For rail services, downtown sometimes isn’t the right place for a terminus

leipzig-markt

» For commuter rail, through-running is becoming increasingly popular in city after city looking to take advantage of faster travel times, direct suburb-to-suburb services, and more downtown stops. Leipzig, Germany, whose City Tunnel opened in 2013, is a case in point.

There’s a romantic notion of the downtown rail terminal in the American popular culture, often expressed in movies and books. It’s a scene that is easy to conjure up in one’s mind: The steaming locomotive comes slowly to a halt at the end of a track, passengers stream out into a giant waiting room, and from there they exit into the bustling metropolis. The railroad terminal is the physical manifestation of the end of a journey and the exciting moment of arrival.

For railroad companies and government agencies, the need to create this welcoming travel environment has inspired multi-billion-dollar station redevelopment schemes. The argument made has been that in order to achieve the appropriate travel experience, people should arrive for train travel—whether intercity or commuter—in one, massive facility where trains begin and end their trips.

But what if this orientation towards rail terminals is actually reducing the effectiveness of our rail system? What if we eliminated terminals downtown altogether and just replaced them with regular old stops on the line, leaving terminals for outer suburban places?

European cities from Basel to Brussels have done just that, replacing commuter rail services ending at central depots with through-running operations where trains stop at several places in the city rather than one thanks to new rail tunnels. They’re expensive investments, but they may make commuting a faster and more enjoyable experience.

The Leipzig experience

Until 2013, commuter rail service in Leipzig, a half-million-person city in eastern Germany, departed from two major train stations—the Hauptbahnhof just north of the center and the Bayerishcher Bahnhof south of it. This produced a peculiar situation in which people traveling from one suburb to another had no easy connection between trains and also required travelers to make a transfer to a local bus or tram—or take a walk—to get to the center of the city.

As early as 1915, city planners plotted a connection between the stations (and some preliminary work was actually completed), but not until the 1990s was a plan finalized, and construction on the City Tunnel didn’t get underway until 2003. The roughly one-mile subway link added two intermediary stations right in the center of downtown (including one at Markt, pictured above). Though the project was years late and its budget exploded to €960 million—of which the Saxony region covered about half the costs—the project was completed.

The following map illustrates the connection the tunnel has provided: A direct link through the center of the city offering a route for six S-Bahn (regional rail) services.

Leipzig S-Bahn

The tunnel saved people using the system lots of time—and now about 55,000 riders are using the link on a typical weekday. It’s well used.

During my time in Leipzig in May as part of the International Transport Forum’s Media Travel Programme, I spoke with Mayor Burkhard Jung about the value this project brought to his city.

Jung, who was a primary advocate for the project, emphasized that the new stations in the center of the city dramatically improved the local economic environment. “Everything changed,” he told me; “it helped the whole business district” by bringing many more visitors. Suburbanites, who once would have avoided the center, or at least only been to the areas directly near the stations, suddenly had very frequent rail access to subway stations directly in the downtown.

Jung also pointed out that the project was contributing to the overall goal of getting more people on transit. “We can’t solve the emissions, noise problems if we don’t solve the mode split problem,” he said. According to him, the city is already heading in the right direction, with a clear shift away from private passenger cars over the last five years.

That’s no surprise when you think about it. Passengers heading in to Leipzig on the S-Bahn who used to have just one available destination downtown—the train line’s terminus—now have four to choose from. That opens up four times as many possibilities in terms of places to go for a night out or a weekend shopping trip.

Meanwhile, the train itself has become more useful, now that instead of just ending downtown, it heads off to another suburban location. And instead of passengers having to run to another potentially far-away platform at the main station to switch to a destination not on one’s train line, they can just get off at any of the City Tunnel’s stations and wait for the next train, since they all operate on the same tracks.

The construction of the City Tunnel did not mean the end of terminus-based rail services entirely in Leipzig. The Hauptbahnhof—which happens to be the largest railway station in the world and also a major shopping center—is still being used, though its focus has shifted to intercity trains. Some intercity trains, however, will be shifted to the City Tunnel in the coming year, though there are capacity limitations.

Many other cities have invested similarly

Leipzig’s investment in its new urban rail tunnel has brought new vitality to its center city but it is in some ways late to the game. In fact, many of its European peers have built similar center-city rail lines over the past few decades in order to provide through-running rail service stopping at many downtown destinations.

Berlin opened its Stadtbahn in the 1880s, providing intercity and commuter service on an elevated line running east-west through the center of the city. Even today, long-distance German high-speed trains hail at several of its stops as they travel from or through Berlin. In the 1930s, Berlin complemented this service with an S-Bahn subway running north-south through the center.

Other cities followed this trend of providing tunneled service for commuter and intercity rail through their centers. Brussels connected its north and south stations in 1952; in 1967, Madrid linked its major stations with the “Tunnel of Laughter;” in 1969, Paris inaugurated its RER regional rail network with a tunnel straight through the center of the city; Munich provided an S-Bahn connection in 1972; Zurich linked up its S-Bahn trains in 1990; Basel built its network in 1997; Bilbao followed in 1999; and Milan began providing inter-suburban train service through downtown in 2004.

That’s hardly an exhaustive list, and many other cities are planning even more: Brussels is building another tunnel to create its own RER network by 2025; Berlin, Geneva, Munich, Stuttgart, and Zurich are all planning or building additional cross-city regional rail links; and London has a new regional rail line under construction and another planned.

Even South American cities are getting into the mix. In Buenos Aires, the new RER network, which includes a cross-city tunneled link (shown in the following video, in Spanish, but worth the watch even if you don’t understand the language) is expected to double suburban rail ridership.

Each of these cities has identified the benefits of combining frequent and fast regional rail networks with through-running train services under their centers. The benefits are clear: More destinations for riders; more accessibility to locations downtown; and the ability to get from one side of a region to another without transferring between trains. They’ve also saved their rail operators considerable expense by allowing them to turn their trains around somewhere other than downtown, which is the most difficult place to do so.

This is a particular benefit because peak times, which require many services heading in or out of downtown, require train operators to stack trains at the terminus, which takes up lots of storage space (in expensive areas of the city) and necessitates many platforms at the terminus, since there aren’t any other downtown station stops. A through-running service allows trains to be stored elsewhere and passengers to be distributed among several stops.

For example, Paris’ RER line A, a through-running regional rail service, carries about as many people daily (more than one million riders) on just two tracks as all services operated by commuter rail services in New York City, including Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and New Jersey Transit, which require dozens of platforms at the two Manhattan terminals, Grand Central and Penn Station, and which require acres of train storage areas near downtown, either under Grand Central or at the huge yards on Manhattan’s West Side or Sunnyside. In Paris, trains stop at six central-city subway stops, distributing ridership, and train storage is on the suburban fringe.

Cities with through-running regional rail services have moved away from the terminus-as-destination model of providing suburban and intercity rail service. That’s a transition that benefits riders and the cities they live in.

What potential do we have for through-running in the U.S.?

In the 1980s, Philadelphia opened its Center City Commuter Connection, a new subway for regional rail trains running directly through downtown, with three stops along the way. The project did, in fact, provide riders using that city’s commuter system significantly more alternatives for destinations downtown. Ridership has increased by more than 50 percent over the past 15 years, increasing from 80,000 typical daily trips in 1996 to 135,000 last year.

But because of limited funding, a circuitous regional network (many trains heading east through the tunnel actually end up heading west, and vice-verse), and a lack of commitment to maintaining high train service frequencies or through-running services in general, Philadelphia’s system has not reached its potential. Nonetheless, the infrastructure is there.

New York also has the infrastructure for through-running between Connecticut, Long Island, and New Jersey thanks to tunnels under Penn Station, but trains are segregated between three operators, each of which only has one terminal station in the Manhattan core. Through-running would require cooperation between these operators and, to optimize ridership distribution (to prevent long station stops for boarding and unloading), additional new subway stations in the core, which may be technically difficult and would certainly be pricey.

Other American cities, including Baltimore, Boston, and Chicago, have commuter rail termini located relatively close to one another but which would require new, expensive downtown tunnels to connect them. Are these top infrastructure priorities for cities that have many transportation needs? That’s an open question. But what is undoubtedly true is that if we want more effective commuter rail services that serve more people, we should at least be considering them—a step few U.S. cities have taken thus far.

Image at top: Leipzig City Tunnel Markt station, photograph by Yonah Freemark. Map from City Tunnel Leipzig.

106 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Sascha Claus

    Leipzig Bayerischer Bahnhof lost its last trains in 2001, and at that time it was only a minor station serving only trains in one direction (Altenburg – Zwickau).

  • Aaron M. Renn

    Philly lost a ton of ridership after a strike. Some of their gains came from simply painfully reacquiring that ridership over time. Also, didn’t their experiment with labeling lines as through running (R1, R2) more or less end up getting rejected as a failure? I saw a Saturday SEPTA train last Saturday. It was was two cars – basically a streetcar.

    • Stephen Smith

      Philly’s experiment has indeed been lackluster, but because they only went through with half of the reforms. They did the expensive part – connecting the disparate terminals with a through-running center city rail line (actually two) – but never actually went through with the more politically difficult operational reforms to make it actually operate like an RER/S-Bahn system.

      Namely, they never did the staffing/fare payment (cut conductors and either install turnstiles or use proof-of-payment ticketing, or a hybrid of both like with London’s suburbs) reform necessary to increase frequencies. So you’ve got this amazing European-style infrastructure, but SEPTA is only running one, or at most two, trains per hour off peak, with the trains being packed with expensive conductors taking tickets like it’s the late 19th century.

    • kclo3

      The commuter tunnel was built at the the last possible moment politically, and if it wasn’t built before the strike it would have never gotten built due to Reagan-era cuts and imminent failure and labored reconstruction of overpasses in the 90s.

