Through Running and Integration of Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Transit Administration Regulated Passenger Trains: A Path Toward Mixing Intercity, Commuter, Metro, and Light Rail on the Same Tracks


Dennis Lytton

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, mode - rail, mode - subway/metro, mode - tram/light rail, infrastructure - track, organisation - regulation, planning - integration


U.S. rail transit, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), integratiion


U.S. rail transit (subways, metros, and light rail) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulated heavy rail (commuter, intercity and regional rail) operate completely separately in revenue service. This necessitates transfers between the modes at terminals. While not unique to the U.S.A., its version of this practice is extreme and prevents the development of robust seamless rail networks. Especially in the post-Covid environment, this leaves commuter rail in search of a mission and rail transit isolated from suburbs. This paper discusses the statutory regulatory scheme that divides the two modes in the U.S.A. It will analyze the justification for the segregation and its history. Such issues include potential collisions, weight, crashworthiness, electrification, signaling, loading gauge, platform height, and operating practices. This paper concludes that the regulatory barrier preventing an FRA-regulated train from going onto a non-FRA railroad are surmountable. Running through trains between the FRA-regulated system and the rail transit network would enhance regional networks. The “Karlsruhe model” in Germany and the through running of regional trains onto the Tokyo subway network are two prime examples. Recent technological advances—such as dual mode battery multiple units, robust signaling systems such as Communications Based Train Control and Positive Train Control, and advanced car body designs able to deal with different loading gauges—make through running more practical. With little or no new right-of-way, it is possible to create far more useful rail networks. Potential shared networks at the conceptual level are discussed for Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Sacramento.


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