Transfers from Infrequent to Frequent Vehicles

Imagine yourself taking a train somewhere, and imagine the train is big and infrequent. Let’s say it’s the commuter train from New York down the Northeast Corridor to Newark Airport, or perhaps a low-cost OuiGo TGV from Lyon to Paris. Now imagine that you change trains to a small, frequent train, like the AirTrain to Newark Airport, or the RER from the OuiGo stop in the suburbs to Paris itself. What do you think happens?

If your guess is “the train I’m connecting to will be overcrowded,” you are correct. Only a minority of a 200 meter long New Jersey Transit train’s ridership unloads at the Newark Airport station, but this minority is substantial enough to overwhelm the connection to the short AirTrain to the terminals. Normally, the AirTrain operates well below capacity. It uses driverless technology to run small vehicles every 3 minutes, which is more than enough for how many people connect between terminals or go to New York by train. But when a big train that runs every 20-30 minutes arrives, a quantity of passengers who would be easily accommodated if they arrived over 20 minutes all make their way to the monorail at once.

In Paris, the situation is similar, but the details differ. Until recently, OuiGo did not serve Paris at the usual terminal of Gare de Lyon but rather at an outlying station near Eurodisney, Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy, ostensibly to save money by avoiding the Gare de Lyon throat, in reality to immiserate passengers who don’t pay full TGV fare. There, passengers would connect from a 400-meter bilevel TGV on which the entire train ridership would get off to a 220-meter bilevel RER train running every 10 minutes. The worst congestion wasn’t even on the RER itself, but at the ticket machines: enough of the thousand passengers did not have Navigo monthly cards for the RER that long lines formed at the ticket machines, adding 20 minutes to the trip. With the RER connection and the line, the trips would be nearly 3.5 hours, 2 spent on the high-speed train and 1.5 at the Paris end.

I even saw something similar in Shanghai in 2009. I visited Jiaxing, an hour away at the time by train, and when I came back, a mass of people without the Shanghai Public Transportation Card overwhelmed the one working Shanghai Metro ticketing machine. There were three machines at the entrance, but two were out of service. With the 20 minutes of standing in line, I would have gotten back to my hotel faster if I’d walked.

This is a serious problem – the ticketing machine lines alone can add 20 minutes to an otherwise 2.5-hour door-to-door trip. To avoid this problem, railroads and transit agencies need a kit with a number of distinct tools, appropriate for different circumstances.

Run trains more frequently

Commuter trains have to run frequently enough to be useful for short-distance trips. If the RER A consistently fills a train every 10 minutes off-peak between Paris and Marne-la-Vallée, New Jersey Transit can consistently fill a local train every 10 minutes off-peak between Manhattan and New Brunswick. Extra frequency induces extra ridership, but fewer people are going to get off at the Newark Airport stop per train if trains run more often. There are some places where adding frequency induces extra ridership proportionately to the extra service, or even more, but they tend to be shorter-range traffic, for example between Newark and Elizabeth or between Newark and New York.

This tool is useful for urban, suburban, and regional service. A train over a 20 kilometer distance can run frequently enough that transfers to more frequent shuttles are not a problem. Even today, this is mostly a problem with airport connectors, because it’s otherwise uncommon for outlying services to run very frequently. The one non-airport example I am familiar with is in Boston on the Mattapan High-Speed Line, a light rail line that runs every 5 minutes, connecting Mattapan with Ashmont, the terminus of the Red Line subway, on a branch that runs every 8-9 minutes at rush hour and every 12-15 off-peak.

In contrast, this tool is less useful for intercity trains. France should be running TGVs more frequently off-peak, but this means every half hour, not every 10 minutes. The only long-distance European corridors that have any business running an intercity train every 10 minutes are Berlin-Hanover(-Dortmund) and Frankfurt-Cologne, and in both cases it comes from interlining many different branches connecting huge metropolitan areas onto a single trunk.

Eliminate unnecessary transfers

The problem only occurs if there is a transfer to begin with. In some cases, it is feasible to eliminate the transfer and offer a direct trip. SNCF has gradually shifted OuiGo traffic from suburban stations like Marne-la-Vallée and Massy to the regular urban terminals; nowadays, five daily OuiGo trains go from Lyon to Gare de Lyon and only two go to Marne-la-Vallée.

Gare de Lyon is few people’s final destination, but at a major urban station with multiple Métro and RER connections, the infrastructure can handle large crowds better. In that case, the transfer isn’t really from an infrequent vehicle, because a TGV, TER, or Transilien train unloads at Gare de Lyon every few minutes at rush hour. The Métro is still more frequent, but at the resolution of a mainline train every 5 minutes versus a Métro Line 1 or 14 train every 1.5 minutes, this is a non-issue: for one, passengers can easily take 5 minutes just to walk from the far end of the train to the concourse, so effectively they arrive at the Métro at a uniform rate rather than in a short burst.

Of note, Shanghai did this before the high-speed trains opened: the trains served Shanghai Railway Station. The capacity problems occurred mostly because two out of three ticketing machines were broken, a problem that plagued the Shanghai Metro in 2009. Perhaps things are better now, a decade of fast economic growth later; they certainly are better in all first-world cities I’ve taken trains in.

Eliminating unnecessary transfers is also relevant to two urban cases mentioned above: airport people movers, and the Mattapan High-Speed Line. Airport connectors are better when people do not need to take a landside people mover but rather can walk directly from the train station to the terminal. Direct service is more convenient in general, but this is especially true of airport connectors. Tourists are less familiar with the city and may be less willing to transfer; all passengers, tourists and locals, are likely to be traveling with luggage. The upshot is that if an airport connector can be done as an extension of a subway, light rail, or regional rail line, it should; positive examples include the Piccadilly line and soon to be Crossrail in London, the RER B in Paris, and the S-Bahn in Zurich.