      Even at 1 TPH on the weekend, that is still more service than almost any other US commuter system, including peers MBTA and Metra. SEPTA’s EMUs also belie their true available capacity, which is quite comparable to any 3-car bilevel diesel train. Also, when looking at the busiest trunk lines — Paoli/Thorndale & the heavily branched Glenside main line — those indeed supply 2-3 TPH on weekends. The main political inhibitor of any sort of off-peak frequency improvement is the extreme unpopularity of the five(!) intra-city lines plus Norristown, a peculiarity given a city with an acute lack of subway branches. Perhaps it’s entirely due to the 19th century fare structure, where a Zone 2 fare will cost as much as 3x the transit fare, leading to the Route 23 bus running SRO in between two sparse Chestnut Hill lines. The capital side inhibitor is insufficient crew, which can only be solved by first installing all high platforms and then retraining conductors. SEPTA, admittedly, is adding off-peak trains one-at-a-time and eventually implementing Overground-style ticketing, but the American transit mentality remains (but thankfully not the corruption of Metra or the safety record of Metro-North).

      The “failure” was that the operations side failed to meet at eye level with the signage. The heavy Reading-side branching compared to PRR was a factor in the difficulty to maintain consistent R# service. Hence Yonah’s suggestion to place the lines into broader categories, which is basically how the system runs today. (Melbourne’s network also suffered from the same problem; the eventual solution was a circulator loop to let trains reverse direction; as such they don’t use a numbering system at all). The cancellation of the Swampoodle Connection and removal of Cynwyd service to Ivy Ridge – Norristown also removed a lot of flexibility between the two sides as seen in other S-Bahnen. Even so, I still hold that SEPTA, by virtue of short lines, full electrification, minimal freight conflicts, and the tunnel, will be the easiest system to convert. If only the planners and politicians had the same mentality.

      • Nathanael

        FWIW, despite Philadelphia’s *astoundingly archaic* operating practices, SEPTA’s system *does* have through-running of the vast majority of trains. (Though you now have to look when you get to Center City to see what route your train is about to take.)

        This eliminates the need for a giant trainyard downtown, at least on the ex-Reading side — and the through-running guarantees the presence of off-peak service in the core, which is better than in nearly any other American “commuter rail” system.

        The 19th century fare structure is the main reason, as kclo3 says, that the Regional Rail system is underused. Hoepfully the fare system can be changed sometime, replaced with a mode-neutral price.

  • Matthew

    BART and WMATA are effectively thru running commuter rail / regional rail systems, as well…

    SEPTA’s attempt ended in failure because American railroaders are incompetent and don’t like being forced to become competent. They revolted instead, and won, so they continue to suck at their jobs. The riding public and taxpayers are the victims.

    • > American railroaders are incompetent and don’t like being forced to become competent

      This is an excellent assessment of the American railroad industry indeed!

  • LA is planning to add run-through tracks to Union Station, which is a terminal station at the moment:

    http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-union-station-tracks-20140528-story.html

    http://www.metro.net/projects/regionalrail/scrip/

    At the moment all the routes of the Metrolink commuter rail stations have Union Station as one terminus. Not sure if this project will result in true run-through operation (i.e. routes that pass through Union Station or whether it’ll just be used to speed up and simply train movements there. The LA Times article says that “With the new layout, many trains would stop for just a few minutes or not at all if they were expresses.” Not sure if all funding has been lined up for the project yet; construction is supposed to start in 2017 and take a couple of years.

    • Nathanael

      I would expect *some* of the trains to be run through. There’s substantial imbalances between the number of trains on different lines, so a bunch of trains would still have to terminate at Union Station.

      Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliners will definitely run through, since they’re already scheduled to do so.

      Looking at it more closely, I find that already:
      — one San Bernadino Line train runs through to the OC line
      — one San Berandino Line train runs through to the Ventura line
      — one Ventura Line train runs through to the San Bernadino line
      — one OC Line runs through to the Riverside line
      — one Riverside train runs through to the 91 Line
      — one Riverside train runs through to the Ventura Line

      I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I’m guessing we’ll see all of the Ventura Line trains run through with other lines, at least. It’s possible that the schedule may be quite convoluted.

    • I prefer more funding for Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink & Coster commuter rail to fulfill their potential removing more cars from congested US-101 and I-5 Freeways. This underperforming rail corridor has better demographics than Amtrak Keystone and should be performing much higher.

      With more funds for LA Union Station thru-running, more grade separations and PTC, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner’s Santa Barbara-Ventura-Burbank Airport-Union Station-Norwalk-Anaheim-Irvine-Oceanside-San Diego service should be running 90 to 110 mph with hourly trains departing San Diego and Santa Barbara from 6a-9p. With faster, more frequent Metrolink and Coaster service, a number of “tweener” Amtrak stops can be trimmed from Pacific Surfliner to speed up that service.

      Sharing LAUS thru-running, grade separation and PTC route benefits, Metrolink should have a Ventura-Oxnard-Camarillo-Simi Valley-Moorpark-Chatsworth-Northridge-Van Nuys-Burbank Airport-Burbank-Glendale-LAUS-Commerce-Norwalk-Buena Park-Fullerton-Anaheim-Orange-Santa Ana-Tustin-Irvine-MIssion Viejo-San Clemente-San Juan Capistrano-San Clementa-Oceanside service that runs every 30 minutes. More frequent Metrolink service to LAUS compliments the growing ridership of the expanding LA Metrorail system.

      Sharing grade separation and PTC route benefits, Coaster’s Oceanside-Carlsbad-Encinitas-Solano Beach-Sorrento Valley-Old Town-San Diego service should should run every 45 minutes. More frequent Coasterservice at Old Town and downtown San diego compliments the growing ridership of the expanding San Diego Trolley system.

  • tacony

    Good article, but I’m skeptical that spending billions of dollars to create the opportunity for through-running provides enough of a benefit in the the US given the low level of service provided by US transit agencies.

    The idea that if we only spend all this money on concrete, we’ll suddenly have frequent, convenient rail service throughout our metro areas seems a naive extension of the existing mentality with US transit. We just don’t run enough of it to make all the capital expense worth it, but we continue to see new ribbon cuttings for poor projects that will again see little service. I guess through-running projects would beat the recent spate of worthless mixed-traffic streetcar projects though.

    Philadelphia is a great example of the failure of this idea. As you note, they spent the capital, but the service never followed. Outside of rush hours most suburban stations only see 1 train an hour, and thus very few people use SEPTA rail to travel from one suburb to another. It’s a long slow journey into the city (SEPTA regional rail has 156 stations– more than LIRR and NJT despite less service and a smaller geographic area), up to an hour wait to transfer, and then another long slow journey back out. The lines are not “paired” with any thought to maximizing the opportunities to make efficient through-trips, and conductors are often confused by remaining passengers who are riding the same train back out. (They usually change crews in Center City, as almost all passengers disembark.)

    Ironically, despite having the terminal least amenable to through-running, it’s Metro-North that has embraced the idea of more frequent service, with a lot of its stations seeing at least 2 trains an hour and major stations at least 4 even during off-peak hours, and more frequent reverse-peak service for Bronx residents who work in Westchester and Manhattanites who work in Connecticut. And it has flirted with inter-agency through-running with the “Train to the Game” from Connecticut to Secaucus. (Yes, it’s only 1 round-trip train per Sunday football game, but that’s more than any other agency can say.) All this with no significant capital component.

    • kclo3

      Very few suburban riders would use RRD. Meeting the suburb-suburb trip shouldn’t be a goal in itself, and Philadelphia is hardly positioned correctly for it; Regional Rail is basically a backwards “L” detour while almost all suburban trips are better made diagonally. The actual goal is frequency and predictability with crosstown city trips via suburbs from the other side (Glenside – U. City, Malvern – Temple). Another purpose (more so for SEPTA) is to serve as a subway surrogate, and that requires more concrete via Swampoodle/Ivy Ridge connections, infill stations, and most importantly fare reductions. The lines are not formally paired today as they were during R# because SEPTA wants to maximize through-trip efficiency and quick turn-arounds. Good S-Bahn service requires an equal or greater investment politically as it does physically.

    • JJJ

      It doesnt cost billions. Take NJ Transit. Theyre already going to Queens to have a nap. Letting customers ride to Queens would not cost billions, but would have an enormous impact on mobility.

      Likewise, I dont see how it would cost any extra to get off-peak LIRR trains to terminate at Newark or even EWR (I say off peak because thats where tunnel capacity is)

      • Joe Versaggi

        Nobody wants to be dropped off in Sunnyside Yard. That’s where NJT trains go. If they want to ride the Flushing or Astoria Lines, they can go to Times Square and get it.

        Extending 3rd rail from the Bergen Portals would be expensive. Newark is hardly a destination for anyone on Long Island, and no reason why they can’t take an NJT train. NJT will not fund such a service. There is also no tunnel capacity be had on weekends. There are 3 Amtrak and 5 NJT slots per hour, and must be done within a 20 minute timeframe in either direction. They cannot even handle Raritan or Montclair trains.

        • JJJ

          Not the yards obviously, but there is a proposal for a new station at the bridge right before the yards. I would get off there.

          “Newark is hardly a destination for anyone on Long Island”

          This is a foolish argument. Of course people dont take trips that are very hard to take.

          • Joe Versaggi

            ” Not the yards obviously, but there is a proposal for a new station at the bridge right before the yards. I would get off there. ”

            The proposal is dead. Neither Amtrak nor LIRR want trains stopped in the Harold Interlocking area on the main tracks for a station stop and clog up the works. NJT trains don’t even go by there and are down in a ditch to enter the Loop track to Sunnyside. There would be little opportunity for a train departing Sunnyside, and there would hardly be a balanced, frequent service of NJT trains. There are no NJT movements from Sunnyside yard in the AM rush, nor to Sunnyside yard in the PM rush. Outside of rush hours, there is minimal movement of train to Sunnyside.

            ““Newark is hardly a destination for anyone on Long Island”
            “This is a foolish argument. Of course people dont take trips that are very hard to take.”

            I do not regard taking NJT for a 20 minute ride to Newark as a hard trip to take. There is also little reason to go there except for local employment or take the 2 bus to the Airport.

            • Well, right now there isn’t demand to go to Newark from a suburban area. 100 years ago there was no demand for a subway to Corona, but it turns out that you can encourage more activity by connecting two areas with transit links. Who’d have thought?

