Redesigning Main Lines for Commuter Rail Electrification


John G. Allen

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - rail, technology - alternative fuels, infrastructure - track, infrastructure - right of way


commuter rail electrification, track arrangements, right-of-way


After decades of relative inactivity, interest in commuter rail electrification is growing. Long limited to already electrified systems in New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; and Montreal, Quebec, Canada, commuter rail electrification is increasingly being recognized as a way to increase speed and train throughput on busier properties. Several commuter railroads are planning or implementing new electrification, which presents challenges as well as opportunities. Installing overhead wires and support structures will make track alignments essentially final for the foreseeable future. Therefore, railroads should make any proposed changes to track layout and elevation before electrification. Other right-of-way considerations are also noted. As interest in commuter rail electrification grows, best practices from early 20th-century projects will be relevant for future installations. Between the 1900s and the 1930s, railroads electrifying their suburban and intercity passenger operations found ways to accommodate different types of trains, meet the needs of peak-period service, and keep different types of trains out of each other’s way, to the maximum extent possible. Alternatives for track arrangements are examined in the context of operating and right-of-way needs of the railroads implementing each configuration.


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