The Mattapan High-Speed Line’s peculiar situation as an isolated tramway has likewise led to calls for eliminating the forced transfer. Forces at the MBTA that don’t like providing train service have proposed downgrading it to a bus; forces within the region that do have instead proposed making the necessary investments to turn it into an extension of the Red Line.

Simplify transfer interfaces

The capacity problem at the transfer from an infrequent service to a frequent one is not just inside the frequent but small vehicle, but also at the transfer interface. Permitting a gentler interface can go a long way toward solving the problem.

First, tear down the faregates. There should not be fare barriers between different public transport services, especially not ones where congestion at the transfer point can be expected. Even when everything else is done right, people can overwhelm the gates, as at the Newark Airport train station. The lines aren’t long, but they are stressful. Every mistake (say, if my ticket is invalid, or if someone else tries to ask the stressed station agent a question) slows down a large crowd of people.

And second, sell combined tickets. Intercity train tickets in Germany offer the option of bundling a single-ride city ticket at the destination for the usual price; for the benefit of visitors, this should be expanded to include a bundled multi-ride ticket or short-term pass. New Jersey Transit sells through-tickets to the airport that include the AirTrain transfer, and so there is no congestion at the ticketing machines, only at the faregates and on the train itself.

Both of these options require better integration between different service providers. That said, such integration is clearly possible – New Jersey Transit and Port Authority manage it despite having poor fare and schedule integration elsewhere. In France in particular, there exist sociétés de transport functioning like German Verkehrsverbünde in coordinating regional fares; SNCF and RATP have a long history of managing somehow to work together in and around Paris, so combined TGV + RER tickets, ideally with some kind of mechanism to avoid forcing visitors to deal with the cumbersome process of getting a Navigo pass, should not be a problem.


  1. Rico

    Montreal is creating one of these with its REM project. Be interesting to see how/if it works

    • plaws0

      LOL REM. I know, let’s build the outer end first so that none of it is usable until it’s complete. Oh, and let’s make the cars and trains really short so that they will have lower capacity than the trains currently using the tunnel. Oh, and let’s make sure it will be run separately from the STM, RTL, STL, and exo. Good thing Montreal is a temperate climate otherwise waiting on an elevated platform would be mighty chilly in the winter … wait a minute …

      Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket! 😀

        • Fbfree

          Good question. The latest news is that construction inside the Mont-Royal tunnel is delayed by 3-4 months, “but will not affect the project timeline”. This allows the existing Deux-Montagne service to continue a couple extra months.

        • Coridon Henshaw

          There’s very little prospect for reasonable improvements in transit in Canada. Institutional capacity in the country has become so badly degraded in the past few decades that no jurisdiction is capable of competently managing infrastructure projects (transit, road, or otherwise) anymore. For transit examples, see Vancouver’s non-expandable Canada Line and the ongoing debacle surrounding Ottawa’s mostly broken Confederation line. For a non-transit example, see the Phoenix federal civil service payroll disaster. Canada is not in good shape.

          • Eric

            You exaggerate. Vancouver’s Expo and Millenium lines have been built gradually over the last few decades. Calgary and Edmonton’s successful LRT as well. Even the Confederation line is a “reasonable improvement” despite its teething pains.

          • Rico

            Coridon, while Canada definitely can improve things are not as dire as you are worried about. The Canada Line was built on the cheap…but it is not terminally flawed, it uses the right route with full grade seperation. The first of the new additional trains are now running (as of this week), when they are all available it will raise capacity by 30% over current capacity. While not optimal (read fairly expensive) platforms are expandable for an extra car (the underground stations have this extension roughed in behind a false wall). Running all 3 car trains will add another 30%. That works out to a capacity of 15,000pphp and after that they could always link Marie Drive station to an Arbutus LRT which should divert passengers from the busy section. I also have full confidence the Confederation Line is just having teething problems. Pretty sure by spring it will be running acceptably. Also note the Evergreen Line in Vancouver was built after the Canada line at reasonable costs to the same standards as the Expo/Millenium lines. The proposed Broadway extension will run in a good location with the same Expo/Millenium Line standards. The projected cost is high but hopefully when the bids come in in the spring we will get a pleasant surprise.

          • Coridon Henshaw

            @Rico, above:
            I am less optimistic.
            The Confederation Line has suffered from things that can fairly be characterized as teething problems or lack of institutional knowledge on how to operate rail transit. Examples include portions of the overhead being torn down or the first major meltdown when OC Transpo tried to repair stuck train doors at the platform rather than taking the train out of service. However, many of the CL’s faults are indicative of more serious problems. One recent failure was caused by snow obstructing switches; coping with snow is an essential design objective given Ottawa’s climate. It’s also a solved problem given that the Trillium line operated for years in Ottawa weather. Worse, the Confederation line’s problems are getting worse as time goes on. Earlier this week, OC Transpo was only able to field 8, out of a normal 13, trains for the AM peak. Continued degradation at this stage is indicative of something much more serious than the usual teething problems.

            Finger-pointing is ongoing, but the root cause seems to yet another case of a PPP gone bad.

            I also think the Confederation line suffers from uncorrectable design flaws. The Confederation Line is poorly chosen. I do know there was little option to alter the route given that line is a conversion of the BRT Transitway, but for a rail line, the alignment has too many stops and too many sharp curves. Travel times would be better if Lees had been omitted, Pimisi and Lyon were replaced with a single west downtown station, and the line straightened. Even Bayview could have been eliminated by building a wye to the Trillium track and running the Trillium DMUs to Tunney’s Pasture for a cross-platform transfer. These changes would have resulted in more time-competitive (vs driving) service and might have even been cheaper. I also think it was a mistake not to serve the major residential areas just east of the core (e.g. along the Montreal Road corridor), but providing service here would have involved compromises in connecting to the south Transitway and VIA Rail.