              Do you have an actual source for Sunnyside being dead? The City is still issuing RFPs that assume the station will be opened.

              • Joe Versaggi

                The Mayor also assumes Sunnyside yard can be moved to the Bronx. It does not matter what the city thinks. They are not the MTA and they are not Amtrak.

              • It sort of matters if there is no news source or MTA statement about dropping Sunnyside, particularly when there have been official MTA statements about other similar cuts to projects (no 41st/10th, no 72nd St third track, etc.) Lack of news is not enough to say that the station is dead; the MTA is also planning to build an additional platform at Jamaica for the former Atlantic Branch, but there are no signs of work or news regarding that, either. Do you actually have an official source for the claim that Sunnyside is not happening?

            • JJJ

              Its a hard trip in that youud be paying a ridiculous fare to do so, and transfers suck. Right now, nobody working in Newark (ie Prudential) would want to live, shop, or visit Queens. No one living in Queens would ever want to go to Newark. Make it easy and affordable and people start adjusting their lives to take advantage of the available connections.

    • Thru-running is a big deal for LA, NYC and Chicago. Too many trains are terminating at LA’s Union Station, Chicago’s Union Station and Thompson Transportation Center, and NYC’s Grand Central Station, crippling their ridership potential. Every transportation planner worth his/her salt can back that statement.

  • […] on the Network: The Transport Politic looks at the potential for American cities to turn downtown commuter rail terminals into stations […]

  • Paris only inaugurated the RER A in 1977, when the central tunnels opened. In 1969 it was still a pair of stub-ending commuter lines, except one of them stub-ended at Nation instead of the traditional terminus of Bastille.

  • Chris Ellis

    Meanwhile in Toronto SmartTrack is trying find its way through the feasibility studies, etc.

    http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/transportation/2015/04/16/premier-moves-torys-smarttrack-a-little-further-down-the-line.html

  • Good article. But I dislike applying the term “commuter rail” to 7 day a week regional rail services. e.g. “European cities from Basel to Brussels have done just that, replacing commuter rail services ending at central depots with through-running operations where trains stop at several places in the city”

    In Metro Vancouver, Canada, we have commuter rail that runs 5 days a week inbound in the morning and back to the burbs in the afternoon. It ‘commuter rail’ is almost useless for people who live anywhere near the centre of the region, unlike European ‘regional rail’ services.

    This is a small point, but public transit is confusing. And any small thing to make the language more clear and common sense is a small step in the right direction.

    • Commuter rail is the normal term for this kind of service, though. In some parts of US transit activism, people prefer regional rail for frequent all-day service (hell, I used the term in my posts here), but the problem is that regional rail also means a different kind of service: longer-range, not focused on urban trips, medium frequency all day, often no through-running – for example, the German term Regionalbahn contrasts with the S-Bahn concept. The type of service provided by the RER and S-Bahn systems is not like that: it has short spacing in the urban core, very high peak frequency, and usually shorter range. When European cities don’t have a separate brand for such service, they call it commuter rail, because it’s focused on urban commutes.

      See for example my comparison of Metra and RER stop distribution. The RER has relatively even spacing; Metra basically doesn’t serve the urban core at all, but makes lots of suburban stops. In European parlance, the RER pattern is commuter rail and the Metra pattern is regional rail.

      Usually the North American proposals remain regional rail and not commuter rail, because they’re inherited from very long commuter lines; for example, the Toronto GO modernization plans as far as I can tell involve higher frequency and electrification, but no infill stops in Toronto, where the stop distribution is as extreme as in the Metra examples in my post.

      • Eric

        Also, American suburbanites would not be happy sharing their regional trains with slum residents boarding at infill stops.

        • North American commuter trains neglect middle-class urban neighborhoods, too. Metra’s UP-North Line expresses through Chicago’s North Side. The LIRR makes too few stops in Queens, in middle-class neighborhoods like Elmhurst and Woodhaven, but does stop at East New York. Metro-North’s Penn Station Access has no plan for an Astoria stop. The MBTA makes a grand total of one stop in Cambridge and Somerville, at a peripheral location, and the state’s building a light rail line in the same ROW at astronomical cost instead of adding infill stops; in Allston and Brighton, there are no stops at all, although there are plans to add two infill stations. GO Transit basically doesn’t serve Toronto, even though Canada does not have the US pattern of higher poverty in the city than in the suburbs.

          • To be fair, the Astoria stop would’ve been very expensive and very difficult, due to both the height of the viaduct at that location and the probable need to take a property or two to build a station house for Metro-North passengers that wouldn’t require going through a set of subway turnstiles at Astoria-Ditmars.

            • In the initial studies, it wasn’t eliminated from consideration (only) because of cost concerns, but also because the model said few people would use the station. Why would people from Astoria ride infrequent, premium-fare trains when they have the subway?

      • Fair enough. But this is the problem, the terms are often treated as interchangeable.

        Plain and consistent language is something to strive for, not something we have in place.

      • flierfy

        ‘Commuter Rail’ is most certainly an American term. Nowhere else in the world are mainline services so condensed to a single purpose as they are in and around north American metropolises.

  • Makid

    Salt Lake City has what is described here. Frontrunner is commuter rail that stretches from Provo on the South end to just north of Ogden on the North. It is just over 90 miles long with plans to expand even further in the future.

    Salt Lake City is in the middle of the line. It has 2 stops within the city.

    There are currently plans to expand service frequencies from 30 minute peak/1 hour off peak to 15 minute peak/30 min off peak.

    Originally the plan was for 2 services – Frontrunner North and Frontrunner South. This was because the North section was constructed a few years before the South side. During the planning and researching the South, it was found that there would be increased ridership if there was a single line linking Ogden to Provo.

    When the South was completed, ridership increased beyond expectations of 12,000 daily and currently it is pushing closer to 18,000 daily. Ridership is expected to roughly double once the frequencies are increased.

  • Wanderer

    Throughlining commuter rail services will only work well when the commuter rail lines go to employment destinations as well as home origins. In Philadelphia, for example, both the commuter rail and the transit rail systems miss the employment center King of Prussia. So SEPTA is now figuring out a rail extension there, which will inevitably be costly. Metrolink doesn’t go to most of Los Angeles’ County’s major employment destinations.

    New transit rail can do better, especially when employment is built around the system. WMATA is probably do best in this regard. BART has smaller scale employment centers around the Central Costa County stations, but doesn’t get anywhere near any of the Peninsula’s employment centers (except the airport).

    • Dexter Wong

      The reason why BART doesn’t serve the peninsula is political. San Mateo County dropped out of the BART district early on, so for many years BART service ended at Daly City. Only when San Mateo County agreed to rejoin BART was the San Francisco airport extension built (and it ends at the Millbrae Caltrain station). Since San Mateo County also operates Caltrain between San Francisco and San Jose it seems there is little point to extend BART further south (except for the proposed extension of the San Jose BART line north to Santa Clara).

      • In the best case funding scenario, BART will extend to San Jose Diridon Station by 2023-24.

        Once electrification completes in 2020, Caltrain’s 79 mph top speed and faster breaking will match BART and its service will reach 10-minute headways each direction (peak) frequency. See http://www.caltrain.com/projectsplans/CaltrainModernization/Modernization.html.

        By 2024, more overpasses will be built in the Caltrain corridor, also part of the Caltrain-California HSR joint project. So BART extending northwest from SJ Diridon Station to Santa Clara is redundant and a poor use of taxpayer dollars. Instead, BART or Santa Clara Transit Light Rail should expand west from SJ Diridon Station under Stevens Creek Blvd to Cupertino, where Apple and DeAnza College reside. That would remove far more cars from the road and increase the total number of rail transit commuters in Santa Clara County.

    • ComradeFrana

      “BART has smaller scale employment centers around the Central Costa County stations, but doesn’t get anywhere near any of the Peninsula’s employment centers (except the airport).”

      To be fair, the trains going from east bay to Downtown SF are already pretty crowded. Much less so the other way, where it does connect to important centers (and by important centers I mean Downtown Oakland and Berkeley)

    • Nathanael

      Throughlining simplifies operations massively and removes the need for large downtown trainyards for midday storage.

      For this reason, it tends to be cost-effective even when all the jobs are downtown and all the houses are in the countryside.

      Boston needs the North-South Rail Link because both North and South Stations are overcrowded with trains and can’t really expand sideways.

      The same benefits would arise from through-running NJT and LIRR. (Because there’s an imbalance, there would be “extra” LIRR trains, but all NJT would run through to Long Island.)

  • Nate P

    I disagree with some of the comments about Septa. First of all
    Septa until recently, with the passage of act 89, has been historically under funded by Harrisburg and the Feds.
    Septa has done things on a shoe string budget compared to its peers nationally. And I’m not saying that it’s management is perfect. BUT!.. they have been making a lot of changes and are rebuilding the whole system with the new funding. Buying new rail cars, buses and trolleys. They are also rebuilding stations and bridges. So give them time on the service end of things.

  • Joe Versaggi

    It is an extremely silly article whose author has a poor grasp of reality. He says the the only thing preventing NJT-LIRR thru-running is “cooperation”.

    As for SEPTA, its OTP seldom tops 90%, most line are in the 80’s, 97% of its riders don’t go all the way through the Center City Tunnel (the 3% that do are headed mostly to the Pennsy side: University City, Airport, and Trenton) and most of its rush hour trains don’t run suburb-suburb, so how can that be responsible for SEPTA’s ridership hikes of 50% in 15 years when the system has been in place for over 30 years, and ridership declined during the first decade of it ? Metro North, NJT, and LIRR ridership hikes did not come from “thru-running”, and the Sunday Secaucus football train have been quite a commercial flop, down to one frequency and usually late.

    What would the author like to do with LIRR’s 1,000 3rd rail MU’s and 5 dual-mode train sets that won’t clear the Hudson River tunnels, nor can operate west of the 3rd rail ends at the Bergen Portals ?

    How does one cope with the delays of stopping dual-mode trains for 2 minutes to switch modes, and what is the fallback for an engine failing to do so at Harold interlocking ?

