Heavy Rail

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Heavy Rail

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Heavy Rail Transit

This page is split into 2 parts: metrorail and commuter rail. The first part is dedicated to urban heavy rail systems including subways, at-grade, and elevated segments. These systems use dedicated right-of-way and typically include an electrified 3rd rail for power. The second part is dedicated to urban commuter rail systems, which typically are electrified (overhead caternary) or diesel powered. Some systems use dedicated rights of way, while others share tracks with freight trains.


My personal view is that subways and similar metrorail systems offer one of the most effective and appealing ways of transporting masses of people through dense urban areas. When fully implemented, such systems can transport the equivalent traffic of an entire freeway underground throughout a city with no disruption to the surface transportation. Extensive subways have allowed the development of very high densities in most of the world's largest cities. In some cities, like New York City, the subway is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to imagine what the city would be like without it. This page includes some links, a table summarizing characteristics of U.S. metrorail systems, and expansion-related news.

    UrbanRail -- The most extensive site with information on subways, metros, and other mass transit systems around the world.

The top ten subway systems in the world ranked by ridership.

Annual Subway Ridership
1. Moscow 3.2 billion
2. Tokyo 2.7 billion
3. Seoul 1.6 billion
4. Mexico City 1.3 billion
5. New York City 1.3 billion
6. Paris 1.2 billion
7. Osaka 957 million
8. London 886 million
9. Hong Kong 798 million
10. St. Petersburg 784 million

Figures from NYC Transit

  Official web page Map links # of lines # extensions # stations system length (mi) average daily boardings average distance between stations (mi) % underground % elevated max # cars Links to more info Picture links
Atlanta MARTA Map 2 2 38 48.2 214,000 1.27 20  # 38 8    
Baltimore MTA Map 1 0 14 14.9 ? 1.06 41 14 6    
Boston MBTA Map 3 2 61  # 41.7 440,000 0.68 41 ? ?    
Chicago CTA Map 7 2 151 105.4 ? 0.70 10 36 ?    
Cleveland GCRTA Map 1 0 18 18.9 ? 1.05 3 ? ?    
Los Angeles MTA Map 1 1 16 16.2 133,000 1.01 100 0 ?    
Mexico City     11 0 ? 122.8 ? ? ? ? ?    
Miami MDT Map 1 0 21 21 46,000 1.00 0 94 ? 1.4 under construction (2002)  
Montreal STM Map 4 0 65 39 ? 0.60 ? ? ? 3.2 under construction (2006)  
New York City MTA












3.56 mil (4.7 on workdays)










Philadelphia SEPTA






















San Francisco-Oakland BART Map 7   43 104 249,315 (2004) 2.44 27 24 ?    
San Juan, Puerto Rico (Under Construction) Tren Urbano Map 1   16 10.5   0.63          
Toronto, Canada GO Transit Map 3   69 39   0.57          
Vancouver, BC TransLink - Sky Train Map 1   22 17.6   0.80 5   6    
Washington, D.C. WMATA Map 5 0 86 106.3 521,000 1.24 48.5 49 ?    


    Baltimore has a pretty small metro, but many other transit modes including light rail, commuter rail, Amtrak, and perhaps in the future, a Maglev connection to Washington, D.C. The city is currently planning a large rail expansion.

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   Boston - Nation's oldest and fourth largest transportation system

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  Miami -  time to ride from the entire line: 42 minutes        May 20, 1984    $1.03 billion     completely elevated

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New York City Subway News

  NYC - Subway Planning projects-- This massive project will build the first new full length subway line through Manhatten in ?? years.

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 San Francisco BART News

Updated 11.11.04

    When it opened in 1972, BART was the first modern subway/metro system to be built in the United States. Today the 39-station automated rapid transit system stretches 95 miles (19 of which are subway) to connect San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and other  Bay Area cities. Each weekday, approximately 325,000 passengers use the system, traveling at speeds up to 80 mph. The most remarkable aspect of the system is the Transbay Tube which crosses in an underwater trench 75-135 feet beneath the bay.

    A major system-wide renovation was begun in 1995. The 10-year, $1.2 billion will refurbish and improve the system, allowing increased levels of performance and service.

