are actually passing one another; GP40PH-2 #4108 is pushing its eastbound run while counterpart #4107 leads its consist westbound through Seacacus, New Jersey on May 24, 2006.

New Jersey Transit

New Jersey Transit, or NJ Transit as it is commonly called, is the largest commuter-railroading agency in the country stretching from New York City to Philadelphia and serving many of the suburban areas near the two cities. NJ Transit has been in operation since 1979 and was set up by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to provide reliable and efficient transportation to the New Jersey region. While NJT also offers bus services over its system it is best known for its commuter and light rail train services, which includes an incredible twelve commuter and three light railroad lines serving three different states!

When NJT began operations in 1979 it relieved then Conrail of its commuter burdens, which had previously been operated by Conrail predecessors including the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, Erie Lackawanna, and Reading Railroad. With better funding and more reliable service NJ Transit has become a very popular mode of transportation today for commuters heading to work in and around New York City and Philadelphia. Today, the commuter agency offers fifteen different rail lines of service with many more either planned or in the works. They are all briefly mentioned below:

Commuter Rail 

Northeast Corridor (NEC) and Princeton Branch: Between Trenton, New Jersey and New York City’s Penn Station NJT operates over Amtrak’s NEC, as well as serves a branch connecting Princeton, New Jersey.

Morris & Essex Lines: Heading west from NYC’s Penn Station these lines split near New Providence, New Jersey where one, the Morristown Line heads northwest to serve Hackettstown and another, the Gladstone Branch heads due west to serve Gladstone.

Raritan Valley Line: Connects Newark Penn Station with High Bridge, New Jersey.

Main Line: The Maine Line is the ex-Erie Railroad main line connecting Hoboken with Suffern, New York.

Bergen County Line: Connecting virtually the same two points as the Maine Line this route splits off for a time at Secaucus and heads north, paralleling the Maine Line to the east until Glen Rock where both lines merge.

Montclair – Boonton Line: Connects NYC’s Penn Station with Hackettstown.

Pascack Valley Line: Heads north from NYC’s Penn Station and connects Spring Valley.

Atlantic City Line: Connects the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey with 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

North Jersey Coast Line:  Connects Bay Head, New Jersey with Lackawanna’s former Hoboken Terminal.

Light Rail (LRT)

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail: The HBLR line runs 21 miles connecting Hoboken Terminal, Bayonne, and North Bergen.

River Line: A 20-mile line connecting Trenton and Camden, New Jersey.

Newark Light Rail:  Totals over 5 miles connecting such points as Newark and Bloomfield.

As New Jersey Transit continues to gain popularity it has several future extensions or proposals on tap. These include direct New York City – Atlantic City service (a 3-year trial that began in 2006); a light rail project connecting Newark and Elizabeth, the double-track Trans Hudson Express Tunnel that will serve its lines connecting NYC’s Penn Station; the Sparta Branch which will serve communities northwest of downtown Manhattan; and most famous of all the currently defunct Lackawanna Cutoff, which was purchased the NJT in 2001 in hopes of connecting Scranton, Pennsylvania with Hoboken Terminal (a 7-mile section is in the works to be reopened as we speak). All in all, without New Jersey Transit not only would thousands of daily commuters have a difficult time finding a way their workplace but also its serves help to keep highways less clogged than they already are.

Rail Runner MP36PH-3C #103 heads southward with its train not far from Los Lunas, New Mexico on September 11, 2008. This commuter service is one of the few to offer spectacular scenery as as noted by the Manzano Mountains in the background.

New Mexico Rail Runner

The New Mexico Rail Runner commuter railroad system is a very new operation having just been inaugurated in July of 2006. However, the service has far exceeded its expectations and in late June of 2008 celebrated its one-millionth rider! Today, the Rail Runner system connects Albuquerque (the largest city in New Mexico) with the cities of Belen to the south and Sandoval County/US 550 to the north. Eventual plans will have the system connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which is projected to double daily ridership from around 1,400 to nearly 3,000. All in all the New Mexico Rail Runner service has more than exceeded expectations and plans are already in the works for future extensions and upgrades.