    We should spend billions on more equipment rather than new terminals ?

    Who does the author think will pay for operating subsidies to run all these empty reverse peak trains onto the other system ? (For every 30 LIRR rush hour trains, there are at best 6 NJT reverse peak trains).

    How does the author expect to prevent delays on one system from magnifying onto the other, given NJT for what it is with late trains, Amtrak dispatching, and stuck bridges ?

    LIRR has 10 branches and NJT has 7 lines. That is 70 permutations. What are the odds that anyone traveling through would conform to route pairings ? (Answer: infinitesimal to none).

    How can Service Planners possibly cope with schedules given all the track constraints on each railroad, or given the reality that LIRR re-patterns is off-peak service every 2 months for various projects, whereas NJT is restricted by Amtrak to single-threading of the Hudson River tunnels on weekends ?

    The author needs to come back from Europe and face reality right here.

    • LOW ALTITUDE. PULL UP!
      LOW ALTITUDE. PULL UP!

      You’re right that any through running that could be implemented at Penn Station today would be limited to due technical constraints. However, there’s little stopping through running in the mid to far future if new rolling stock purchases and renewal of infrastructure are planned to allow it.

      As to the benefits of through running, they aren’t apparent from today’s transit usage. So only 3% of todays customers at Penn are taking another mainline train. There’s many reasons, from fare policy, to lack of frequency, to housing choices for more people not to traveling through. Penn will always have a high number of terminating passengers and the station design and design of transfers between branches will have to account for it.

      One of the biggest benefits of through run connections, is that new transfers between commuter trains become available. This is not as important for NJ Transit and LIRR, but it is for Metro North connections, and it is for new connections to Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

    • kclo3

      The 3% figure is also based on the fact that commuter rail agencies are loath to serve urban areas outside the CBD, ostensibly justified by protecting the urban agency’s “turf” but producing massive inefficiencies logistically. Add infill stations to viable locations (such as Philadelphia Girard Ave), lower inner fare zones to be competitive with transit, and you’ll see that number shoot up, especially with regards to reverse commuters. In smaller cities (and Philadelphia) high-frequency through running also serves the benefit of acting as viable transit, as subway surrogates. It’s the efficient use of existing infrastructure to serve more than just the peak inbound-outbound commuter.

    • What would the author like to do with LIRR’s 1,000 3rd rail MU’s and 5 dual-mode train sets that won’t clear the Hudson River tunnels, nor can operate west of the 3rd rail ends at the Bergen Portals ?

      The East River and Hudson River tunnels have the same clearances.

      How does one cope with the delays of stopping dual-mode trains for 2 minutes to switch modes, and what is the fallback for an engine failing to do so at Harold interlocking ?

      Dual-voltage trains can change on the fly. They do it on the New Haven Line every day, and on the TGV network. Good rolling stock is reliable enough that it doesn’t choke during the switches.

      We should spend billions on more equipment rather than new terminals ?

      Yes, because good rolling stock is cheap and pouring concrete is expensive. The Swiss slogan is “electronics before concrete.” Throwing away NJT’s entire fleet of loco-hauled trash and getting rolling stock that first-world railroads run voluntarily is maybe $2-2.5 billion.

      Who does the author think will pay for operating subsidies to run all these empty reverse peak trains onto the other system ? (For every 30 LIRR rush hour trains, there are at best 6 NJT reverse peak trains).

      Reverse-peak trains have pretty low marginal costs – the equipment’s already there, the crew is there (if trains only run peak-direction, they get to loiter at the city end for hours). They also spare the agencies the need to build and maintain vast railyards in expensive CBDs. Ever asked yourself why subway systems run trains all the way to the end instead of short-turning most peak trains in the CBD? Same principle. If it offends you to run morning peak trains all the way to Trenton, turn some at Newark. Or Jamaica.

      How does the author expect to prevent delays on one system from magnifying onto the other, given NJT for what it is with late trains, Amtrak dispatching, and stuck bridges ?

      German rail activists have modified the Swiss slogan to “organization before electronics before concrete.” There exist railroad managers and planners who can run trains reliably. If the ones in the US can’t, they should be replaced with ones who can. Level boarding in New Jersey would help a lot.

      LIRR has 10 branches and NJT has 7 lines. That is 70 permutations. What are the odds that anyone traveling through would conform to route pairings ? (Answer: infinitesimal to none).

      First, from the perspective of the through-rider, there are two relevant branches to the east of Penn (NEC, PW, Jamaica), and two west of Penn (M&E, NEC/NJC). Second, timed cross-platform transfers, like the ones the LIRR uses at Jamaica every day.

      How can Service Planners possibly cope with schedules given all the track constraints on each railroad, or given the reality that LIRR re-patterns is off-peak service every 2 months for various projects, whereas NJT is restricted by Amtrak to single-threading of the Hudson River tunnels on weekends ?

      By doing critical maintenance that requires shutdowns at night or on weekends, and scheduling accordingly. Some of the outer lines on various S-Bahns are single-track, and so is the outer Yokosuka Line. Trains run on schedules with timed meets. The same can be done for weekend single-tracking; this is exactly the sort of thing good planners know how to do.

      But, well, those planners live on the side of the Atlantic with the good health care systems, and don’t understand Unique American Conditions that make trains break down.

    • Nathanael

      You wanna talk infrastructure?

      Long-distance third rail is an obsolete system, as the UK has admitted — they’re converting their third-rail lines to overhead wiring, except for the subway.

      LIRR and Metro-North both need to re-electrify with overhead wire eventually. That solves most of the problems you’re talking about.

    • As someone wrote above, “American railroaders are incompetent and don’t like being forced to become competent”. This is precisely the answer to your comment, Mr. Versaggi. All these “problems” you listed are the result of this utter incompetence.

      • Joe Versaggi

        A lot of moaning and groaning by a bunch of armchair planners who are incapable of grasping realities of financial, technical, physical constraints of their wishes, do not understand dispatching, capacity, or service planning, and are too lazy and incompetent themselves to make any business cases for their wishes, which the Euros and Asians have done, and simply want to run commuter rail equipment all over the place because that is what they see in other continents, and what they see is all they want to know.

        Therefore these armchair planners lash out and declare everyone else incompetent, reducing it all to an HR issue. Their wishes will never see the light of day beyond the comments of these silly articles.

        • > who are incapable of grasping realities of financial, technical, physical constraints

          The very existence of these realities and constraints is precisely the result of the inert and incompetent railroad employees and especially railroad managers in the U.S. Instead of correcting those operational and physical constraints one at a time for the last century, they insist on operating their railroads in the manner they used to be operated in the 19th century and resist to any modernization of their archaic practices almost religiously (and use the FRA to enforce them). Of course, the argument is almost always “we don’t have the money”. However, the real reason is: they don’t have the interest or the intellectual capacity (or both), they don’t study the best practices from successful operations elsewhere, they insist that they know better and they are somehow exceptional, and everyone else is just “armchair planners”. THAT is the main reason the U.S. railroads are in such a shitty state they currently are. Preserving the status quo is the main pass-time for the so-called American railroaders. They are in fact the main obstacle for the technological and operational progress. So, next time you refer to those obstacles, please remember to look in a mirror and recall who is to blame.

        • And let me help you understand this issue slightly better. For example, you list various examples why certain things cannot be done with the current rolling stock. But the actual question you should be asking yourself is why nobody at LIRR, MetroNorth, NJT and Amtrak has ever made any efforts to bring the uniformity to the region’s rolling stock in 50 years – such as standardizing clearances and developing common rolling stock standards for the entire region – just like it was done for the PCC streetcars many decades ago. It seems that the only thing each railroad was concerned about during this time was actually preserving their “very special” status and not cooperating with their neighbors nor adopting their best practices. They are only good at protecting their turf and their pitiful managerial positions. The MTA was formed ages ago, yet even now LIRR and MNRR are more hostile to each other than some middle-eastern countries. THAT is the problem the American railroaders are responsible for, and no one else is. Not the paying public, not the “armchair planners”, not anyone else. They should have removed these constraints and standardized their fleets and operations decades ago. For example, did anyone at LIRR ever try to think for a couple of decades in the future when buying the latest rolling stock? Did anyone at NJT ever plan for potential cross-running in 25 years? Did anyone ever do any study at the very least? The answers are no, no, and no. The resounding “no” to any common sense solutions. But of course, American railroaders are above the commons sense; they need to preserve their status quo and protect their little turf. And then they justify their inaction by the very constraints they are personally responsible for creating and maintaining.

          • Joe Versaggi

            And you have proved my point further.

            You make a business case for thru running FIRST, then FUND it, and all the equipment and infrastructure changes that go with it. If you think there is some dire need for NJT to go someplace on LI, prove it. Most commuter trains in Europe and Asia are still stub-ended, London being a prime example. Thru-running do not come about by immaculate conception, or a whim. Crossrail cost $37 Billion.

            The fact that LIRR and MN do not like one another is irrelevant – their paths don’t cross. Rail authorities do not mint money. A case has to be made to the politicians to fund it, and neither the rail operators nor the whining, self-important Planners here have come up with anything.

            • Krist

              Your statement that most commuter trains in Europe still end in the CBD is incorrect. London is the exception, not the rule. You will not find many other cities where more commuter trains terminate in the CBD then go through…

          • Nathanael

            The business case has already been made.

            The problem is that the benefits accrue to at least three separate organizations, and it isn’t enough of a business case for any *one* of them, even though it is enough of a business case for the *three* of them put together.

            And one of those three organizations is the LIRR, who is so notoriously uncooperative that everyone else (NJT, Amtrak, Metro-North) is trying to avoid sharing track or facilities with them, and the LIRR are likewise trying to avoid sharing track or facilities with anyone else! Billions have already been spent to separate Amtrak and LIRR tracks just to reduce the amount of cooperation needed! Billions have been spent segregating future LIRR operations from existing Metro-North operations at Grand Central! LIRR insists on treating its corner of Penn Station as an isolated block and not even showing Amtrak or NJT areas on its maps!