            As things stand at the moment, Ottawa has a $2 billion boondoggle and would have been better off fixing the BRT bottleneck by building a bus tunnel under the downtown core (from Pimisi to Rideau) and keeping the BRT network intact. It would have been cheaper and would have provided better service (including retaining one-seat rides for many commuters) than the current LRT is capable of.

            As for Vancouver, I agree that Evergreen was technically well done, but the fact that it was done when it was is reflective of Vancouver’s misplaced transit priorities. When Evergreen was greenlit, both the Broadway corridor and the North Shore were in greater need of improved transit service. At the time, Broadway was (and probably still is) the most heavily used bus corridor in North America. There was a much greater need for rail service on Broadway than on the Evergreen route. Indeed, there was a much greater need for more SeaBuses (or even another ferry route to the north shore) than for rail service on the Evergreen route. Evergreen should have been done only after these priorities had been taken care of first.

          • Rico

            Last time I was in Ottawa the LRT was still under construction so my only useful observations were the downtown stations seemed reasonably well placed. From reading the various news reports I still think Ottawas problems are mostly teething related. My memory was Vancouver Skytrain was pretty unreliable for about a year after launch but they worked through it. I assume things like switch heaters can be replaced without replacing the switches and the trains will work through their problems. The idea that there are unneeded curves is more concerning to me….but I assume they are near stations where speeds are low anyway? I thought there were valid reasons for not interlining the Confederation Line and O train? For Ottawa the future O train extension seems like the biggest likelihood of a screwup. What were they thinking?
            For Vancouver the Evergreen line (and the Surrey LRT/now Surrey Skytrain) was the political price to pay for the more expensive but more important Broadway line. In some places building those makes the likelihood of building the important section more difficult but in this case it helped. The original Millenium line was a middle portion of a line built first and did not really go anywhere useful. Now it is connected on one end and everyone wonders why it is not going down Broadway yet. The biggest change of attitude came after the Evergreen line was built. That was a long winded way of saying yes, you are right they should have built Broadway first in a perfect world…but they may not have gotten to building Broadway till even later if they did not build the Evergreen line.

  2. Max Wyss

    You mention OuiGo as an example. The big problem with OuiGo is that it does not connect to ANYTHING. It is OuiGo or you go by foot.

    In other words, this example is ideal on showing how not to do things.

    The concept of an integrated transit system seems to be limited to german speaking areas. Yes, agreed, there are the farecard examples, but farecards à la Cubix offer no connection advantages at all; it is still mainly single trips on single operators.

    • Diego Beghin

      It doesn’t seem like anyone in France is interested in integrating the TGVs with the wider rail network. You can find leftist critiques of the TGVs but their solution is to stop investing in it and invest in local trains instead.

      • Max Wyss

        The “real” TGV, now branded as InOui are integrated; it is possible to get connecting tickets. My criticism is specifically aimed at the OuiGo brand (imagine Ryanair on rails, and make it twice as bad… that’s OuiGo).

        • michaelrjames

          But Max, be careful what you wish for.
          It is my understanding that OuiGo is a ploy forced on SNCF and the French government by that Euro directive concerning competition on the rails. In which case I am conditionally supportive, ie. of SNCF. It is so easy, and lazy, to blame gummint for imperfect railways but all the evidence, across history and countries, strongly suggests it is best run by that state and not by for-profit interests (and especially not run on rails and routes still owned by for-profit interests). Where state-run railways are awful you really need to look at the voters. The entire UK privatised rail network is on the verge of being renationalised–some of it has already happened by default (no for-profit can continue the service or, like Virgin, has been disqualified). I hope that this particular Euro directive crashes and burns, or just withers away as state operatives and their voters undermine it.

          And as to those backpackers who take OuiGo from Marne-la-Vallée, well that is what backpackers are for! They’ll have some stories to whinge about on FB and Instagram etc. Just like with LCC, I remain sceptical about what is really saved by using OuiGo–that is subsequently not lost by taking the additional transport needed or of course the value of time (which is much less valued if you are a backpacker). Not to mention what such cheapo tickets brings in the long-term (undermining regular service and standards, like everything American dragging it all to the lowest common denominator). If I’m paying the extra €20 or whatever to use the regular TGV out of Gare de Lyon, and especially if I have paid my high taxes in France during my working life, at least I don’t have to share the space being clogged with someone who is paying less and never contributed to building the system. Besides, Marne-la-Vallée is the perfect place to dump those Americans, right next to Eurodisney and that shopping town with a faux rue St Honoré and all the same luxe brands etc. (and let’s face it, it is probably mostly dumb cheapo Americans buying those tickets without doing their due diligence:-). With any luck they’ll bypass the Real Paris altogether and go directly to the OuiGo trains from CDG; maybe pimp up the trains by Disney a la those Hello Kitty shinkansen …

          I see that SNCF has announced yesterday a release of some 35 million tickets, on all trains not just OuiGo, to bring the system back to ‘normality’ after the strikes emptied them out.

          • Max Wyss

            With all due respect, but a lot of that statement is not correct; it looks to me as a victim of propaganda. OuiGo is not forced on SNCF by the open access directive. It is not even artificial competition, because SNCF converted regular TGV services to OuiGo WITHOUT replacement. This caused very bad blood in the greater Marseille area, where commuters take the TGV between Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. All of a sudden the monthly passes were no longer accepted. That’s NOT competition.

            Because of the constellation in French railways, they attempted to block any kind of liberalisation (and that is one of the reasons why the freight business is doing so bad). And then, they hired former airline managers… (who invented the “market fares” (well, if the schedules are more random than useful, that’s the only way to operate), and other stuff, leading to OuiGo).