The Rail Runner system dates as far back as 2003 when governor Bill Richardson finally proposed to begin a commuter railroad operation that would one day serve New Mexico’s two largest cities, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The service, which was dubbed Rail Runner in honor of the state bird the roadrunner, became reality in 2005 and plans to build stations and operate over BNSF Railway trackage began taking shape. - From a historical perspective the tracks which the commute railroad operates over were originally built and owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (distinctively known as the Santa Fe), which is likely not only this country’s but also the world’s most recognized and famous railroad.

For the first few months riding Rail Runner was free of charge to gauge interest and opinions by the general public, and it quickly became apparent that the trains were well liked. For instance, two unique features to the service include the classic Looney Tunes roadrunner “beep beep,” which is heard when passenger car doors are closing and a livery that features the roadrunner itself running down the length of the train. At its peak the free service saw over 6,000 daily riders and although ridership has fallen since fares went into place interest for the trains is still above projections.  After fares were introduced the New Mexico Rail Runner service was broken down into three zones with the cost to ride the trains dependent on how many of those zones you would be traveling through.

· Sandoval Zone: Serving Sandoval County/US 550 and downtown Bernalillo.

· Bernalillo Zone: Serving Los Ranchos, Albuquerque, and International Sunport/Bernalillo County with future stations at Sandia Pueblo and Isleta Pueblo.

· Valencia Zone: Serving Los Lunas (opened in December of 2006) and Belen (the extension to Belen was opened in the winter of 2007).

F59PHI #908 is tied down with its consist at Freight House Square in Tacoma on a rainy July 21, 2007.

Sound Transit

Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter railroad system has been a huge success for the Seattle/Tacoma region since it began operations in just 2000 and expanded in 2003. While the Sound Transit agency in total covers several forms of mass transit, for purposes of this site we will highlight its commuter rail operations. The system has become so popular in the region, particularly its rail operations, that future plans are already being made to extend service into South Tacoma. A big reason why the operation has been so successful is due to its excellent reliability, clean services, and an alternative to driving.  Sound Transit itself dates back to the early 1990s with the fist commuter rail service, which connects Seattle with Tacoma, Washington 39 miles to the south (known as, commonly enough, the South Line), began in 2000. 

As popularity for Sounder soared after its initial opening in 2000, it added a northern extension which opened in 2003 called simply the North Line. This route extends to Everett, about 35 miles north of Seattle. In all, Sounder extends 74 miles north and south of Seattle, operating over BNSF Railway trackage, although it does own its own locomotives and equipment. All of the system’s lines terminate at Seattle’s historic King Street Station.   Of note, along with the commuter rail operations Sound Transit also operates a short, but popular, light rail transit system which connects Tacoma Dome Station with South 25th Street, runs north along Pacific Avenue to Union Station, further north to the Convention Center, and finally terminating at the Theater District. In all, this new mass transit operation, of which rail has only been in place for less than 10 years has been a resounding success.

SEPTA LRV #127 zooms through Upper Darby, Pennsylvania on October 20, 1990. Essentially, these cars are newer versions of the classic interurban and streetcars.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, SEPTA

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, also known as SEPTA, was created in the early 1960s by the State of Pennsylvania to serve the Philadelphia region which includes (along with Philadelphia) the counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery as well as New Castle County in Delaware and Mercer County in New Jersey. While SEPTA is most popularly recognized for its commuter, light rail, and trolley services it also offers bus and tram services. In all SEPTA operates over 450 miles of railroad lines and carries just under one million commuters every day, one of the nation’s largest commuter systems!  The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was created in 1963 from two former transit systems and was able to mostly relieve the ailing Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads from their commuter services in and around Philadelphia.

