Appendix 5:
Suburban Rail Systems - Additional Information - US
The traditional US rail transport vocabulary made reference to "local" and "suburban" services. In general, "local" referred to any stopping service, without regard to service frequency or distance traveled. "Suburban" implied relatively frequent, short-distance services timetabled to serve major business centers (e.g. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston). Over time "suburban" services became known as "railroad commuter" services, and this label gradually became "commuter rail" as used today.
Many US railway segments once carried suburban, regional or "commuter" traffic, and a comprehensive list would be lengthy. However, in most locations, only a small number of weekday peak-period, peak-direction services were operated. This type of service might be described as "commuter rail" today, but the label "local," rather than "suburban," would have been used during the early 20th century. Of the few US cities that once had "suburban" railway systems, only one - Pittsburgh - has lost all services of this type.
Many US railway undertakings operated long-distance stopping ("local") services that could be used for one-day return travel to major centers. These were not described as "suburban" services then, and would not be described as "commuter rail" today - but the label "commuter traffic" was used.
An example: long-distance stopping ("local") trains were once timetabled to permit one-day return travel to Cleveland from Painesville (48 km / 30 mi), Ashtabula (90.2 km / 55.9 mi), Conneaut (111.3 km / 69 mi) and Erie (PA, 156.6 km / 97.1 mi), arriving Cleveland before 0800 and departing after 1700. The authors believe it unlikely that significant numbers of people traveled to Cleveland each weekday for employment or education from points as distant as Erie - but some degree of "commuter" traffic did exist.
Some short-distance railway passenger services, in the US and elsewhere, were timetabled to carry workers to and from various industries. A few US examples continued in operation until the 1950s.
Competition from newly-electrified town tramway (streetcar) systems, and interurban electric railways, was an important factor contributing to curtailment and withdrawal of some railway passenger services in the US. The table below illustrates the impact of interurban competition on three railway segments extending from Cleveland; the passenger traffic reductions occurred in spite of railway fare reductions.
Cleveland to:
Kilometers / Miles
Passengers - 1895
Passengers - 1902
Painesville (LS&MS)
47 / 29
Oberlin (LS&MS)
55 / 34
Lorain (NYC&StL)
52 / 32
Notes: Passenger traffic statistics are believed to represent travel between station pairs (e.g. Cleveland – Painesville), exclusive of other traffic carried on each segment.
LS&MS = Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company (controlled by New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company).
NYC&StL = New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railway ("Nickel Plate Road," controlled [at the time] by LS&MS).
Competition from newly-electrified town tramway lines had a similar impact on railway suburban traffic within the largest U.S. cities. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company (PRR) announced at 1900 that it would withdraw its Chicago suburban services; this was apparently carried out by reduction of service rather than closure of lines or stations. In Philadelphia, PRR closed several "close-in" stations from 1903 April 4 because much short-distance traffic had been lost to tramway ("trolley") services. The loss of passenger traffic experienced by elevated railways in New York City during 1890-1900 was also attributed to competition from electric tramways.
Competition from private autos and coach (intercity motorbus) services developed during the early 20th century in the US, and also led to curtailment of railway "local" services. One example was the reduction of Philadelphia – Lancaster and Philadelphia – Harrisburg "local" services by PRR, from 1927 September 25. The stated explanation was competition from "highways."
Other US short-distance "local" railway services services, timetabled for "commuter" traffic, were withdrawn during the early 20th century as traffic was lost to electric railways and roads. One example was the Erie Railroad Company suburban service between Chicago and Hammond (IN, 32 km / 20 mi). This was started on 1905 January 8 and withdrawn from 1907 June 23. Another example was the PRR service between Louisville, Jeffersonville (IN) and New Albany (IN). By 1916, New Albany Branch trains no longer operated across the Ohio River bridge to Louisville (3 km / 2 mi from Jeffersonville). New Albany Branch passenger service (Jeffersonville – New Albany, 6 km / 4 mi) was withdrawn from 1920 January 31.