    An 8.7 mile extension connecting South San Francisco to Millbrae and San Francisco International Airport opened in 2002! This extension added four stations, including a station which connects directly to the airport terminal. By 2010, daily ridership is projected to be 70,000, removing 10,000 SFO-bound autos. The total cost of the extension, which includes 6.1 miles of subway, 1.2 miles of aerial, and 1.4 miles of at-grade elements, is $1.5 billion. The Millbrae terminus will feature the only cross-platform transfer between a metro and a commuter rail system west of the Mississippi.

    Another extension of 5.4 miles south from Fremont to Warm Springs will be underway soon. The first phase is expected to cost $634 million (2001 dollars) and add up to 16,300 daily riders by 2025. If all goes well, construction could start 2005  and be completed by 2011. For more information, click here

    The Warm Springs extension is actually the first phase of a planned extension of BART to Milpitas, San Jose, and Santa Clara. The additional extension past Warm Springs would add an additional 16 miles to the BART network filling in a vital missing link in the area's transportation network, linking BART with the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), Caltrain, Capitol Corridor Intercity Rail Service, Amtrak, VTA Light Rail (San Jose), and with an automated people mover to the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. The cost is estimated at $4.2 billion (2003 dollars). Completion is currently scheduled for 2015. Daily ridership of the extension is projected to be 78,000 in 2025. Visit the project web site here.  

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San Juan Tren Urbano News                       

    San Juan has the highest vehicular density (146 vehicles per square mile) and thus suffers from severe congestion. When this line opens in Autumn '03, it will be the first heavy rail system in the Caribbean (?). Most of the line is elevated, with a significant at-grade section, and a very expensive short underground stretch.

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Toronto Subway News                                 

    This system includes two main subway lines and a smaller elevated rail transit known as the Scarborogh RT.

    A new line is being added, called the Sheppard Subway, which will add 3.9 miles and 4 stations to the system at a cost of US $535 million. This line is planned to eventually connect with the Scarborough RT.  

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Vancouver Rapid Transit News                                                     

    Vancouver's innovative rapid transit system has one main line, but a second line which branches in the middle and later reconnects is under construction. Most stations are elevated, with award-winning see-through designs. The trains are propelled by linear induction motors.

    The Expo SkyTrain Line is 17.6 miles long with 20 stations. Travel time from end-to-end is 39 minutes, giving an average speed (including stops) of 27 mph. The maximum operating speed is 50 mph.

    The Millenium SkyTrain Line will be complete in 2003, but further extensions are being contemplated. This new 17 mile route which will branch from the Expo SkyTrain line at Commercial Station, then reconnect further east at Columbia Station. Travel times between the two stations will be 26 minutes. This extension will eventually add 10 stations and cost US$711 million.

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Washington Metrorail News

Updated 11.11.04

    The first phase of the Washington Metro opened in 1976. By early 2001, the Metro finally achieved full build-out of the original system, totaling 103 miles and 83 stations, making it the nation's second largest rail transit system. The clean, modern system has a maximum operating speed of 59 mph with an average speed (including stops) of 33 mph. Out of the total 103 miles, 50 are subway, 44 are at-grade, and 9 are elevated. Some of the subway portion is quite deep, with several stations served by elevator only (Forest Glen is the deepest at 196 feet below the surface). There are also 557 escalators in the system including the longest in the Western Hemisphere (230 feet, Wheaton station). Despite the world-class metro system, the Washington area is now the 2nd most congested large urban area in the country. WMATA has set a goal of doubling transit ridership by 2025. Several major expansion projects are currently under construction or being planned:

    Work is progressing on a 3.1 mile extension to Largo Town Center in Prince Georges County. This $434 million extension will add 2 additional stations along with a total of 2600 parking spaces. This extension is expected to open in December 2004.

    An in-fill station is being added on the Red Line at New York Avenue, with completion expected in late 2004 at a cost of $90 million. This is the first "in-fill" station to be added in the country. The Red Line is already the busiest line on the system, and the new station is expected to service an additional 6600 daily riders.

