Organizational Regimes for Commuter Rail

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, economics - capital costs, economics - economies of scale, organisation - competition, organisation - structures, infrastructure - maintainance, economics - appraisal/evaluation


commuter rail, local control, institutional coordination, infrastructure


Developments in the ownership and control of railroads affect commuter rail. Vertical integration and open access are widely seen as mutually exclusive options for rail reform. North American railroads were relieved of passenger service obligations and granted commercial freedom to improve profitability—all within the vertically integrated tradition. In Europe, infrastructure separation aims to encourage competition on traditionally monolithic and unprofitable government railways. Australia and Argentina have opted for business sectors and vertically integrated operating concessions. These differing policy initiatives have triggered remarkably similar responses by commuter rail authorities. Commuter rail is now managed with more local control than previously, with governments providing necessary operating support and infrastructure investment. Separation between commuter rail operators and control of rail infrastructure has generally increased, and greater institutional coordination is now required to deliver effective commuter service. Regardless of national rail policy, commuter rail agencies can improve service by obtaining or retaining control of the carrier core functions. Under vertical integration, agencies may purchase control of rail infrastructure assets and invest in improvements as opportunities arise. Under open access, this must be accomplished by consolidating regionwide purchasing power for train paths to foster productive relationships with the infrastructure steward.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by TRB, copyright remains with them.