USA – Urban and Intercity Rail

Aside from the long distance trains operated by Amtrak, the USA has a large number of short to medium distance urban and commuter railways. These railways are often funded by one or more County or State Governments, and use an interesting variety of rolling stock. Some of these railways cross state lines, and may operate one or many routes.

Some lines only receive a Monday to Friday peak flow service  (one direction in the morning, the opposite direction in the afternoon), others offer a regular service, 7 days per week. They often provide service along a corridor that Amtrak runs on, stopping at more locations with a more frequent service. These services are usually significantly cheaper to travel on than Amtrak services over the same route.

Due to the wide variety of rolling stock and motive power used, these services can be very interesting to travel on and photograph. The urban and commuter rail services I have travelled on are listed below in chronological order of travel:

North County Transportation District (NCTD) Coaster

The Coaster runs along between San Diego and Oceanside (about halfway to Los Angeles). The double lined track is owned by NCTD, and is also used by Amtrak California’s Pacific Surfliner.

An F40PHM Locomotive heads a northbound Coaster service which has just arrived at Oceanside

An F40PHM Locomotive heads a northbound Coaster service which has just arrived at Oceanside

The Coaster uses EMD F40PHM and EMD F59PHI locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at the north end of the train, and a cab control car at the south end. All rolling stock is Bombardier double deck (bi-level). The Coaster livery is white with blue at the top and green at the bottom. “Coaster” is written in green on the front of the locomotive and white on the side of all vehicles

Free Wi-Fi is available on all Coaster services, with all carriages Wi-Fi equipped.

Inside the upper deck of a coaster car

Inside the upper deck of a coaster car

Tickets are purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on platforms. Day pass tickets (US$12) are also valid on the Sprinter, San Diego trams and buses (and vice versa). The maximum one way fare is US$5.50.

NCTD Sprinter

The Sprinter is operated by the North County Transportation District (NCTD), and runs from Escondido Transit Center to Oceanside in California. Trains every 30 minutes, 7 days per week.

The Sprinter uses Siemens Desiro DMUs and takes 53 minutes to complete. The Sprinter’s livery is the same as the Coaster; white with blue at the top and green at the bottom. “Sprinter” is written in white on the green section of the side.

A Siemens Desiro operating the NCTD Sprinter in Southern California

A Siemens Desiro operating the NCTD Sprinter in Southern California

the 22 mi (35 km) journey. The line is mostly single tracked, with passing loops. The track is owned by NCTD, and is also used by BNSF freight trains. The freight trains are only permitted to operate when the Sprinter is not (i.e. at night) due to safety concerns at platforms.

Tickets are purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on platforms. Day pass tickets (US$12) are also valid on the Coaster, San Diego trams and buses (and vice versa). The maximum one way fare is US$2.

Metrolink

Metrolink operate 7 commuter lines from Los Angeles Union Station to suburbs and outer communities surrounding Los Angeles.

A Antelope Valley line train departs Santa Clarita station. A Hyundai Rotem cab control car is visible at the rear of the train

A Antelope Valley line train departs Santa Clarita station. A Hyundai Rotem cab control car is visible at the rear of the train

Metrolink uses EMD F40PH, EMD F59PHI & MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at one end of the train, and a cab control car at the south end. Rolling stock is a mixture of Bombardier Hyundai-Rotem double deck (bi-level) cars.

An MPI MP36PH-3C stands at the front of a train, ready to depart LA Union Station

An MPI MP36PH-3C locomotive stands at the front of a train, ready to depart LA Union Station

Services operate at varying intervals. All lines operate Monday to Friday, whilst only the Antelope Valley, Inland Empire-Orange County, Orange County and San Bernardino lines operate on weekends.

An EMD F59PH locomotive stands at the front of a train, ready to depart LA Union Station

An EMD F59PH locomotive stands at the front of a train, ready to depart LA Union Station

Tickets must be purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on platforms. Fares are distance based and a 1 way ticket may cost up to $24.50 (1 way ticket from Oceanside to Lancaster – 155 mi). Weekend Day pass tickets (US$10) are valid on all lines on a Saturday or Sunday.