  • […] The future of Penn Station has long been an object of fascination for New Yorkers and others in the region. But what if that fixation on the terminal is misplaced? As transit blogger Yonah Freemark wrote this week, […]

  • david vartanoff

    Indeed Penn Station terminates and reverses too many trains. While there certainly is no perfect match between LIRR and NJT; however, some through routing could be useful. More importantly, there is talk of running commuter service on the former PRR/NH Hell Gate Route giving NE Bronx residents service to Penn.
    As to the electrical characteristics of the various fleets, CDot MN cars already run either 750 DC third rail or AC from catenary. Running their cars into Penn will require adjustable third rail shoes. (welcome to PRR v NYC 50 years after they merged)

  • […] Why Downtown Isn’t Always the Most Logical Place for a Rail Terminus (Transport Politic) […]

  • Andrew Gebert

    Tokyo continues to expand its offering of through-run services, connecting commuter lines to either end of the subway lines that traverse the metropolitan core. This often involves three or even more entities, but rolling stock is shared and fares are integrated through a single electronic swipe card. It’s an experience worth learning from I think.

    • No, fares are not integrated; if you switch between railroads, you have to pay an extra fares. Even transfers between Toei and Tokyo Metro aren’t free. Fare media are integrated, but that’s a different thing from the mode-neutral fares common in European metro areas.

    • Andreu

      There’s not just through-running on multiple owners and operators, but also, the JR kanto area is building through-running tracks to avoid transfers onto the sufficiently crowded Yamanote line.

  • Part of the success of regional rail in many places is multiple stops in the city to distribute passengers throughout. How would that work in New York, which has very high concentrations of jobs and residents in a very small area? The only two stations that would be in a CBD are Penn and GCT, and with current rolling stock it takes quite a while for a 12-car LIRR train to disgorge its passengers and have them exit the platforms.

    Would solutions like Melbourne’s City Loop be better at distributing passengers? Why connect MNR, LIRR, and NJT with only one stop at Penn, instead of looping NJT trains from Penn to Hoboken and LIRR trains from GCT to Atlantic via intermediate stops on the East Side? (You could probably through-run dual-mode trains from the Danbury and Waterbury branches to the Port Jervis, Pascack Valley, and Hudson lines.)

    • I stood on a bridge over an empty platform at 8:40 in the morning on a weekday a few years ago, and timed several LIRR trains, I believe three. They all discharged passengers in about 90-100 seconds, from door opening to door closing. Given two platform tracks per running track, this is perfectly compatible with high throughput.

      Tokyo has a dominant CBD as well; the total number of jobs in Chiyoda, Chuo, and Minato is about the same as in Manhattan (2 million), and there’s a clustering of office buildings at the boundary of Chiyoda with the other two wards of similar intensity to Midtown. The limiting case there is the Tokaido Main Line, which until the Tokyo-Ueno Line opened a few months ago had 24 tph terminating on 4 tracks at Tokyo Station. The trains run express, letting other lines provide local service; in the CBD, they make only two stops, Tokyo Station itself and Shimbashi. They run through north of Tokyo nowadays, but the next stop north they make, Ueno, is already outside the CBD, and at the center of a secondary CBD. The Yokosuka-Sobu Line (which has had through-running for decades) makes the same two CBD stops, while its next stop north of Tokyo, Shin-Nihombashi, is just outside the CBD; it runs 24 tph at the peak as well.

      • 8:40 isn’t really the peak time around Penn, and it has significantly higher patronage than any other station on the network, for obvious reasons. Trains are full coming into Penn today, and nearly all of those passengers are heading to destinations in Manhattan and take two or two and a half minutes to exit the train fully; if Manhattan is only served by one stop, as opposed to two or three, regional rail isn’t going to change the fact that those existing passengers will still be looking to get out at a single stop. There aren’t really other lines providing local alternative service in the case of the LIRR; people don’t really get off at Jamaica, go up the stairs, and go down the elevator into the subway.

  • Joe Versaggi

    I have heard these planner schemes over the years and they all lack specifics, show any grasp of operations, ability at service planning, grasp of capital cost, and are quite amateurish, merely pointing to the Germans and Japanese. That is why nobody of influence can take them seriously.

    {“The East River and Hudson River tunnels have the same clearances.”}

    No they do not have the same clearances. LIRR went through considerable time, expense, and engineering to clear the C-3 cars for the East River tunnels and tracks 13 – 21. They are not going to repeat that fire drill for the Hudson River tunnels, which already have far more serious issues than retrofitting for this nonsense. That is why NJT MLV cars have sloped and beveled roof lines.

    {“Dual-voltage trains can change on the fly. They do it on the New Haven Line every day, and on the TGV network. Good rolling stock is reliable enough that it doesn’t choke during the switches.”}

    The M-8 cars do not have transformers that can handle 25 cycle Catenary. If they did, they would weigh over 80 tons, and the idea was rejected. We have FRA collision standards here. The M-8’s for East Bronx service will not use Pennsy catenary at all but 3rd rail, which will be extended a mile up the Hell Gate line to Gate interlocking (Northern Blvd). There are no plans at all to convert to 60 cycles. No ROI analysis can justify it for the NEC.

    {“Yes, because good rolling stock is cheap and pouring concrete is expensive. The Swiss slogan is “electronics before concrete.” Throwing away NJT’s entire fleet of loco-hauled trash and getting rolling stock that first-world railroads run voluntarily is maybe $2-2.5 billion.”}

    The NJT equipment is less than 15 years old, was financed by the Port Authority, investment banks, the FTA, NJ-DOT, and is under manufacturer warranty. It is not going to be trashed. They cannot be written off without significant and immediate financial penalties. You also forgot about LIRR’s 1,000 MU’s that would be rendered useless. So now you are talking $5 billion. Furthermore, dual voltage MU’s would not clear the 63rd Street tunnels nor the tunnel to Atlantic terminal. They are not going to be restricted with a Penn Station-only fleet of cars and have no flexibility of routing equipment to any terminal they need to just to carry out a thru-running philosophy serving no commercial purpose. Any transit board, capital planning department, or legislative committee you suggested it to would laugh it out of the room in a New York minute. That is pipe dream showing no grasp of reality.

    {“Reverse-peak trains have pretty low marginal costs – the equipment’s already there, the crew is there (if trains only run peak-direction, they get to loiter at the city end for hours). They also spare the agencies the need to build and maintain vast railyards in expensive CBDs. Ever asked yourself why subway systems run trains all the way to the end instead of short-turning most peak trains in the CBD? Same principle. If it offends you to run morning peak trains all the way to Trenton, turn some at Newark. Or Jamaica.”}

    The LIRR West Side Yard has been there for 30 years and works just fine. It will also get buildings put up over it to collect air rights, which is more than can be said for any yard out in Morrisville, PA, Long Branch, or Dover. No one is proposing building another one. Long Island City is not an “expensive CBD”. If you want these trains to originate in these far off Jersey rail yards, then be prepared for the wrath of LIRR passengers when they all come in late.

    NJT crews do not “loiter”. They work split shifts, works both rush hours, and their day can exceed 12 hours. The marginal crew costs are massive, and there is a no commercial reason to run all these reverse peak trains. Their farebox recovery ratios would be awful. Turning the trains at Newark or Jamaica is ridiculous – they are not popular destinations and there’s plenty of reverse peak train running there as it is. It clearly shows no thought was given to an operating plan. Trains turning back at Newark and Jamaica would face slot issues to get back into Manhattan. The NEC tracks west of Newark do not need relaying LIRR trains gunking up the works.

    Commuter rail is not a subway don’t matter how much one draws maps to make it resemble one. A subway has small crews, turns over passengers over many stations, and with equipment with many doors. Commuter rail is just the opposite. The middle platforms at Penn Station are also narrow with limited stairway access. It can take 10 minutes to clear a platform from an NJT or LIRR trains with over 1,000 people on it, and more when 2 trains do so within a couple of minutes of each other.

    {“German rail activists have modified the Swiss slogan to “organization before electronics before concrete.” There exist railroad managers and planners who can run trains reliably. If the ones in the US can’t, they should be replaced with ones who can. Level boarding in New Jersey would help a lot.”}

    Raised and stuck draw bridges has nothing to do with managers and planners, or judging them incompetent, and everything to do with capital investment and Coast Guard regulations. High level platforms has nothing to do with it.

    {“First, from the perspective of the through-rider, there are two relevant branches to the east of Penn (NEC, PW, Jamaica), and two west of Penn (M&E, NEC/NJC). Second, timed cross-platform transfers, like the ones the LIRR uses at Jamaica every day.”}

    The Port Washington Branch is irrelevant, except for Met’s Stadium, which is not even a station unless there’s an event. Jamaica is neither a destination nor a branch, but a transfer facility. It is also open air, lacking HVAC, seating, and food. It is an inferior place to wait for a train for more than 10 minutes and serves no purpose for the thru rider who might just as well wait and transfer in Penn Station. Both of these places are flimsy excuses to spend billions of dollars on equipment and running dead train miles.

    {“By doing critical maintenance that requires shutdowns at night or on weekends, and scheduling accordingly. Some of the outer lines on various S-Bahns are single-track, and so is the outer Yokosuka Line. Trains run on schedules with timed meets. The same can be done for weekend single-tracking; this is exactly the sort of thing good planners know how to do.”}

    They already do most of it nights and weekends. That is when NJT is restricted to 5 trains per hour in a 20 minute time frame. That is not compatible with clockface half hourly service to Port Washington, Huntington, Babylon, and soon to be Ronkonkoma. It merely imposes NJT’s inferior service patterns, levels, and reliability onto the LIRR.

    • A rail activist in San Francisco once pointed out that the plans for Transbay Terminal assumed very high turnaround times, and in Japan turnaround times are shorter. The response of the official who the activist posed this question to: “Asians don’t value life the way we do.” Those are the people who don’t take seriously anything that was invented on this side of the Atlantic (or the Pacific). It has nothing to do with lack of specifics. Sometimes, the alternative plans are full of specifics – more so than the ESA plans, which do not have a single sample schedule available for the public to look at. It’s entirely NIH syndrome, complete with “get out of Germany and Japan” as epithets.