The purpose of SEPTA was not to only provide transportation services for the region but to also do so more reliably and effectively than the PRR and Reading, which were losing so much money on commuter operations that they simply wanted out (and as a result service levels suffered). The railroads leased their commuter operations to SEPTA, which continued under successor Conrail until 1983 when everything was sold to the authority relieving the freight railroad entirely of the rail lines.  After SEPTA took over the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (famously remembered as the Red Arrow Lines) and the Philadelphia & Western Railroad in the early 1970s it operated a system stretching as far south as eastern Delaware (where it connects with Amtrak); as far north as Trenton, New Jersey (where it connects with New Jersey Transit); as far north as Doylestown; and as far west as Thorndale (where it connects with Amtrak).   Aside from these main line routes SEPTA also offers five different local lines of service (which mostly serve the great Philadelphia area only). These lines include:

· Broad Street Line: Connects Pattison with Fern Rock.

· Market-Frankford Line: Connects 69th Street Terminal with Frankford.

· PATCO Line: Connects 15th and 16th Streets with Lindenwold.

· Route 100: Connects 69th Street Terminal with Norristown.

· Route 101 and 102: Trolley services connecting 69th Street Terminal Media and Sharon Hill (via Drexel Hill Junction).

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority also offers trolley service near downtown Philadelphia which stretches from near 13th Street to near 40th Street. Also of note is that Philadelphia is served by New Jersey Transit via RiverLINE that stretches as far south as Camden, New Jersey just across the river from downtown Philly.  In all, SEPTA has been providing fast, reliable, and affordable transportation service to the Philadelphia region for over 40 years now, a far cry from the final days of service under the Pennsylvania and Reading, which as private transportation companies they simply did not have the available capital to offer such dependable service. Today, according to SEPTA it serves over 300 million commuters annually and covers a service area of 2,200 square miles. As gas prices continue to rise and folks look for a cheaper way to make it to the workplace it is very likely that SEPTA’s ridership numbers will continue to increase in the future.

A former Amtrak F40PH, now VRE #V33, leads a commuter run across the Neabsco Creek Bridge in Neabsco, Virginia on August 2, 2005.

Virginia Railway Express

The Virginia Railway Express, or VRE, is a relatively new commuter agency, which is based in northern Virginia and serves Washington, D.C. VRE currently owns none of its own track, instead operating over CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Amtrak although it does own its passenger cars and locomotives. The service has steadily grown over the years and today averages nearly 15,000 commuters between its two rail lines and serves 21 different stations. For commuters which live in northern Virginia and work in Washington the commuter service has been a great means of transportation and according to the VRE’s latest numbers its popularity is steadily growing, which may mean increased services offered in the future.  The Virginia Railway Express began in 1992 and is managed by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC).

Departing from Washington D.C.’s Union Station VRE commuter trains use one of two railroad routes: the Manassas Line which serves 9 stations, L’Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, Alexandria Union Station (also served by Amtrak), Backlick Road, Rolling Road, Burke Center, Manassas Park, Manassas, and Broad Run; and the Fredericksburg Line which serves 11 stations L’Enfant Plaza, Crystal City, Alexandria Union Station (also served by Amtrak), Franconia-Springfield, Lorton, Woodbridge, Rippon, Quantico, Brooke, Leeland, and Fredericksburg.  VRE’s current equipment, which can handle between 135 and 150 seats, includes mostly standard, single level commuter railroad cars although they do have a small fleet of duel-level railroad cars. For power the commuter agency uses all EMDs, most of which have been rebuilt from four axle, GP40s including GP40H-2s, an F40PH, F40PH-2, RP40-2C, and RP39-2C.

Virginia Railway Express RP39-2C #V05 rolls under the signal bridge and nears AF Tower in Alexandria, Virginia with its train on the evening of August 1, 2005.

While at first it was unclear just how successful the idea of starting a commuter railroad operation to serve northern Virginia would be, over the last 14 years results have spoken for themselves. Between 1997 and 2011 daily ridership has jumped from around 6,000 patrons to nearly 20,000 today! Part of VRE’s success has been due to its flexibility. For instance, for commuters heading in the opposing direction they can switch from MARC trains to VRE trains and vice versa. VRE’s mission statement claims that it will provide safe, cost-effective, accessible, customer-responsive, reliable, rail passenger service as an integral part of a balanced, intermodal regional transportation system, and from the results of how the service has performed over the last 14 years I think one can safely say that the commuter agency has very much lived up to that proclamation.