A Metrolink system map is available by clicking here, and a system timetable is available by clicking here.

Caltrain

An EMD F40PH locomotive heads a train made up of Nippon Sharyo stock at San Francisco's 4th St station

An EMD F40PH locomotive heads a train made up of Nippon Sharyo stock at San Francisco’s 4th St station

Caltrain runs from San Francisco to Gilroy via San Jose in California. The line is double-tracked and owned by the governing body of the railway (Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board). Trains operate roughly hourly between San Francisco and San Jose, 7 days per week, with more frequent services at weekday peak times. There are only 3 services between San Jose and Gilroy each weekday (northbound in the morning and southbound in the evening).

Two MP36PH-3C locomotives and an F40PH locomotive stand at San Francisco's 4th St station

Two MP36PH-3C locomotives and an F40PH locomotive stand at San Francisco’s 4th St station

Weekday Caltrain services are a mix of all stations, express and Baby Bullet services. Express trains stop at most stations, but skip the smaller, less popular stations. Baby Bullet trains are super express services, which only stop at 4, 5 or 6 out of the 32 stations on the route. Baby Bullet trains he the same maximum speed as other trains on the line 79 mph (127 km/h) however, they are able to overtake slower trains at bypass tracks near Bayshore and Lawrence stations.

A Nippon Sharyo cab control car at 4th St Station

A Nippon Sharyo cab control car at 4th St Station

Caltrain uses EMD F40PH and & MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at the north end of the train, and a cab control car at the south end. Caltrain’s livery is silver, with red stripes.

A Bombardier cab control car stands at the rear of a train at 4th St Station

A Bombardier cab control car stands at the rear of a train at 4th St Station

Rolling stock is a mix between Nippon Sharyo bi-level gallery cars and Bombardier double deck (bi-level) cars. Some cars have bicycle space on the lower level, a yellow sign on the front of the train indicates how many bicycle carriages are on the train.

Inside a Nippon Sharyo bicycle car

Inside a Nippon Sharyo bicycle car

Tickets are purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on platforms. The maximum one way fare is US$13.

Altamont Corridor Express (ACE)

An ACE F40PH at the rear of a train at San Jose

An ACE F40PH at the rear of a train at San Jose

ACE runs a commuter service from San Jose to Stockton, through Silicone Valley in California. The line is mostly single-tracked and owned by Union Pacific. There are 4 services in each direction on weekdays, running westbound (Stockton to San Jose) in the morning and eastbound (San Jose to Stockton) in the afternoon. There are no services on weekends.

An ACE cab control car at the front of a train at San Jose

An ACE cab control car at the front of a train at San Jose

ACE uses EMD F40PH  locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at the west end of the train, and a cab control car at the south end. Rolling stock is Bombardier double deck (bi-level) cars. Ace’s livery is white, purple and blue stripes along the train with the name of the service written in white on the purple stripe. Some cars have a bicycle section in the lower level.

Inside the lover level of an ACE bicycle car.

Inside the lover level of an ACE bicycle car.

Tickets are purchased prior to boarding the train either online or from station agents at Stockton, Lathrop/Mateca, Tracey, Pleasanton, Great America & San Jose (some stations have limited hours). The maximum one way fare is US$13.

The last ACE train ha arrived at Stockton on a wet night

The last ACE train ha arrived at Stockton on a wet night

New Mexico Railrunner Express

A New Mexico Railrunner Express train in the yard at Santa Fe

A New Mexico Railrunner Express train in the yard at Santa Fe

New Mexico Railrunner Express runs from Santa Fe to Belen via Albuquerque in New Mexico. The line is single-tracked and owned by New Mexico Department of Transport. Trains operate at irregular intervals, 7 days per week with some trains only servicing part of the line (eg Belen to Albuquerque or Albuquerque to Santa Fe). In each direction, there are 12 services Monday to Friday, 5 services on Saturday and 3 services on Sunday.