            The UK system is a mess, however it is not privatisation per se causing it, but a completely idiotic implementation, and stupidity within the government in the last few years. In fact, the “private” operators in the UK have less economic freedom than the nationalised railways in France, Germany, Switzerland… just to name a few.

          • michaelrjames

            OK. But do you think Ouigo would have happened without the looming EU directive? That anomaly for Avignon-Aix-Marseilles sound like just the kind of crazy merde produced by these attempts to introduce “competition” where it really can’t work. Maybe it was completely unrelated but I remain suspicious …. Maybe even the appointment of those ex-airline managers. Some f-wit committee of neolibs beats their butterfly wings in Brussels and it provokes all kind of disturbance all over.

            Just like with the UK, one can blame all sorts of things and actions but fundamental problem was the privatisation itself. Even its authors, Thatcher’s offspring, couldn’t just let the free market rip and produce those brilliantly efficient outcomes. After the debacle of Railtrack, who can blame them for losing their nerve? As you know the state spends more on subsidies than before privatisation. And the obscene bonuses to management continue.

            The UK may yet renationalise everything but that doesn’t mean it will get what it needs, because no conservative government is willing to spend money on it, especially as HS2 absorbs so much. The worst may be over for DB as commonsense, climate-change and flygskam bring a change of heart. I’m hoping this period when rail networks have been put in peril by ideology has passed and that the French, Macron and SNCF don’t screw it up.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            “Why thank you for contributing this more informed and more accurate information. I apologize for wasting everybody’s time making speculations untethered from reality” said no logorrheic internet commenter ever.

          • Max Wyss

            @michaelrjames: I stay with my statements. OuiGo is NOT an artificial competition to the InOui/TGVs; because if it were, there would be InOuis/TGVs more or less in the same paths. To me, that is sufficient evidence.

          • michaelrjames

            I don’t understand that. But:

            Max Wyss @06:34
            With all due respect, but a lot of that statement is not correct; it looks to me as a victim of propaganda. OuiGo is not forced on SNCF by the open access directive. It is not even artificial competition, because SNCF converted regular TGV services to OuiGo WITHOUT replacement.

            Well, I was mostly willing to cede the argument but … is there any evidence either way? Maybe. Wiki:

            The [Ouigo] service was announced by the head of SNCF, Guillaume Pepy on 19 February 2013, and it was launched on 2 April of the same year. Unlike Europe’s relatively liberalized airline market (open skies), high speed railways in France are a monopoly owned and operated by the government. However ongoing talks about high speed railways liberalization, targeted for as early as December 2019, and competition from low-cost airlines, as well as the anticipation of a deregulation of the intercity bus market as had happened in Germany the previous year and would occur shortly thereafter in France, led to the creation in 2013 of the Ouigo service.

            It’s not just me susceptible to the propaganda! (And no, I didn’t write that Wiki.)
            Yes, they converted a few regular TGV services, out of Gare de Lyon, to OuiGo but I suspect it’s for the same reason(s). The pseudo-competition thing, out of the same station for the exact same route etc.
            Anyway, I’m with Mark Smith (Seat61):

            “This [OuiGo] is a train for flyers, not those who enjoy the relaxed nature of ‘regular’ rail travel. I wish they’d stop doing this nonsense which distracts from the task of running one coherent, integrated system.”

            The only reason not to object to OuiGo, whether deliberate or accidental, is if it will prevent even worse “competition” to happen.

        • Yom Sen

          You get connecting tickets but the price is just the addition of both legs. It’s the same for 2 connecting TGVs by the way.
          SNCF used to have a degressive price per km, meaning that if you were doing a long distance trip, the cost of your final local train was quite low. The TGV pricing, called by SNCF “market prices” (which is stupid, airlines for example make tickets with connections cheaper per km since people, the market, prefer direct flights) clearly discourages connections.

          • Herbert

            DB Sparpreis tickets are often more easily available for less attractive connections. Including those with many changes…

          • Matthew Hutton

            Typically if you get an intercontinental flight you can get the local flight for £50 or so in my experience. Even if it’s on a different day.

  3. Luke

    Fare integration always seems to be one of the easiest-to-implement of this sorts of improvements. Granted, bureaucratic interests can get in the way, and those can…certainly be a hassle, but they should be easier to overcome in theory than having to build new infrastructure. East Asia seems to have a particular handle on this; a lot of Tokyo’s rail line operators share fares, and South Korea’s T-Money card is usable for every mode in every city throughout the country.

    • Max Wyss

      Note that having a fancy schmancy farecard is NOT fare integration. Fare integration means that there is one single fare, usually a zone fare, which applies for any operator in a given area.

      Most of those fare cards simply charge for every single segment with a given operator, and, if they are “advanced” may cap at a daily amount, or give some discounts.

      And, farecards require faregates, something which should be avoided. Integrated fares do not require faregates; all which is needed is a validator of some kind, where the begin of the validity is recorded. And for that some discreet handy boxes at ideal locations are enough.

      One problem is, of course, that the faregate/farecard vendors are very agressive, and throw around buzzwords like “evasion”, of course actively ignoring to mention that the incremental cost to lower the evasion rate at a given level are higher than the revenue they bring in (to the operator; the vendor makes big money anyway). It is kind of a common understanding that an evasion rate of 4% or so is tolerable.

        • Pony

          Yes, Prague has a smartcard and no faregates, but technically, they are just a thing you show to a possible ticket inspector you meet like once a month or even less. Regional buses have fare check upon boarding and most trains have conductors who also check everyone. Important detail here is, however, that the card only carries long term prepaid tickets, you can’t put prepaid cash on it and then spend per ride or with some cap.

          • Alon Levy

            Ah, so it’s like Paris, with Navigo only carrying passes while the pay-per-ride option is just the carnets?