    The next major Metro project is shaping up to be a very large expansion, perhaps the most significant new metro expansion in the country since the Los Angeles Red Line was built -- a new 23.1 mile Metro extension to Dulles International Airport and beyond. Metrorail has been selected as the preferred option, and is a final Record of Decision will be made sometime in 2004. The new line will start from the West Falls Church station of the Orange Line and go to through the Tysons Corner the rapidly growing areas of Reston and Herndon, to Dulles International Airport, and ending beyond the airport. The line will likely be built in 2 stages. Phase I will be a new extension of the Metro Orange Line running from the West Falls Church station to Wiehle Avenue in Reston. This phase will be 11.6 miles long and include 5 new stations and an enhanced rail yard at West Falls Church. The estimated cost for this phase is $1.9 billion. Construction should start in 2006 and be completed by 2009. Phase II will extend the line to the airport and beyond to Route 772, an additional 11.5 miles. This segment will include 6 new stations and cost about $1.4 billion. Phase II is scheduled to open by 2015. In the meantime, Bus Rapid Transit will be implemented in the corridor beginning in 2005. When the new rail extension is finally complete, a trip from Dulles Metrorail Station to Metro Center Metrorail Station in downtown Washington, D.C. should take 50 minutes. 2025 ridership of the extension is expected to be about 86,900.

    Looking far down the road, another major new line may eventually be built -- the Purple Line. Right now, the ultimate alignment is up in the air, and much political haggling is occurring over whether to put the line inside the beltway as a surface light rail line, or whether to place it outside the beltway as an underground subway. Either option would be quite expensive, but the outer line could cost $5 billion.





    Commuter Rail


    Metra                                                                  Map


Los Angeles

    Metrolink                                                            Map        6 lines    416 miles    49 stations    32,443   

trains per day                                                                              128

average system speed:                                                             44 mph

autos removed from roads each day:                                     21,218

average commuter trip distance:                                             36.7 miles

percent of riders who formerly drove alone:                             65.4%

percent of peak hour traffic removed from parallel freeways: 2.9% 



    Tri-Rail                                                                Map        1 line       72 miles      18 stations      8500           

    Tri-Rail is embarking on a $456 million project to double track the remaining single track stretches on it's line between Magnolia Park to Miami. The project, to be completed in 2005, will allow trains to be run more frequently, passing every 20 minutes instead of every hour currently. Due to the Miami metro area's linear shape, this commuter system is unique in that there is equal ridership in each direction instead of the typical one direction demand.


New York City

    MTA Metro-North Railroad                               Map

     New Jersey Transit                                            Map

     MTA Long Island Rail Road                              Map

     Staten Island Railway                                         Map




     Sound Transit Sounder                                       Map


Washington, D.C./Baltimore

     MARC - Maryland Regional Commuter Rail      Map 

     VRE - Virginia Railway Express                         Map


The federal government provides much of the funding for various transit projects around the nation. The following reports contain a wealth of information on projects that are underway or proposed.

2001 Annual Report on New Starts (FY02) Alphabetical Index

Supplemental Reports on New Starts 2001

Characteristics of Urban Transportation Systems -- Revised 1992


Annual Report on New Starts -- Proposed Allocations on Funds for Fiscal Year 2002

Annual Report on New Starts -- Proposed Allocations on Funds for Fiscal Year 2003


General Info about Heavy Rail Transit


  Systemwide Speed (MPH)1
Low2 Average3 High2
Rapid Rail (12)4 15.8 22.5 29.0
Light Rail (12) 8.9 12.0 23.3
Commuter Rail (9) 27.6 30.1 36.5

1Systemwide speed is actual vehicle revenue miles per vehicle revenue hour of operation. Revenue miles exclude all vehicle miles traveled when not in regular passenger service (i.e., deadheading). The ratio of total vehicle miles to revenue miles is shown in Tables B-1, B-2, and B-3 in Appendix B for each rail rapid transit system, light rail system, and commuter rail system, respectively. The ratios average 1.04, 1.02, and 1.08 for the three rail modes.

2Low and high values omit two small systems that may be unrepresentative: Seattle's two car streetcar operation (5.0 mph) and Staten Island Rapid Transit, a 36 car system which is classified as commuter rail (21.2 mph).

3Average speeds are harmonic means, unweighted by system size. Harmonic means are calculated by (1) inverting speeds for each system to get hours per mile, (2) taking the arithmetic mean of hours per mile, and (3) inverting the result. For example, the harmonic mean of 50 mph and 25 mph is calculated by (1) inverting the two speeds to get 0.02 and 0.04 hours per mile respectively, (2) taking the arithmetic mean to get 0.03 hours per mile, and (3) inverting the result to get 33.3 mph.

4Number of systems used in calculating averages

[SOURCE: UMTA Section 15 data for 1989 Table 2-1 of Characteristics of Urban Transportation Systems]



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