      For examples:

      – It’s possible to single-track a 5-km segment without consigning all trains in each direction to a 20-minute window per hour. Given present-day NJT rolling stock performance, a window of 10 minutes per 30 minutes in each direction is easy to maintain; it requires 10 minutes at the boundaries in which no train may enter the tunnel, which is not hard to arrange (think why).

      – Stuck bridges are a matter of chronic undermaintenance.

      – Split shifts aren’t a God-given mandate. High off-peak frequency allows for converting some of those split shifts to normal shifts, which is why the marginal costs are so low.

      – The PW Branch is irrelevant, if you think Flushing doesn’t exist. The reality is that both Flushing and Jamaica are major secondary CBDs (as is Newark). But, well, traditional North American commuter rail only cares about the primary CBD – its traditional users drive to secondary CBDs. It comes from the same place as the separate fare systems and the paucity of urban stations.

      – ARC Alt G did in fact include an expansion of the West Side Yard, to allow NJT trains to sit in the middle of the day. As for Hudson Yards, did you check what kind of construction costs those buildings have? They’re twice what it costs to build office towers in Midtown proper. Developers only build them because of multi-billion dollar tax abatements.

      – What makes you think transfers at Jamaica have to take 10 minutes? There exist zero-penalty cross-platform transfers there, today.

      • Joe Versaggi

        {“It’s possible to single-track a 5-km segment without consigning all trains in each direction to a 20-minute window per hour. Given present-day NJT rolling stock performance, a window of 10 minutes per 30 minutes in each direction is easy to maintain; it requires 10 minutes at the boundaries in which no train may enter the tunnel, which is not hard to arrange (think why).”}

        Various portions of the line between Harrison and NYPS may be single threaded, not just the tunnels. They have also resorted to cancelling all Rahway locals to reduce congestion on some weekends. There are also 3 Amtraks slots per hour. That makes 8 trains per 25 minutes plus 5 minutes for the trains to clear before direction is flipped, and little tolerance for lateness. Your are not going to spread out NJT trains any further than they are now and your plan with the LIRR is unworkable.

        {“ Stuck bridges are a matter of chronic undermaintenance.”}

        It is also a function of being 100 years old and a function of raising and lowering for boat traffic. If done on a weekend, there is no tolerance for delays.

        {“ Split shifts aren’t a God-given mandate. High off-peak frequency allows for converting some of those split shifts to normal shifts, which is why the marginal costs are so low.”}

        Going on a hiring binge to replace split shifts raises costs which is why they won’t do it. Marginal costs will get high. Since you indicated NJT crews were “loitering” all day, you had no clue what they were doing.

        {“The PW Branch is irrelevant, if you think Flushing doesn’t exist. The reality is that both Flushing and Jamaica are major secondary CBDs (as is Newark). But, well, traditional North American commuter rail only cares about the primary CBD – its traditional users drive to secondary CBDs. It comes from the same place as the separate fare systems and the paucity of urban stations.”}

        You will find few people in New Jersey who work in Flushing or Jamaica, and there are plenty of reverse peak and subway trains to serve them as it is. There is no commercial reason to run NJT trains there as well.

        {“ ARC Alt G did in fact include an expansion of the West Side Yard, to allow NJT trains to sit in the middle of the day. As for Hudson Yards, did you check what kind of construction costs those buildings have? They’re twice what it costs to build office towers in Midtown proper. Developers only build them because of multi-billion dollar tax abatements”]

        West Side Yard is chock full of LIRR trains with no room for NJT trains. But you want them sent on a fool’s errand to New Jersey.

        {“What makes you think transfers at Jamaica have to take 10 minutes? There exist zero-penalty cross-platform transfers there, today.”}

        It will take as long as the next train is headed to the branch people want to go, and that can be up to an hour. Again, there is no excuse to move the transfer point from Penn Station to Jamaica ,but simply a lame excuse to move commuter rail equipment all over the place and pretend this Japan.

        • The tunnel does not need to be clear for five minutes before the direction is flipped. It needs to be clear of entering trains when the direction is flipped, but the direction can be changed as soon as a train emerges from the tunnel, either into Penn or out in the open. It requires schedule discipline, but again, organization before electronics before concrete; work smart, not hard; etc.

          “The bridges are old” is a shoddy excuse. Again, you’re pretending there does not exist old infrastructure in other countries – or even in the US. The fastest portions of the NEC opened in 1835 and 1837, including a hefty (fixed) bridge.

          And honestly? Even the “regulations make us do ___” line is often an excuse. Take FRA regs: Caltrain asked for a waiver and got one; more recently, the FRA’s announced an overhaul, which will soon let lighter trains run on US tracks. I have not seen a single commuter rail agency acknowledge this and plan on buying lighter trains in the future.

          Why does replacing split shifts require a hiring binge? (If anything, there needs to be a firing binge; conductors are not required on a modern passenger railroad.) It requires changing people’s schedules. They’d spend more hours in the engineer’s cab, but not more hours working overall. You don’t want to know how few revenue-hours the agencies get per train driver. They’re about even with the RER, except that in France working hours on average are almost 20% shorter than in the US; in Tokyo and Helsinki, where national working hours are respectively 8% and 4% shorter than in the US, there are 50% more revenue hours per train driver on the subway than in New York.

          As for making people transfer to the subway if they work in Jamaica: this is why so few people take transit to secondary CBDs in New York – the agencies hate the customers. Making this transfer requires a lot of walking, and paying a separate fare, because mode-neutral fares are un-American. You can’t even easily buy two tickets in one machine – at most, you can get a combined commuter rail ticket and MetroCard, but my recollection is that it’s only on the LIRR and Metro-North, and only if it’s a one-way or roundtrip ticket.

          • Joe Versaggi

            You can go tell Amtrak employes at the NY Control Center that they don’t work hard and are undisciplined, Mr Dispatcher. Let me know what they tell you.

            Movable bridges require spare parts that are no longer made. That’s reality, not a shoddy excuse. We’re running a railroad, not a museum. I don’t care how old the bridges in England are. This is here – deal with it.

            If this is about your hating subways, then it us you who hate customers because that is what most people do. People who work in Flushing or Jamaica mostly do not live near LIRR stations. Since the LIRR also costs triple to quadruple of the subway, they have no choice. That’s why God invented subways. Telling people to take the LIRR there would add transfers to their trip, not reduce them.

            And you still haven’t made a case as to why NJT trains should run to Jamaica and Flushing.

            • kclo3

              Wow, so now you’re insisting on viewing captive ridership as a self-reinforcing tautology…
              Transit commuters don’t live near LIRR stations because of artificially high prices (and no urban infill stations), so the subway will serve them instead because transit commuters don’t live near LIRR stations…
              Also, universal fare zones and free intermodal transfers were Not Invented Here and are grossly un-American.

              • Joe Versaggi

                So this an exercise to avoid the subway and “those people” isn’t it ?
                That’s right, the LIRR does not stop every half mile. The train do have to eventually get to Suffolk County. We built two subway lines to Jamaica 80 and 100 years ago and they do the job just fine.

              • If by just fine, you mean so overcrowded that during the height of the automobile era with declining subway ridership they proposed a bypass line to reduce congestion on the subways there, then I guess existing subway service is decent.

            • The capacity of through-tracks is higher than that of terminal tracks. The RER E turns 16 tph on four tracks at Haussmann-Saint Lazare, and reportedly the capacity is 18 tph; in contrast, the capacity of a pair of through-tracks with moving-block signaling is 30 tph (on the RER A), while without moving-block signaling, I believe it’s 24, rising to 32 if every station has at least four tracks (e.g. RER B+D tunnel). This is apples-to-apples, in one city.

              US passenger rail employees are unproductive. I don’t know how hardworking they are, but they have low productivity. It’s similar to the situation in Greece – some of the longest working hours in the OECD, but low output per hour worked. Go ahead and compute revenue train-km (or train-hours) per employee if you want to see how bad it is. The difference: in Greece the entire private economy’s like that, whereas in the US there’s a large productive economy in the private sector that can absorb redundant railroad employees.

              • Joe Versaggi

                You have absolutely zero qualifications to judge the efficiency of the Amtrak/LIRR NY Control Center, having now called them lazy, unproductive, and undisciplined. You are simply a rather pompous, armchair planner with zero credibility.

                You need to get your mind out of Germany and face reality here. Your analogy with Germany has nothing to do with the capacity of single threaded right of way in and out Penn Station, and have no solution except to fire everyone and hire Germans.

                You have still failed to construct a commercial business case for sending NJT trains to Jamaica and LIRR trains to Newark because you have none, because there is none.

                Stop changing the subject.

              • Eric

                Joe, the numbers speak for themselves. You don’t need special qualifications to realize that a big number is bigger than a small number.

              • Joe Versaggi

                It says nothing of the capacity given our signal system, which is 23 TPH. You do not get anything close do that by flipping the single track main line’s directions while train have to clear block every half hour. You will find that out next weekend when a lengthier their portion of the NEC will be single tracked, and Rahway locals will be canceled.

                It still does not call for stereotyping the libelous claim that dispatchers, if not RR workers in general, are “lazy, unproductive, undisciplined”, especially coming from an angry, brash, amateur with no related certifications.

              • Joe, I know I’m going to regret wading into this angry fight, but a quick search on this page shows that the only person using the words “lazy” and “undisciplined” is you. “Unproductive” is not a value judgement; it’s an economic term measuring a worker’s output. Productivity is often (usually!) related not to how dutifully a worker does his or her job, but what the structure of their work environment gives them the capability to do. If we’re comparing the potential throughput of trains on German lines to the throughput through NYC, it’s not with the purpose of replacing American workers with Germans; it’s seeing what they do differently, in terms of technology and work structure, that makes that possible. I

              • Nathanael

                Joe: with through-running, you can have the same number of *revenue* trains passing through each tunnel, while eliminating 1/3 to 1/2 of the trains passing through each tunnel.

                This obviously increases *revenue* throughput. Every slot under the East River used by a deadheading NJT train can instead be used by a revenue train.