          • Pony

            (Why I can’t reply to the latest post.)

            Strictly speaking, all tickets are time-based, there are just 30-minute ones or longer, so it’s never precisely pay-per-ride. But you can get them in many different forms (as there are no faregates, so you don’t need one with a correct magstrip or anything), on paper, in a phone app, in form of a code through a premium text message (very popular for some reason) and possibly others, can’t really remember. Also, probably worth noting that transit is free for seniors 70+ and they only need to prove the age with an id or something. It is also free for kids until 15, but funnily enough, they need the smartcard to prove it (probably because the country generally doesn’t issue id cards to < 15 kids).

      • Diego Beghin

        You can have farecards without faregates, we used to have that in Brussels (now we do have faregates). You just need machines to beep the cards, but there’s no need for a gate to stop you.

        • Brendan Dawe

          Fore example, Vancouver commuter trains are not gated, but the stations are equipped with banks of fare-card validating pillars, which is the practice they should extend to the rest of the system IMO.

    • Alon Levy

      Tokyo has integrated fare media, but it doesn’t have fare integration – you have to pay 2 fares if you connect between different railroads. E.g. go on Hyperdia and look for Tsunashima -> Takadanobaba fares, which force you to connect between Tokyu, the subway, and JR East.

      • anonymouse observer

        Almost all rail and subway operators in Greater Tokyo region offers ”連絡運輸”, mutual connecting ticket (called “連絡乗車券”) sales, so you can purchase multi-operator ticket at the origin station both from ticket vending machine and staffed ticket window and eliminate the need of purchasing the paper tickets at each transfer (also “連絡運輸” system is necessary for through running between commuter rail and subway in Japan).

        In your example, you can purchase through/connecting ticket to Takadanobaba at the ticket vending machine at Tsunashima Station (you can choose the transfer location from Musashi-Kosugi, Oimachi, Meguro, Gotanda, or Shibuya at point of purchase):

        The only thing you need to do is to go through the fare gate at the transfer. At most of key transfer locations, there are “連絡改札”, the entry/exit point only for passengers making transfers between different operators (fare gate with no exit). Those fare gates at the “連絡改札” accept multiple paper tickets (you need to insert all paper tickets you have at once and the gate automatically separates and validate each one of them) or paper-smart card combination when you have a paper ticket covering one leg but want to use the smart card on the other leg.

        I think the nationwide interchangeable use of smart cards ( helps reducing use of “連絡乗車券” as you can use the smart card from your home region in other regions.

        • Nicolas Centa

          As Alon mentioned, this is integrated fare media on subways and local and regional (not long distance) – and I should mention that with the IC cards nobody has bought such tickets for quite a long time – but not fare integration.

          As a matter of fact fare integration for rail in Japan only exists for connections in the JR system for the “basic fare” part – and even there it is slowly disappearing because it does not exist for the various Shinkansen IC cards, which until now are mostly not even fare media integrated. (The next step for those seems to be that you are sometimes able to purchase several tickets from different companies on different websites and identify yourself at the fare gate with your regular local transportation IC card.)

          Very often in Japan technology is used for interoperability instead of standardisation : the IC cards are different all over the country (there are 2 in Tokyo area, and across the country most are prepaid but at least one in postpaid) but the companies just manage to somehow accept all of them at the faregates, though with random restrictions (some companies will accept just a subset, and features such as auto charging of prepaid cards will mostly only work in your region of origin, though usually in all of the train networks there).

          This is better overall that what is done in most “big” countries (you can’t use your Navigo pass to board the TGV and use local transportation in Lyon or Marseilles – but I heard smaller Netherlands is much better).

  4. Eric

    1) “a TGV, TER, or Transilien train” – Do you mean RER?

    2) Maybe a better option for Mattapan is to extend the tram to JFK/Umass and to terminate there? The ROW exists already. Can the tunnels handle tram vehicles?

    3) Possibly the most extreme case of high-frequency low-capacity is aerial trams, which have very small vehicles that run very often. These are particularly prone to being overwhelmed by passenger pulses from other transit modes (or non-transit events). For this reason, an aerial tramway to a university (where there are large bursts of passengers on the hour as classes begin/end) would seem to be a terrible idea. Looking online I can see such trams are planned in Vancouver, Lancaster UK, and Haifa Israel. (Portland has an aerial tram which serves a “university” which is really a hospital with no undergraduate classes, so it does not experience these peaks.)

  5. keaswaran

    “Airport connectors are better when people do not need to take a landside people mover but rather can walk directly from the train station to the terminal. Direct service is more convenient in general, but this is especially true of airport connectors.”

    This seems counterintuitive to me. Don’t most relevant airports have multiple terminals, so that most passengers need to take the connector to the other terminals anyway? On top of that, airports tend to be a bit out of the way, and the terminal is surrounded on multiple sides by runways (which are hard to tunnel under and which a train can’t go over), so that serving the terminal directly requires an awkward turn (like at SFO, where I’ve always thought it would have been better to run the airport connector out to the Millbrae Caltrain station, rather than using BART to make that connection). (Sydney is the one example I’ve ridden where tunneling under the airport allows for direct service to both terminals along the way to further destinations.)

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, they do, and it’s a problem. Different airports resolve it in different ways. Charles-de-Gaulle and Frankfurt both have a dominant terminal, served by the intercity rail station; CDG relegates the smaller terminals to a long walk or a people mover. Atlanta and Zurich both have airside people movers rather than landside ones, which is useful because people take airside people movers after they’ve checked in their luggage, when they are less stressed for time.

      • Herbert

        The people mover at FRA (they’re building another one) is also a sufficient distance from both train stations and those served by frequent enough trains to smooth the peaks

      • po8crg

        London Heathrow has (effectively) three terminals (T123, T4 and T5: Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are one big complex) and trains call at T123 and either T4 or T5 – so there are direct trains to London from all the terminals. Going to the airport, you either have to pick the correct train for your terminal, or change at T123, but that is always changing to a real train, not to a people mover.