Inside the top level of a New Nexico Railrunner Express car

Inside the top level of a New Nexico Railrunner Express car

New Mexico Railrunner Express uses MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at the west (Belen) end of the train, and a cab control car at the east (Santa Fe) end. Rolling stock is Bombardier double deck (bi-level) cars. Livery is grey, with a roadrunner (the state bird of New Mexico) painted onto the locomotive in red and yellow. The tail of the roadrunner is painted onto the carriages.

The cab control car leads as a New Mexico Railrunner Express train approaches Albuquerque station

The cab control car leads as a New Mexico Railrunner Express train approaches Albuquerque station

Tickets may be purchased on the train using cash or credit card, but may be cheaper if purchased in advance via the website. The maximum one way fare is US$10, with an all day ticket costing the same if purchased online, or US$1 more if purchased on board the train. Free WiFi is provided on all trains.

Metra

Metra is Chicago’s heavy rail system, serving the outer suburbs and outlying communities of Chicago. A map is available here. Metra consists of 15 lines, radiating from 4 stations in down town Chicago:

  • Millennium Station –  Metra Electric lines
  • La Salle Street – Rock Island District
  • Union Station – South West Service, Heritage Corridor, BNSF Line, Milwaukee District lines & North Central Service
  • Ogilvie Transportation Center – Union Pacific Lines
A Metra train at Glenview on the Milwaukee District North line

An MP36PH locomotive at the rear of Metra train at Glenview on the Milwaukee District North line

Metra uses F40PH and MP36PH locomotives in push-pull mode, with a locomotive at one and a cab car at the other. Rolling stock is all bi-level gallery cars from a variety of manufacturers. Metra Electric uses double deck EMUs manufactured by Nippon Sharyo, with new units currently in delivery from Sumitomo.

A 2 car Metra Electric train near Van Buren St station

A 2 car Metra Electric train near Van Buren St station

Tickets may be purchased online, at stations (from vending machines or ticket agents) or the train using (cash only). Ticket purchased on the train have a US$3 surcharge, unless there was no vending machine or ticket agent at the boarding station. The maximum one way fare is US$9.25. A weekend pass is available, costing US$7 for unlimited travel on Saturday and Sunday.

South Shore Line

A South Shore Line train approaches 63rd St Station in Chicago

A South Shore Line train approaches 63rd St Station in Chicago

The South Shore Line is arguably the most interesting commuter railway in the USA. Operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), it runs from Chicago, IL (Millennium Station) to South Bend Airport, IN. The 90 mile (145 km) line is electrified at 1500v DC and is double tracked to from Chicago to Michigan City, IN, then single tracked to South Bend Airport. The South Shore Line shares the Metra Electric tracks from Chicago to Kensington 115th St.

11th St station in Michigan City, IN.

11th St station in Michigan City, IN.

The most interesting feature of the South Shore Line is in Michigan City, IN. The commuter trains (up to 8 cars, sometimes double deck) run down the middle of 10th and 11th streets (see my YouTube video. 11th Street station in Michigan City is little more than a shelter by the side of the road; trains pull up in the middle of the road and passengers board at street level (another YouTube video). Another interesting feature in Michigan City, is the diamond crossing at the corner of 10th and Huron Sts; the Amtrak Wolverine from Chicago to Detroit crosses this crossing at speed, several times per day (another of my YouTube videos).

A South SHore Line train runs down 11th St in Michigan City, IN.

A South Shore Line train runs down 11th St in Michigan City, IN.

South Shore Line trains run roughly hourly to Gary, 2 hourly to Michigan City and irregularly to South Bend on weekdays (extra trains at peak times. Services are roughly every 2 hours to all destinations on weekends. The full journey is roughly 95 minutes.

 South Shore Line train stands at 11th St Station in Michigan City, IN

South Shore Line train stands at 11th St Station in Michigan City, IN

The South Shore Line uses Nippon Sharyo EMUs, which are a mix of single deck and double deck stock (but only one type of stock is used in a set). Trains are up to 8 cars long. Livery is bare stainless steel, with red and orange stripes.