                Try turning your brain on.

              • Joe Versaggi

                You simply do not have a grasp of reality, operations, nor finance, and appear incapable of producing one, and even a business case.

                1) We are not spending billions of dollars on re-electrifying LIRR and MN.

                2) We are not abandoning 3rd rail which is required for clearances in 63rd Street tunnel, Park Av tunnels, and Atlantic Ave tunnels

                3) We are not spending billions of dollars converting the NEC from 60 to 25 cycle

                4) Firing everybody does not address these items.

                5) You will not get to square one with any transit Board, transit management, legislative committee. Your attitude and general incompetence would get the door slammed in your face.

                6) You have no commercial/business need established

                7) You have no operating capital plan and cannot make any claims about labor costs or equipment usage or tunnel slots

                8) You have no capital plan with budget numbers

                9) You have no ROI.

                10) The very idea of scrapping 1,000 3rd rail LIRR MU’s because you decided 3rd rail is “obsolete” to say nothing of what has to be done at NJT with all their loco-hauled equipment, is laughable.

                Most LIRR trains terminate in the West Side Yard. So no trains are eliminated from the Hudson River tunnels as they are not there to begin with, and there is no peak direction capacity to do so. There are also no NJT train movements from Queens in the AM rush, nor to Queens in the PM rush. There is no throughput advantage. So where you are coming up with eliminating 1/3 to 1/2 passing through tunnels is completely wrong, and shows you have no operating plan, but just theories to boast about in a journal.

                You keep talking about Europe, but do not understand how the systems actually work and come into being in Europe. If you actually knew anything about Europe, it is that they first spent a lot of time determining if there was a commercial market, then buying billions of dollars worth of new tunnels and new equipment. You have yet to get to Step 1.

    • Nathanael

      Conversion from 25 Hz to 60 Hz catenary was planned FORTY YEARS AGO, and it’s disgraceful that it hasn’t been done yet. So there’s the obvious solution for that problem.

      It is true that the managers are lazy, unproductive, and undisciplined.

      Firing everyone and hiring Germans would certainly help a lot.

      It’s pretty trivial to provide a business case for through-running from NJT to LIRR; it provides more service for less labor costs and less equipment usage.

      • Joe Versaggi

        1) NJT engines have to stop for 2 minutes to change modes. That won’t be tolerated at Harold Interlocking by either Amtrak nor LIRR, as it would gunk up the works and reduce capacity.

        2) There is no place to stash the train if they fail to do so at Harold, which they have opportunity to do at both Newark stations, Montclair, Dover, Long Branch, and South Amboy.

        3) NJT engines would have to be equipped with LIRR’s cab signal equipment and speed codes, some speed codes are unique to them. Such equipment does not come cheap. The alternative of doing nothing are false cab indications, and slower speeds. You can do this on a Saturday fan trip, but not for real.

        4) Deadhead trips are TO Sunnyside in the AM, FROM Sunnyside in the PM, none at all vice versa. That is reverse peak, never peak direction, from LIRR’s perspective. Capacity through the East River tunnels is not constrained then.

        5) LIRR is doing nothing of a kind to replace their “shoddy” diesel trains, as crappy as the DE/DM locos are. There are no plans to replace the Super Steels for 10 years, the C-3 cars for 20 years. It is all about buying M-9 MU’s to replace M-3’s, and expand the MU fleet for 63rd Street operations. There is also a compatibility issue whereas as LIRR diesel trains have unique 32 pin MU cables, whereas everyone else has 27 pin. So their cars and their locos are incompatible with any other railroad’s.

        • The manufacturer of the ALP-45DPs claims that they can switch between diesel and electric while in operation, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. At the very least the trains can run through on the New Haven Line and operate as diesels to Danbury and Waterbury.

          It’d be somewhat expensive to install cab signalling, but nothing that couldn’t be accomodated for (since we’re blowing how much money on East Side Access again?)

          Ten years is the kind of time frame we’re looking at anyways since it’s not going to be possible unless Gateway and ESA are finished, which is ten years into the future.

    • Also, the Port Washington Branch is one of the busier, more cost-efficient branches of the LIRR. Jamaica has transfer facilities to JFK, so there’s that. They’re not “irrelevant”

  • […] End of the line: Downtown may not always be the best place to end a train line. […]

  • Joe Versaggi

    “German rail activists have modified the Swiss slogan to “organization before electronics before concrete.” There exist railroad managers and planners who can run trains reliably. If the ones in the US can’t, they should be replaced with ones who can. ”

    — does in fact sound like replacing American workers, and with no regard as to what causes trains to not run reliably, such as failing to replace old infrastructure, which was also stereotyped as “shoddy maintenance”, as though 100 year old movable bridges need not be replaced with higher, fixed, new spans.

    • Nathanael

      Admittedly some of the shoddy choices were due to lack of funding. But the failure to update the obsolete electrical systems is really a choice made by the LIRR and Metro-North managers — a bad choice.

      • Joe Versaggi

        It seems you are totally incapable of grasping the realities of:
        – physical clearances,
        – capital funding,
        – operational and scheduling constraints,
        – the troubles of dealing with 100 year old moveable bridges with no spare parts, and Coast Guard regs requiring boat traffic
        – decisions made on electrical distribution 50 years ago,
        – tunnel height decisions made 50 and 100 years ago,

        THAT you have simply reduced it all to a current HR issue, as they do not run the railroad your way, therefore fire everyone in management, and while they’re at it, the train crews. This is the output of a cranky planner whose ideas will never make it past these ridiculous, academic articles with its pretty maps but no market or cost analysis.

        That is NOT how we conduct Performance Management in this country, though it sounds like you would be very happy with the way things are done in North Korea.

        If you feel so strongly that there is a critical mass of people in New Jersey who need to get to the great metropolis of Jamaica or Mineola, let’s see you come up with some marketing data to prove it. Then come up with how many billions of dollars we need because such patrons cannot be asked to get off their tushy at Penn Station and transfer.

        • Nathanael

          I understand all of those things. You apparently don’t understand any of them, because you’re gibbering like an idiot and haven’t responded to anything which has been said in this thread.

          • Joe Versaggi

            “I understand all of those things. You apparently don’t understand any of them, because you’re gibbering like an idiot and haven’t responded to anything which has been said in this thread.”

            I have answered everything. It is you who keep making the same stupid demands without understanding the limitations, then demonize everyone who works for the railroads because they don’t do what you want. Again, you have NO market proven, NO operating budget, NO capital budget to overcome all the physical and technical constraints I have stated, whether it be for tunnels or rolling stock. Your whining about Germany is merely a distraction to impress us while you are incapable of grasping reality.

            Thank God we don’t have thru-running, because after what NJT goes through with all the infrastructure failures and daily train cancellations, especially in July, the LIRR would have been paralyzed.

  • […] The subject of regional rail in the metro area comes up from time to time. Regional rail is a great idea in theory; there should be no reason why the metropolitan area’s rail network is physically connected, yet is separated and rendered operationally inefficient by three agencies guarding their turf. However, there are several issues with running regional rail using today’s infrastructure. […]

  • Robert Munson

    Thanks for this piece. (And sorry for chiming in late.)
    I have tried to boil down your contribution and most comments (at least those making a positive statement.) Many add to your case for through-routing.

    However the strongest benefit that advocates need to highlight more is that which pays for the through-routing investment. Public coffers get paid back when increased property values produce more taxes. But through-routing trains is only an effective redevelopment tool when coordinated with land use authority. The Brits are doing this very well. (I have a study focussing on London’s coordination … and I am still looking for a publisher, if anyone has suggestions.)

    But, German cities seem even further ahead and, given their federated structure, offer lessons to the U.S. There are several reasons for German cities’ successful station updates. But the one I’m currently focussed on is that having a powerful national rail company (that has been liberalized and properly funded for the last two decades) facilitates innovations in each German state’s regional rail which, in turn, influences coordination of metropolitan rail and land use authorities. As part of this coordinated transportation system, the station gets redeveloped to accommodate greater traffic and the station’s surrounds also get redeveloped quickly as through-routing progresses. Through-routing the urban core attracts investment and helps reverse the capital outflows of the second half of the 20th Century that deteriorated urban cores.

    To your report’s credit, economic redevelopment is the main point that Leipzig’s mayor makes. This also is a key success of Berlin’s new central station as part of the redevelopment of derelict land in the former East Berlin.

    If we want through-routing to come to the U.S., we need to pitch it as an opportunity for growth. Otherwise the cost will not be justified by all levels of government that, regrettably, are increasingly broke.

    • Webster

      Right. However, the main thing that no one seems to acknowledge when it comes to NY’s housing [affordability] crisis is the refusal of areas in LI and the surrounding metro area that refuse to accommodate increased development opportunities in their communities (in the case of Long Island, obviously this would be around actual LIRR stations).

      You mention Germany’s federated political structure, but the one thing I feel people always gloss over when trying to make this comparison is the sheer strength and power exercised by smaller municipalities – and even individual property owners – to chase development away.

      From a planning perspective, it makes no sense that Long Island has been building so few [multi-family] units. The real reason for this, certainly, are property owners who don’t want to shell out more for municipal services and utilities, while also seeking to preserve their property value.

      • Webster

        * (to be more clear) I meant to say: “when it comes to NY’s housing [affordability] crisis and the role of transportation in addressing it…”

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (I)

    (Time by time, I have a look on this blog, giving me an orientation about how North American railway experts and activists think about their transport systems in their own region as well as abroad.)

    .
    There are numerous necessary keys for successful suburban train systems within the systems as well as a part of an integrated city and regional planning.

    If not otherwise stated, locations are in Germany according to the original article referring to Leipzig/Germany; I know, there are also some good examples in the U.S., but therefore, you’re the better experts.

    (Sorry for my very long comment split into several parts, there’s so much important to think about, although this is just a “short” list of headwords…)

    .
    — PART I —

    .
    – SET KEY TARGETS

    Suburban rail system shall reduce car traffic from suburbs to cities and between suburbs for all such passenger traffic that can be bundled by rail-based guided transport.