        Of course, that airport is busy enough that they could justify the cost of tunnelling under the runways, not an option in many places.

  6. plaws0

    Rail service should have connections like air service. You never “transfer” between planes. Time to replace “transfer” with “connection”. Not unlike replacing “accident” with “crash” (though I suppose the semantic runs the opposite way).

    • Alon Levy

      I know, but the problem is that when you say “eliminate the connection,” it means the exact opposite of “eliminate the transfer.”

  7. Arlington Traveler

    Sorry but Newark Airport is really a first world problem. Remember, the reason it has faregates is the Port Authority charges for its use and that charge is built into the rail fare. For NJ Transit tickets they can simply use the faregates, but for Amtrak tickets they have to show their paper ticket receipt or e-ticket on their phone to the attendant (that may have changed). With trains running every three minutes (assuming the train is running which is the bigger issue) it doesn’t take very long for the crowd to dissipate.

    Ripping out faregates is not that easy in practice, and its usually because each agency has its own set of books. The only way to solve that is to do what the Port Authority did which is include the fare in the fare of NJ Transit tickets. Those using the subway to JFK simply need to have enough value on their Metrocard to pay for the JFK Airtrain. The only folks standing in line are those that used the LIRR and don’t have a Metrocard or don’t have enough value on their Metrocard to pay the JFK Airtrain fare.

    • Alon Levy

      Or you can do what DB and BVG do (for example) and do a count once every three years to figure out how to divvy the revenues.

      • adirondacker12800

        But Real Americans(tm) think traveling so far you want an airplane, is faintly immoral. Or just plain old immoral. Especially since airplanes tend to carry people to those cesspits of depravity, big cities. Where there are Unreal Americans. Or is it Real Unamericans? And non Americans!! They then get their Senators to set up all sorts of rules to assure their ten gate airport gets service to at least one hub. It’s more complicated than this but you can’t spend airport fees outside of the airport’s fence.

        • Alon Levy

          You don’t need to spend airport fees on non-airport infra, you just need to accept that calculations about where the money goes are always imprecise. When I rode for free from the EWR NJT station to New York because the conductor never got around to checking my ticket, did that count as NJT subsidy or something? No, because it was an uncommon error that NJT lost money from. Same thing with figuring out how to divvy the money from samples.

          Then again, I guess the US has precedent for banning samples because some Republican judges figured that using that for census purposes might increase the population of blue states…

          • adirondacker12800

            If it was a paper ticket it’s only good for six months. Then they just keep the money.

          • Alon Levy

            I bought a one-way EWR -> NYP ticket, didn’t get checked, and then used that ticket NYP -> EWR NJT (had to buy an extra ticket EWR NJT -> EWR terminals).

          • The Economist

            Welcome to NJT where they do not care … After many years of regular commuting my observation is that it is practically a policy (not publicised one) to not collect tickets on overcrowded or late (like 20+ minutes) trains. The pass holders pay anyway, but the people who use tickets get free rides. NJT looses at least $5MM a year due to not collecting tickets.

          • adirondacker12800

            They could hire another 20 million a year of assistant conductor to assure they collect 5.

      • Arlington Traveler

        That still doesn’t solve the issue… the EWR Airtrain is free except at the EWR Rail station. The fare is $5.50 and if the Port Authority did what you suggest and pull out the faregates, what is to stop people from buying tickets to Newark, knowing conductors won’t check most tickets on the three minute journey to Newark Airport station and save the $5.50? The faregates are a necessary evil, and actually if there is a bit of a line during peak periods that actually helps with flow onto the Airtrain, right?

  8. Coridon Henshaw

    Vancouver has another good example of slow journey times caused by frequency mismatches. There are two large coastal ferry terminals at the periphery of metro Vancouver. Both terminals see ferry arrivals on an irregular schedule (1-3 hours headway per ferry route is typical, but each terminal serves multiple routes operating under different schedules) but the only transit links from the terminals are express buses which run every 20 minutes to one terminal and hourly to the other. When a ferry drops a few hundred foot passengers at a terminal, it’s often a two-bus wait until it’s possible to continue your journey.

    Outbound trips to the ferry terminals are also surge-prone as passengers attempt to time connections to specific sailings. It doesn’t help that both bus routes connect to separate urban rail lines which carry 5,000 and 15,000 pphpd.

    As is usually the case in Vancouver, the ferry access problem has been compounded by a lack of political will to address even the easily-solved low hanging fruit. The ferry buses do not use all-door boarding, the existence of waiting-area ticket machines is non-obvious (meaning that most tourists slow boarding by buying tickets from the driver), tourist information is non-existent (yes, this is how you get to the airport), there is no shelter from winter weather (in an environment which sees 2.5m of rain yearly), there are no separate loading queues for local and express bus services, the road used by one bus route is regularly closed by Vancouver’s strong anti-mobility lobby, and the lack of bus lanes to get around Vancouver’s notoriously bad traffic means that on-time performance is god awful.

    It also does not help that there is a tacit government policy to persecute island residents by under-funding island essential services, including transport to the mainland. In recent years, fares for carrying cars by ferry have been increased substantially, leading to a major increase in ferry foot passenger numbers, but matching investment to increase transit capacity from the terminals has not been forthcoming.

    If Vancouver is the transit success story in North America, I’d hate to see how badly the rest of the continent is doing.

