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RAIL 30: Rethinking Commuter Rail

Rail 30 cover: a commuter rail station platform

As our coverage in this edition of RAIL highlights, commuter rail in such places as Orlando, the Mountain West and Minneapolis-St. Paul has evolved beyond the traditional suburbs-to-city center role of commuter rail to connect communities and regions with service that includes off-peak and even weekend runs and with increased frequency of service. The use of existing rights-of-way and corridors -- typically purchased from freight railroads -- is a hallmark of the modern commuter rail revitalization. These modern commuter rail systems save significantly from the costs of building their own infrastructure. Additionally, owning the corridors allows these passenger rail systems to ensure their services take precedence over other operations along the line, and to develop a steady stream of income from freight operators seeking to use the corridor.


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In this Issue

The Rail Yard: California's High-Speed Rail as an Energy Lifeline

High Speed Rail Train

California has affirmed its commitment to building the nation's first high-speed rail system, but among the justifications for it, the most important one was scarcely mentioned: energy.

All Aboard

Futuristic rendering of a station

Our collection of news briefs on the latest developments in passenger rail from across North America.

Commentary: Rethinking Commuter Rail

Minneapolis train yard

A key development in modern commuter rail is the regional connectivity these operations make possible. Like the interurbans of the early- and mid-20th Century, these new operations link together communities and regions and serve a far wider purpose than simply transporting a suburban workforce into a centralized business district.

Commuter Rail's Next Frontier

Train station in Santa Fe, N.M.

Commuter rail is ubiquitous in American cities along the eastern seaboard and industrial Midwest. In these regions, the daily rhythm of commuters heading in and out of urban centers has been a fact of life for more than a century. But the mountain west -- with its wide open spaces, rugged terrain and pioneering ethos -- might seem a less likely venue for commuter rail services than those areas more associated with urban institutions like the daily 5:15 train. And yet, it is within this region of mountain peaks, dessert valleys and emerging cities that commuter rail is witnessing its most dynamic growth, thanks to a trio of commuter rail operations that count their heritage in months and years, unlike the decades and centuries of their more established counterparts. Through the FrontRunner in Utah, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express and the forthcoming regional rail network in the Denver region, commuter rail is proving it can play a vital role in the Mountain West.

Orlando's SunRail Set to Become Central Florida's First Modern Rail System

Computer graphic of Sun Rail train in operation

Work is currently underway on SunRail's first section, a 31-mile segment stretching from DeBary north of Orlando down into the city and then south to Sand Lake Road, which is due to go on-line on May 1, 2014. Eventually, plans call for the line to extend north to DeLand and south to Poinciana. All told, itís an ambitious $1.3 billion project that somehow prevailed over a fractious local and state political climate.

Minnesota's Northstar: A Guiding Light for a Regional Rail Network

North Star train yard

Minnesota's Twin Cities -- Minneapolis and St. Paul -- always have had a legacy of great named trains operating through their vicinity. Trains with names like the Great Northernís Empire Builder, the Milwaukee Roadís Olympian Hiawatha and the Chicago Great Western's Legionnaire evoke majesty and lore. Today, although all but the Empire Builder -- now operated by Amtrak -- have faded from memory, a train with an iconic name is helping to reclaim the regionís proud passenger rail tradition: Northstar Commuter Rail.

°Subir Tren Suburbano! Commuter Rail Emerges in Mexico's Largest City

Mexico City's commuter rail

As RAIL Magazine has chronicled the developments in North American passenger rail for more than a decade, our attention has never focused on passenger rail progress in Mexico. Our first Mexican rail profile will consider the most recently-opened rail system in the nation, the Ferrocarril Suburbano de la Zona Metroplitana del Valle de Mexico, or the Suburban Railway of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area.

Investment Up in the Air: Air Rights and Transit

Rendering of a city skyline

Many transit agencies -- particularly rail operators -- are facing revenue shortages that impact their ability to support infrastructure and related facility improvements. They are looking beyond traditional federal program support and fare box recovery to explore feasible alternatives. Leasing air rights -- above or below transit stations to private developers -- is a mechanism that has been successfully tapped in the past, and may present a responsible solution.

Equipment: The Return of the EMU

Caltrain Electrification

One component of commuter rail history did not evolve to the same degree as the rest of the mode in the recent past: the use of self-propelled, electrically-powered vehicles (electric-multiple units, or EMUs) to provide the service.

Ode to A Railroading Soul: On Railways Faraway

Cover of On Railways Faraway

The beautifully-bound book, with nearly 300 pages of exquisitely reproduced black and white photographs, offers more than 50 years' worth of rail photos from Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, Australia, and more, each with a detailed caption.


Richard Sampson
Communications Specialist
Community Transportation and RAIL Magazines
800.891.0590 x729