Future of Commuter Rail

Shifts in where people live and how they work due to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a major impact on commuter rail. Reorientation toward work from home, in particular, has had a negative impact on commuter rail ridership. The reduction in demand for commuter rail has had a negative impact on transit agency budgets, as fare collections decrease and a reallocation of resources to serve new types of demand is required.  Commuter rail is facing challenges that are similar to other urban transit modes. Ridership has increased since April 2020 but is still significantly below pre-pandemic levels. As of the second quarter of 2022, commuter rail ridership has seen an 83% year-over-year increase. Despite the increase in ridership from the lows of the pandemic, monthly pass purchases, previously a significant component of fare income, are well below the pre-pandemic level. The question remains that if the work-from-home culture persists and there is a corresponding decline in monthly pass sales, how can agencies adjust to the revenue loss? However, agencies are noticing a potential shift in demand away from traditional commute hours into weekend and off-peak hours. A change in performance metrics analyzing the total unique riders, more than the raw total ridership, might prove more beneficial in the coming demand adjustment. The objective of this study is to research and project potential future shifts in commuter rail demand and examine how agencies can accommodate new demands. Analysis should focus on the following areas: (1) examination of changes in commute patterns and potential future trends, (2) analysis of how traditional factors’ weight against demand has shifted, (3) summary of factors that traditionally contributed to rail demand, (4) examination of how commuter rail networks have reallocated resources since the recovery from the pandemic, (5) changes in use patterns by time of day or day of week, (6) examination of other available service models from the United States or other countries, and (7) exploration of how changes in development around stations could increase commuter rail ridership.


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Funding: $100000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project J-11, Task 45

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Transit Cooperative Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC    20001

    Federal Transit Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Schwager, Dianne

  • Start Date: 20221213
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01866946
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project J-11, Task 45
  • Files: TRB, RIP
  • Created Date: Dec 13 2022 9:30AM