Former Electrified Commuter Railroads What Are Their Lessons?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - rail, technology - alternative fuels


commuter rail, North America, Electric


During the first third of the 20th century, 16 commuter rail operations in major North American metropolitan areas adopted electric traction. Ten of these electrifications survive. The other six were discontinued between 1929 and 1949, although parts of the alignments of some properties have been returned to regional transit use. With a comparison of the histories of the former electric railroads with those of operations that survived, the reasons for their discontinuance are investigated. Perhaps unexpectedly, the Great Depression does not solely account for the demise of most of these lines. Instead, major geographic barriers precluding direct downtown service and the construction of new highway links appear to have been at least as important. Furthermore, all surviving electrifications addressed practical operating needs. However, no installations undertaken as technological test beds or in response to competing lines have survived.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Transportation Research Board, Washington, copyright remains with them.