  9. Mikel

    A particular case of transferring from an intercity train to a frequent vehicle is when the latter belongs to a highly branched system (like the typical S-Bahn). My experience is the Cercanías/Rodalies in Madrid and Barcelona: one of the few things that Renfe does right with their intercity ticketing system is offering a free Cercanías ride on both your origin and destination, but you cannot directly board the local train – you have to scan a barcode in the same machines that sell regular tickets and passes. So when a 400-meter AVE dumps 800 passengers at Atocha or Sants, the ones whose destinations are in the trunk (with 3-4 minute frequencies) will be fine, but those who go to a branch might have to wait for 30 minutes if the queue at the machine gets too long and makes them miss the connection.

    In Barcelona airport I also experienced a problem similar to what you describe in Newark: every 30 minutes a Rodalies train dumps up to 2000 passengers in the general vicinity of Terminal T2, and those heading to T1 have to take a (thankfully free) shuttle bus. This is somewhat smoothed out by making everyone walk with their luggage trough a criminally long, narrow corridor. Currently they are tunneling under the runway in order to reach T1 directly on the train, because L9 with its super weird alignment is a terrible option.

    Re: SNCF-RATP integration: why does the RER B miss Gare de Montparnasse? Last time I visited, transferring with luggage at Denfert-Rochereau was an… interesting experience. The combined Metro-RER paper ticket to CDG was nice, though.

    • Alon Levy

      The RER B descends from a legacy commuter rail line that was never part of Chemins de fer de l’Ouest – it went to Luxembourg, close enough to city center that RATP bought and electrified it in the 1930s.

      The broader question is, why is there no RER to Montparnasse at all? The answer has to do with priorities. North-south RER service is not viewed as a high priority, unlike east-west service with its relief lines. There’s no will to even four-track the overcrowded common segment of the RER B and D. So there’s definitely no will to build a Montparnasse-Nord RER tunnel. A Montparnasse-Saint-Lazare tunnel was occasionally mooted in the 1990s and 2000s, but never got anywhere, partly because Montparnasse and Saint-Lazare were the two terminals of l’Ouest, one on each bank of the river, and their commuter networks both point west, with some reverse-branching.

      • michaelrjames

        It does look like the missing link in Paris. But I would have said it was because of RER-C which, despite its imperfections, more or less serves the function of anything out of Montparnasse (the tracks actually join the same ROW at Meudon just beyond the edge of SW inner-Paris). Remember, it only required a 1km tunnel (not really a tunnel but under the quays, I presume cut-and-cover?) to create RER-C from the pre-existing south-east and south-west suburban rail lines. Compared to something like 5km deep tunnel from Montparnasse to St-Lazare? If RER-C didn’t exist, it is much more likely they would have done what you propose.
        Hmm, deja vu. The northern leg of RER-C might have made more sense as it only about 2km from Champs de Mars to Montparnasse. This RER-C branch (C1, C3) uses the old Auteuil branch of the PC that terminated at St Lazare. Choices, choices.
        As you’ve said yourself, the demand on the east-west routes are far greater. That’s why they are building the 8km deep-bore tunnel from St Lazare to La Defense (Nanterre La Folie) to extend RER-E.

        • Alon Levy

          Yeah, the RER C was done for just about no money and is worth every centime. There’s a reason Parisians on SkyscraperCity/SkyscraperPage denigrate it and the RER D as inferior to the RER A, B, and E.

          And there’s more east-west than north-south demand, but not by a huge margin. If there’s money for an 8 km tunnel from Saint-Lazare to La Défense with two expensive stations on the way, there’s money for a 2.5 km tunnel from Gare du Nord to Les Halles connecting to existing station platforms at both ends.

          • michaelrjames

            the RER C was done for just about no money and is worth every centime.

            Doesn’t that make it the right decision? (Maybe that is what you were saying; alas my first reading set off my sarcasm detector.) It’s easy to complain about the line but it does a lot of heavy lifting, and actually delivers pax to more stations in inner Paris than any of the other RERs (9 on leftbank and 7 on rightbank C1, C3 line) plus 15 connections to Metro lines. One tends to think of C as the “least RER-like” of them but it actually does more of what the RER was designed to do, ie. take load off mainline terminals and distribute pax across Paris closer to their ultimate destination.

          • Alon Levy

            Those stations don’t have much ridership, is the problem. Ridership goes A >> B >> D > C > E, and E should overtake C when it’s extended to La Défense. C neither takes the load off anything – neither Invalides nor Austerlitz/Orsay was particularly crowded – nor distributes passengers to their ultimate destinations, since the stations it does serve in Paris tend to be poorly-located.

          • michaelrjames

            Yeah, but it still carries 140m pax pa which ain’t nothing (IIRC that’s 3x LIRR). And those mainline stations would undoubtedly be more crowded if RER-C didn’t exist–and of course the problem it creates of a crush on the few Metro lines that serve them. So C does distribute its pax across Paris and has excellent transfers to almost every Metro line, thus also making it an easy two-seat ride to final destination anywhere within inner-Paris, and not overloading any one point.
            As I said, without RER-C they probably would have been forced to build that new RER you have crayoned on your fantasy maps. We could agree on that but the ease and low-cost of creating RER-C won out, not surprisingly.

            The fact that “E will overtake C” when the new western extension opens kinda proves the point of putting resources into those extensions instead of massively expensive tunnel (Montparasse-St-Lazare) and very expensive stations (at St-Lazare; RER-E already has its station and connections). Of course it will instantly increase its pax load because it will take over part of RER-A to relieve its huge burden, and again shows why it is given priority.

            Anyway, is part of the problem that C is 100% SNCF while the others are RATP (or hybrid) and that funding mechanisms are different for the two? I don’t know for sure, and Paris is often an exception, but SNCF has to carry any capital outlay as debt, while IIRC RATP has direct subventions? eg. the western extension of E was declared a “public utility project”, I presume to facilitate priority funding by law.

            Also isn’t M14 southern extension, intended as a kind of substitute, and to improve connections and speed for those southern suburbs?

