2
$\begingroup$

Most large cities these days have some sort of metropolitan commuter train system. What are the reasons for the commuter trains, why couldn't we instead of having train tracks why not clear a large distance of straight road and have a vehicle, such as a large bus riding on it?

Looking at the speed of trains (in my city they go at an average of around 70 km/h) surely the speed alone is not a factor since it would probably be feasible to have some sort of large vehicle achieve this speed. Trains also require large infrastructure such as tracks and power lines. On the other hand, such large vehicles would probably be safer on tracks instead of roads, and a train on tracks would probably be easier to automatize than a vehicle with wheels.

I can think of a lot of reasons for and against trains over wheeled vehicles, but what are the real reasons why commuter trains are so popular a choice for cities?

$\endgroup$
10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How many people can you get in a train compared to the 40 or 70 in a coach / bus? $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jan 7 '18 at 17:06
  • $\begingroup$ @SolarMike Probably hundreds, but it's not really the point of my question. What advantage do we gain really by having the vehicle on tracks instead of wheels? Why not build a bigger bus, comparable to the size of a train? Or just a larger number of busses on a road we built instead of train tracks? $\endgroup$ – S. Rotos Jan 7 '18 at 17:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Efficiency : cost per mile per passenger carried ... $\endgroup$ – Solar Mike Jan 7 '18 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ The tendency for bureaucrats to prefer centralized, top down solutions which have huge barriers to entry and and favor the largest companies probably has more to do with it. In the US, efficiency consideration were never part of the discusion - General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy $\endgroup$ – Phil Sweet Jan 7 '18 at 19:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you want to have a straight length of road for a bus to operate on exclusively at high speed using an overhead trolley wire, just like some trains have, would be an efficient & environmentally good way to power the bus. There are also plenty of examples of guided bus systems around the world & rubber wheeled metros & rail systems $\endgroup$ – Fred Jan 8 '18 at 1:03
1
$\begingroup$

I don't know if its a driver, but an advantage to rail is that you can run parallel lines very close together and in close proximity to structures and such.

I don't think you'd want buses approaching each other at 100+mph on a paved road that would fit in the space of an existing rail corridor.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose that is the reason, it makes sense. Accepted. $\endgroup$ – S. Rotos Jan 18 '18 at 19:09
0
$\begingroup$

The primary advantage is a sense of prestige and permanence that encourages more ridership and more development than buses. Technically heavy rail can achieve larger passenger volumes with minimal headway compared to buses (which can achieve smaller headways but are more limited in size), but commuter trains cannot achieve the same headways as heavy rail with multiple doors and level boarding, and very few heavy rail systems run enough trains to minimize those headways. So the technical advantages are more of a theoretical advantage that is not often put to the test.

In the US particularly, rail is seen as OK for the middle class and upper middle class commuter, while these same commuters tend to ignore bus service--even when the bus might provide faster travel times. This rather intangible preference for rail tends toward higher ridership of rail systems over bus transit.

Development is also an important consideration. Developers can see a train station and expect a good return on investment by building transit oriented development around a train station--but they are wary of doing the same for a bus. A sign in the ground, a bench, maybe a shelter, can be moved around much easier than the train station and would change the appeal of a development in the typical 20 year lifespan. Bus rapid transit stations are rarely seen in the US so developers are not confident how to develop for them, either.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.