A Double Deck South Shore Line train runs down 11th St in Michigan City, IN

A Double Deck South Shore Line train runs down 11th St in Michigan City, IN

Tickets may be purchased prior to boarding from station agents or at ticket machines on platforms. Tickets are also available on the train, but there it a US$1 surcharge unless there was no vending machine or ticket agent at the boarding station. The maximum one way fare is US$11.75.

Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC)

MARC operate 3 heavy rail lines out of Washington DC Union Station:

  • Penn Line  – Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD (Penn Station) via BWI Airport. Some trips extend to Perryville, MD
  • Camden Line – Washington, DC to Baltimore, MD (Camden Station)
  • Brunswick – Washington, DC to Martinsberg, WV via Brunswick, MD

The Penn Line is by far the busiest, with trains roughly hourly Monday to Friday (more frequent at peak times). A Weekend service will commence on 7 December 2013 with trains every 60 to 120 minutes on Saturdays, and roughly 2 hourly on Sundays. The Penn Line uses Amtrak’s NorthEast Corridor and is therefore electrified. MARC Penn Line trains are supposedly the fastest urban trains in the USA, running at up to 125 miles per hour (201 km/h).

A MARC train made up of single and double deck stock stands at Baltimore Penn Station

A MARC train made up of single and double deck stock stands at Baltimore Penn Station

The Camden Line takes a different route between Washington and Baltimore. There are far less trains, with services only operating at peak times, Monday to Friday. Trains operate in both directions for the morning and afternoon peaks. There is no service on weekends.

Two MARC AEM-7 locomotives stand at the rear of a train at Baltimore Penn station

Two MARC AEM-7 locomotives stand at the rear of a train at Baltimore Penn station

The Brunswick Line operates from the District of Columbia, through the state of Maryland to the State of West Virginia. Services only operate at peak times, Monday to Friday; with eastbound services (towards Washington) operating in the morning, and westbound services (away from Washington) operating in the evening. There is no service on weekends.

A MARC HHP-8 locomotive stands at Washington Union station

A MARC HHP-8 locomotive stands at Washington Union station

On the electrified Penn Line (Amtrak Northeast Regional), EMD AEM-7 and Bombardier HHP-8 locomotives are used. On the Brunswick and Camden lines, MPI MP36PH-3C locomotives are used. All trains operate in push-pull configuration, with one or two locomotives at one end, and a cab control car at the other. Rolling stock is a mix of double deck Kawasaki cars and single deck cars from Sumitomo and Nippon Sharyo. Some trains are made up of a mix of double and single deck stock. MARC’s livery is grey (or bare stainless steel) with blue and orange stripes.

A MARC train made up of double deck stock stands at Washington Union station

A MARC train made up of double deck stock stands at Washington Union station

Tickets may be purchased at stations (from vending machines or ticket agents) or the train using (cash only). Ticket purchased on the train have a US$3 surcharge, unless there was no vending machine or ticket agent at the boarding station. The maximum one way fare for a single journey is US$12 on the Brunswick line or US$7 on the Penn or Camden Lines.

South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Regional Rail

SEPTA Regional Rail operates 12 lines from Philadelphia 30th Street Station to the suburbs and outer communities surrounding Philadelphia. Trains also cross state borders, with lines to Wilmington and Newark in Dellaware, West Trenton NJ and Trenton NJ.

A SEPTA Silverliner V approaches Wilmington, DE

A SEPTA Silverliner V approaches Wilmington, DE

SEPTA Regional Rail primarily operate EMUs known as Silverliners. Currently operating sets are Silverliner IV sets made by GE and Silverliner V sets made by Rotem. They also operate some locomotive hauled trains with EMD AEM-7 locomotives, and one ABB ALP-44 locomotive. These locomotives operate in push-pull mode with a locomotive at one end of the train and a cab control car at the other. All cars are bombardier single deck cars.

A SEPTA Silverliner IV at Elwyn

A SEPTA Silverliner IV at Elwyn

Services generally operate at regular intervals (between 30 & 60 minutes), with most lines operating 7 days a week. SEPTA’s Regional Rail’s livery is bare stainless steel with red and blue stripes.

