Planners view commuter rail as a means of managing urban sprawl, stimulating economic development and reducing the environmental impacts of transportation. Commuter rail systems, which use shared rights-of-way to connect suburban hubs with downtown urban centers, are beginning to have a large impact on the way people and freight move through US cities. Currently, there are 26 commuter rail systems operating in 29 major U.S. metropolitan areas. However, there is confusion among the general public and disagreement among transportation organizations as to what constitutes a commuter rail system and how to classify some rail systems. This research establishes a complete and definitive list of U.S. commuter rail systems, situates commuter rail in the context of U.S. rail systems at-large and establishes a ‘new start’ and ‘legacy’ classification for commuter rail. Included in this report are profiles of all U.S. commuter rail systems, highlighting governance, financing, ridership and service area demographics. This research also traces the historical development of commuter rail and the best practices employed by ‘new start’ commuter rail systems. This includes highlighting shared-corridor acquisition practices and highlighting policy mobility practices.

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© 2013 University of Kentucky, Kentucky Transportation Center

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