          • Alon Levy

            The RER D and E are all-SNCF too. But it doesn’t really matter for capital planning, it’s all part of Île-de-France Mobilités; SNCF isn’t losing money on Transilien or the TERs because these are all funded by the regions, but rather on low-speed intercity trains. Evidently, what they’re building is almost entirely to be run by RATP (i.e. GPX), and also what they’re not building but should be would be in RATP territory (i.e. Les Halles-Nord quad track).

            EDIT: by the way, the RER C was really hard to get to from Nation. Nation is generally poorly-connected with the Left Bank, the issue being that M10 doesn’t go far enough east to connect with M6 while the RER C expresses from Bibliothéque to Austerlitz and misses the connection to M6. The only connection the RER C has with any other RER line right now is at Saint-Michel; when the RER E extension is completed they’ll also meet at Porte Maillot, but on the RER C that’s just a branch that really needs to be severed from the RER and connected to T3.

          • michaelrjames

            Thanks for that information.
            It is good in that it implies such a factor is not a complication or confounding factor in choice between projects.
            Helps explain why Paris transit seems better planned/co-ordinated and why such an ambitious program as GPX gets launched.

            Re SNCF’s annual deficits, I recall that approx. half of it is due to repayments (ie. interest) on its debt. It actually isn’t all that high (a few bn euros a year). I think the debt accumulates because it’s another EU rule that considers any direct government subvention (ie. writing off the debt, or paying directly for a capital project) to be “illegal subsidy”. Nuts. BTW, I read recently that the UK’s Network Rail (the state entity after Railtrack was re-nationalised when it imploded) has debt approach £50bn. This is the cost of maintaining their network but apparently they are prevented from passing on the full cost to the (private) operators.

            Re the Nation problem. Bit of a First World Problem, no? When confronted with that kind of trip I just zen it out. In Paris it is never too bad. Other Parisians would often tell me that there was probably a bus to solve that issue but I could never bother with that.

  10. anonymouse observer

    JR companies uses an unique way of selling the “combined” tickets for intercity travelers and eliminate the bottleneck at the transfer station as you described. They put stations within city/government limit of 11 large cities (Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Kita-Kyushu, and Fukuoka) into one group and charge the fare to the central station of the city/jurisdiction. Those tickets are sold as the one from/to any stations within the designated city/jurisdiction area:

    This allows passengers followings (as long as the final destination is a JR station reachable without transferring to non-JR operators’ service):
    – To continue to the final destination station without purchasing the separate ticket at Tokyo/Ueno/Shinagawa/Shinjuku Station
    – To start the return trip from different station within the same city from the outbound trip when one purchase the round-trip (e.g. ending the outbound trip at Harajuku but starting the returning trip from Shibuya)

    Also, for JR companies, this eliminates need of asking passengers to specify the final destination of the trip exactly. This helped the ticket agents at the station even a lot more in old days when each station needs to stock up the pile of pre-printed paper tickets at the window.

  11. df1982

    I feel like the reverse problem is a bigger issue here, i.e. it’s the high frequency -> low frequency transfer that’s more annoying for passengers than the other way around. If I’m going to Newark airport then I can time my outbound journey on an infrequent NJT train to avoid having to wait at Penn for too long, and then I have a maximum three-minute wait for the air train (six minutes if there are capacity problems on the first train, although this has never really been an issue in my experience).

    But going from the airport to Manhattan is much chancier: you get the air train to Newark Liberty station and then you have no idea how long you could wait for to get on a Manhattan-bound train. On weekends this can be up to 50 minutes (there are 3 trains an hour but they all depart within ten minutes of each other). At the very least they could prioritise smoothing out the timetable of trains stopping at the airport.

    • The Economist

      That problem cannot be solved at this time. The trains are bunched up so that all the traffic can fit into one tunnel under the Hudson River on weekends, so that they can do maintenance on the other. Until a new tunnel gets built this is the way it is going to be, sorry. Of course, as a partial measure they could have a train in the middle of the 50 minute gap that goes to Hoboken, but this is NJT, so do not expect much sense from them.

      • Arlington Traveler

        I doubt you’d get the ridership to fill a Hoboken bound NEC train. Also please remember, at Hoboken you have to transfer to PATH and guess when they do most of their maintenance? Weekends! Plus people take NJT to get a one seat ride to the airport. There is also an express bus which runs from Newark Airport to Manhattan and it runs every 20 minutes during most of the day.

      • df1982

        Or, you know, they could do maintenance at night like any well-functioning railroad does.

        • Arlington Traveler

          Hmmm, how many well maintained mature rapid transit systems in the USA are able to do all the required maintenance overnight? I notice in Europe they tend to do several week/month shutdowns of whole segments over the summer. In Asia, they do major maintenance overnight, but they also have no labor unions (or weak ones).

  12. adirondacker12800

    New Jersey Transit can consistently fill a local train every 10 minutes off-peak between Manhattan and New Brunswick.

    They didn’t ask you and seem to plotting express to North Brunswick with a flyover instead of clogging the system at New Brunswick. Local to Matawan on the outside track, express to North Brunswick on the center track and express to Trenton and Amtrak on the inside track seems to be the most likely arrangement until there is so much traffic they have to give the intercity it’s own set of tracks. Peak of the peak they can fool around with things like local to Rahway and express to Matawan. And a Trenton express on the North Brunswick tracks timed so it doesn’t interfere with the local service to North Brunswick. They can’t do that until there are more tunnels to Manhattan. Pesky tunnels and not having something that warps the time space continuum so they can have two trains on the same track at the same time.
    And the Port Authority want’s to get rid of the execrable amusement-park ride Airtrain and replace it with something with more capacity. And multiple vendors.

  13. Pingback: International Links: a Revision | Pedestrian Observations

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