A SEPTA Silverliner IV near College Park station

A SEPTA Silverliner IV near College Park station

Tickets may be purchased online, at ticket machines or from station agents. tickets are also available on trains, but are more expensive. Fares are distance based and a 1 way ticket may cost up to US$10. An all day ticket (One Day Independence Pass) is available, giving unlimited travel on all SEPTA services (Regional Rail, subway, tram, bus and Norristown High Speed Line) for US$12, this ticket incurs a US$5 surcharge if used within New Jersey.

More information (maps, timetables etc.) is available on SEPTA’s website, click here.

NJ Transit

River Line

The NJ Transit River Line runs from Camden to Trenton in New Jersey. Trains every 30 minutes, 7 days per week. Vehicles are white, with a blue stripe along the side and yellow doors.

A River Line DMU approaches 36th St Station in Camden, NJ

A River Line DMU approaches 36th St Station in Camden, NJ

The River Line uses Stadler GTW 2/6 DMUs and takes 67 minutes to complete the 34 mi (55 km) journey. The line is a mixture of double and single track and is owned by NJ Transit. Freight trains operate over the River Line when the passenger service is not (i.e. at night).

A River Line DMU approaches 36th St Station in Camden, NJ. The Camden depot is visible in the background.

A River Line DMU approaches 36th St Station in Camden, NJ. The Camden depot is visible in the background.

Tickets are purchased prior to entering the platform from ticket machines outside stations, then must be date stamped prior to boarding the train. The maximum one way fare is US$1.50.

Heavy Rail

NJ Transit operate 9 urban rail lines from New York City and Hoboken, NJ to destinations throughout New Jersey. NJ Transit also operate the line from Philadelphia 30th St station to Atlantic city.

A Bombardier Cab Control Car leads an NJ transit train into Trenton station

A Bombardier Cab Control Car leads an NJ transit train into Trenton station

NJ Transit use a wide variety of diesel locomotives, electric locomotives, double deck rolling stock, single deck rolling stock, EMUs and DMUs. Livery is grey with a multicoloured stripe, of yellow, fading into pink, fading into blue.

A Bombardier ALP-46A locomotive hauls a defective Comet III car through Trenton station

A Bombardier ALP-46A locomotive hauls a defective Comet III car through Trenton station

Most services operate 7 days a week with varying frequencies. Tickets may be purchased at most station, from station agents or at ticket machines. Tickets are also available on the train, but there it a US$5 surcharge unless there was no vending machine or ticket agent at the boarding station. Ticket prices vary by distance, the maximum one way fare is $21.75.

NJ Transit system map is available by clicking here and timetables are available by clicking here.

MetroNorth

MetroNorth operate 9 urban rail lines from New York City and Hoboken, NJ to destinations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Metro North use a wide variety of diesel locomotives, single deck rolling stock and EMUs.

A MetroNorth M2 stands at New York's Grand Central Station

A MetroNorth M2 stands at New York’s Grand Central Station

Services operate 7 days a week, generally at hourly or better intervals (more frequently during peak times). Tickets should be purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on platforms or station agents. Tickets may be purchased on board the train, but are significantly more expensive. Fares are distance based and a 1 way ticket may cost up to $24.50 (more expensive if purchased on board the train).

Metro North system map is available by clicking here, and timetables are available by clicking here.

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Commuter Rail

MBTA Commuter Rail operates 14 lines from 2 stations within Boston, to the suburbs and outer communities surrounding Boston. The Wickford Junction line operates into Rhode Island, serving Providence. Boston’s 2 main stations are:

  • North Station – for Fitchburg and northern lines
  • South Station – for Worchester and southern lines (including Rhode Island)

MBTA Commuter Rail operates a wide variety of diesel-electric locomotives in push pul mode, with a locomotive at one end of the train and a cab control car at the other. Rolling stock is mostly MBB & Bombardier single deck and Kawasaki double deck stock, with Rotem double deck stock on order. Livery is silver, with a thick purple stripe and thin yellow stripes.