    Suburban rail services shall form the future corridors of regional and city planning in order to make it easy for everyone to get around – even if no car would be available.

    Suburban rail services in high-populated metropolitan areas also serve metro (subway) functions with city centers.

    .
    – CLARIFY SYSTEM DEFINITION

    All German “S-Bahn” systems developped out of pre-existing railway lines along sections connecting the cities with their suburbs. Offering regular services throughout the whole(!) day, [German] “S-Bahn” could be best translated as “suburban train” (i.e. not just for commuters), while the appropriate term for [German] “U-Bahn” would be “urban train” (or “metro”).

    In Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and Italy, semi-fast express services above suburban trains are usually known as “regional express” (exact terms depending on language).

    –> best practice: Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy (in France, any regional services independently of their service patterns are known as “TER” except for Paris suburban “RER” trains)

    –> best practice: German S-Bahn systems (all of them use the unified white “S” on a green circle as a well-known and recognisable icon across the whole country, and all of them name all the suburban lines in a similar way as S1, S2, S3, S…; similar for metro-like “U-Bahn” services):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S-Bahn-Logo.svg

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (II)

    .
    — PART II —

    .
    – SIMPLIFY TICKETING:

    Introduce a one-ticket-for-all-public-transport-philosophy! Simplify fare calculation by introducing large zones and easy price system.

    –> best practice for large zones easy to understand: Berlin, London, Paris

    –> best practice for 24h-ticket = price of 2 single tickets: Zürich

    .
    Abolish peak-hour-fares for single tickets, introduce 24h tickets also for suburban and regional train networks and introduce reduced monthly passes valid all times except morning peak hour.

    –> best practice: most integrated transport networks e.g. in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy

    –> best practice: regional day passes for unlimited travel with any regional trains and all local public transport in Germany and Italian region of Lombardia (Milano); in Czech republic except local public transport

    .
    Try to think about unified(!) electronic ticketing across all modes of at least local and regional public transport.

    –> best practice: Dutch “OV chipkaart” valid for all public transport in the Netherlands.

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (III)

    — PART III —

    .
    – SIMPLIFY TIMETABLES:

    Passengers need to get the opportunity to know their usual train itineraries without(!) the need to look it up every time; if you want to attract car drivers to use trains, they need to understand the timetables as easy as they know where they put their car keys…

    Thus, line schemes must be easily understandable and should consist of logic patterns.

    –> Best practice: e.g. Hamburg, München, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Köln, Rhein-Ruhr S-Bahn systems in Germany; Kobenhavn in Denmark, Zürich in Switzerland, Milano in Italy

    .
    Interchanges need to be as convenient as possible in place (walking distance), time (short intervals -or- guaranteed connections) and reliability.

    –> best practice: Dortmund-Dorstfeld S2/S4, some Berlin S-Bahn stations (interconnected step-free cross-platform-interchange without waiting time between different suburban lines)

    –> best practice: stations Berlin-Wuhletal, München-Neuperlach Süd, Norderstedt Mitte, Frankfurt Konstablerwache, etc. (joint platforms for step-free cross-platform-interchange between suburban and urban train lines)

    .
    Optimised connections between services require that all service intervals are compatible to each other, i.e. an integer divider or an integer multiple of a chosen (and easy to remember) basic interval of e.g. 10 minutes; this also needs to be applied to other modes of local public transport.

    –> best practice: Berlin transport network for 5 / 10 / 20 minute intervals (except S5 Strausberg Nord, night services)

    • supplements on S-Bahn systems (III)

      –> WORST practice: Paris RER and Melbourne suburban systems

      cyril.joffroy1.free.fr/codesmission (Paris RER A-D)

      symbioz.net/index.php?id=66#687 (Paris RER C)

      symbioz.net/index.php?id=73#638 (Paris RER D)

      railmaps.com.au/cityloop.htm (Melbourne City Loop)
      “… How can you understand all this? YOU CAN NEVER UNDERSTAND IT. …”

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (IV)

    .
    — PART IV —

    .
    – OPTIMISE OPERATION

    Suburban railways need to be operated like metro (subway) (“U-Bahn”) systems within sections with short headways and high passenger flows.

    –> good practice: S-Bahn within the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, München, Stuttgart, Frankfurt

    .
    Try to install through-traffic between different transport companies.

    –> best practice for large metropolitan areas: some Tokyo suburban lines

    –> best practice for smaller cities: Karlsruhe, Köln/Bonn, Wiener Lokalbahn (Austria), Saarbrücken, Kassel, Chemnitz, Zwickau, Nordhausen, Mulhouse (France) etc. LRT “tram-trains” working as both railway-like “S-Bahn” (suburban area) and street-running tram (inner city) services:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karlsruhe_model
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Cappel_Stadtbahn02_2005-12-30.jpg
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/Heilbronn_Bahnhofsvorplatz_Stadtbahn01_2002-09-08.jpg
    upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Murgtalbahn_Tennetschluchtbruecke_Stadtbahn.jpg

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (V)

    .
    — PART V —

    .
    – OPTIMISE ROLLING STOCK

    Trains along short distances or serving sections with short intervals, single-deck units with many doors per side are as necessary as on subways (metros). Only for regional train lines travelling “longer” distances, double-deck trains may be an option.

    Try to put as many train services on the routes and only accept standing passengers within short distances (or do people stand while driving cars?); seats need to be comfortable also for passengers above/beyond average body measurements (or would those persons buy tiny cars?).

    .
    Optimise departure process in order to reduce dwell time in stations within sections with short headways and to reduce overall travel time.

    –> best practice: U-Bahn Wien in Austria (metro, warning and closing of doors to departure ca. 5 seconds), also S-Bahn Berlin

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (VI)

    .
    — PART VI —

    .
    – OPTIMISE INFRASTRUCTURE

    Try to avoid train jams by:

    — minimise at-grade crossings between trains in sections with short intervals
    — minimise mix of trains with different average speeds along the same tracks
    — optimise curves to avoid changes in speed profile
    — optimise target speed within sections with short headways
    — optimise signalling to minimise headways

    .
    — add additional tracks or second platform where many passengers alight or board the trains

    –> best practice for 2 tracks per direction in stations: Paris RER E suburban “line” as of 2015

    –> best practice for twin platforms: S-Bahn München (or at chinese Guangzhou “Gongyuanqian” metro station) with separated platforms for alighting and boarding passengers at the three most important stops in the city center (and there it works in contrast to Spanish metros of Madrid and Barcelona which tried to introduce but failed due to lack of passenger discipline…)

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/05/M%C3%BCnchen_Marienplatz.jpg
    (inaugurated 1972 – picture before modernisation; exit on the right towards the direction of travel, i.e. on the left side of the picture; board on the left, i.e. on the right side of the picture where people are waiting)

    .
    Offer (step-free) easy-access to all platforms.

    –> Best practice: S-Bahn Hannover (except for some stations of line S5), München and Nürnberg U-Bahn and some LRT systems (all platforms step-free accessible)

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (VI)

    .
    — PART VII —

    .
    – MAKE EFFICIENT USE OF HIGH CAPITAL COSTS:

    As most of the capital expenditure needs to fit the peak hours and such for rolling stock and infrastructure is relatively high compared to common road traffic, the margin costs for additional train services outside peak hours is relatively low; thus, offer dense service patterns also in off-peak hours during the daytime to attract additional off-peak-passengers.

    –> Best pratice: Most Berlin and Hamburg S-Bahn outer branches offer 10-minute-intervals for most time of all days including sundays(!).

    .
    It is NOT efficient just to offer peak hour services; you need to take all the fix expenditures into account and compare how you can make the highest benefit – where benefit refers to benefit for everyone regarding the whole economy and not just the transport company’s business case…

  • supplements on S-Bahn systems (VIII)

    .
    — PART VIII —

    .
    – CHANGE CITY AND REGIONAL PLANNING:

    All facilities attracting many peoples must(!) be connected to frequent public transport, regular part-time attractions at least during their opening hours.

    –> best practice: München – all city district centers and bigger shopping centers have been connected to suburban or urban train network, and new bigger shopping centers are only allowed in proximity to such train stations.

    –> best practice: Switzerland – any new location attracting many people must(!) offer attractive public transport connections; e.g. once even a bigger furniture store in swiss Biel/Bienne was not(!) allowed to open until the bus stop in front was served by a frequent bus line!

    .
    – MAKE CITIES LIVEABLE FOR CITIZENS(!) – NOT FOR CARS…

    Rail-based public transport can be extremely space-efficient in big cities due to optimal organisation, bundling individual trips on common routes and shifting “parking lots” from city centers (car parks) to free areas (train yards); independently from future car traction, this will always be one of the biggest advantages of local rail transport. This would also allow to introduce pedestrian-only zones especially in important shopping areas (e.g. Times Square in NYC).

    –> best practices:

    …London, Stockholm, Singapore etc. (high toll for entry to cities by car)

    …Zürich inner city (for any additional car parking space another one needs to be eliminated!)

    …München (reserved parking for residents only along the streets of many parts of the city – areas will be expanded)

    …many European cities (large pedestrian-only zones, sometimes allowed cyclists and local public transport allowed)

    …finally also: S-Bahn Leipzig (beautiful attractive safe modern architecture of underground train stations)

    commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Bahnhof_Leipzig_Markt#/media/File:City-Tunnel_Leipzig,_Station_Markt.jpg

    commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Bahnhof_Leipzig_Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz#/media/File:City-Tunnel_Leipzig,_Bahnhof_Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz.jpg

    .
    Set up an integrated transport network, where suburban rail is one important system, supported by well-connected feeder bus lines.

    –> best practice: many central European metropolitan areas

    .
    — FINAL PART FINISHED —

    .
    P.S.: The short accepted length of comments on this blog is very unusual to me, as railway system generally are complex technologies; so I had to split my comment into several parts according to the blog’s preferences.

  • Nathanael

    Your S-Bahn best practice comments are very sensible. Many of those practices have been adopted in many places in the US…

    Unfortunately, in the New York City area in particular, turf wars and “that’s not the way we do it” conservatism routinely prevent best practices of any sort from being adopted.

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