An MBTA Commuter Rail F40PHM-2C locomotive leads a train into Provicence, RI.

An MBTA Commuter Rail F40PHM-2C locomotive leads a train into Provicence, RI.

Free Wi-Fi is available in selected MBTA Commuter Rail carriages (usually at least 1 on each train). Carriages with Wi-Fi service are clearly marked on the outside of the car.

Services generally operate at irregular intervals (between 60 & 120 minutes), with most lines operating 7 days a week. Services are less frequent on weekends and more frequent at peak times.

A Kawasaki double deck cab control car stands next to an MBB single deck cab control car at Boston South Station

A Kawasaki double deck cab control car stands next to an MBB single deck cab control car at Boston South Station

Tickets may be purchased at stations (from vending machines or ticket agents) or the train (cash only). Ticket purchased on the train have a US$3 surcharge, unless there was no vending machine or ticket agent at the boarding station. The maximum one way fare is US$11.

Trinity Rail Express (TRE)

TRE runs a commuter service between Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas via DFW Airport.

A TRE F59PH Locomotive at the rear of a train at Dallas Union station

A TRE F40PH Locomotive at the rear of a train at Dallas Union station

TRE uses EMD F40PH and EMD F59PHI locomotives in a push pull configuration, with the locomotive at the north (Fort Worth) end of the train, and a cab control car at the south (Dallas) end. All rolling stock is Bombardier double deck (bi-level). TRE formerly ran a fleet of 13 Budd RDCs (purchased second hand from Canadian operator VIA Rail in 1993). The RDCs are currently stored.

A TRE train stands at Dallas Union station

A TRE train stands at Dallas Union station

The journey from Dallas Union Station to the historic T&P depot at Fort Worth is 34 miles (54 km) and takes approximately 65 minutes, but varies slightly due to passing other trains on the single track sections. Trains operate approximately every 60 minutes Monday to Friday and every 90 minutes on Saturdays. There is no service on Sundays.

A TRE F59PHI locomotive stands at the head of a train at Dallas Union Station

A TRE F59PHI locomotive stands at the head of a train at Dallas Union Station

Tickets are purchased prior to boarding the train at ticket machines on station platforms. The maximum one way fare is US$5. A Regional Day Pass is available for US$10, which allows unlimited travel on TRE, DART and DCTA A Train.

Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) A Train

The DCTA A Train runs from Trinity Mills DART station in Carroltown (north of Dallas) to Downtown Denton in Texas. Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail provides a connection from Trinity Mills to Dallas via the Green Line.

An A Train Stadler DMU at Old Town station

An A Train Stadler DMU at Old Town station

DCTA A Train uses Stadler GTW 2/6 DMUs which take 32 minutes to complete the 21 mile (33 km) route. Up until September 2012, old Budd RDC railcars (leased from TRE) were used on the route, but these have since been retired.

A pair of Budd RDCs (now retired) stand at Old Town station.

A pair of Budd RDCs (now retired) stand at Old Town station.

The line is single track with crossing loops at some stations. Trains operate at irregular intervals ranging from every 20 minutes to 120 minutes Monday to Friday, and approximately every 120 minutes on Saturdays. There is no service on Sundays.

A Stadler DMU at Trinity Mills station

A Stadler DMU at Trinity Mills station

Tickets must be purchased from ticket machines on station platforms. The maximum one way fare is US$3. A Regional Day Pass is available for US$10, which allows unlimited travel on TRE, DART and DCTA A Train.

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6 responses to “USA – Urban and Intercity Rail

  1. Pingback: The Coast Starlight, Jack London Square and BART | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

  2. Pingback: San Francisco, CalTrain and ACE | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

  3. Pingback: Beijing to Los Angeles; metros and Metrolink | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

  4. Pingback: Chicago – First Impressions | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

  5. Pingback: The Capitol Limited, MARC and Baltimore | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

  6. Pingback: Boston: Subways, Wonderland, Trams and Mattapan | The Rail Life - Rail Tourist·

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