The Limit of Circles in the Suburbs

In dense urban cores, it’s valuable to run circular rail lines. They connect dense near-center neighborhoods to one another without going through the more congested center, and help make transferring between parallel lines more efficient, again through avoiding central business district congestion. Some of the largest cities in the world even support multiple circles, line Lines 2 and 10 in Beijing, or the various overlapping circles of Moscow, Tokyo, and soon Paris. However, this system of radial lines through the center and circular lines around the center cannot go on forever. There is a limit to how far out one can build circles, which is much sharper than the limit of how far radial lines can go. Lower-density suburbs can have radial lines connecting them to city center or to near-center nodes of activity, but circumferential lines are likely to be weak.

For a concrete example, take Berlin. It has the Ring through fairly dense neighborhoods, supporting 5-minute frequency on the S-Bahn during most of the day. But it also has the Outer Ring, built in the 1950s through East Berlin and the Brandenburg suburbs to surround West Berlin and permit the construction of the Wall; today it runs regional trains, and one segment through East Berlin runs the S75 every 10 minutes, but there is no train making the entire orbit, just trains using short segments to position themselves to a better radial entry into the center of Berlin. It looks frustrating – there is circular infrastructure, why not use it? But there’s a solid reason not to run it as a true circle.

See map below:

A schematic of service patterns can be seen here.

The line’s origin as a bypass means it doesn’t serve any of the nodes near its radius, like Potsdam (too built-up), Spandau (in West Berlin), or Märkisches Viertel (also in West Berlin). The only node it does pass through is the soon-to-close Schönefeld airport, which only became important well into the Cold War; moreover, a branch parallel to the line to the southeast serves the soon-to-open Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, with plans to run many different kinds of regional services entering Berlin from both the Stadtbahn and the North-South Main Line. So a circular service would, by itself, just connect various outlying areas like Marzahn, Hennigsdorf, and Falkensee to the airport. By itself, this doesn’t support very high frequency.

Now, what the line could do is work as a network together with radial lines, connecting to them to facilitate travel not passing through the center of Berlin. However, there is not much point in transfers unless they are either high-frequency or timed. High-frequency transfers are out – the radial lines that penetrate the Outer Circle run 2-3 trains per hour. This forces the transfers to be timed.

Timed connections on lines that intersect crosswise rather than parallel with cross-platform transfers are completely possible. The trains can’t be too long, but that’s fine, a 4-car train with stair and elevator connections could have 2-3 minute transfer windows and still exchange passengers in all directions. It’s worth establishing at sufficiently important stations where a cross-platform transfer is not possible; as a four-way transfer, it’s not even that much more involved than a cross-platform transfer with timed wrong-direction transfers like Wittenbergplatz between U2 and U1/3. However, this is for one station.

All of this goes out the window when a circle intersects 12 different radial lines. Such a scheme can only work if all of the transfers are timed, or at least a large majority of them. Otherwise, people might as well take the train through the center and connect at Berlin Hauptbahnhof, or even stay on the same train if it runs through like RE 1 or RE 3.

In theory, you can time a short succession of transfers on the same line. All it really takes is to make sure that the circular line takes a half-integer multiple of the takt interval between every pair of transfer points, allowing both-direction transfers everywhere. On a few stretches of the line, it’s even plausible, with a 20-minute takt – the line would be fast because it’s so far out and has to few stops, so 7-10 km in 8 minutes (10 minus 2 for the transfer window) is not outside the realm of possibility.

Except that some segments between transfer points are still bad, like between the two just west of Spandau, or on both sides of the crossing with S5 and RE 1 in Lichtenberg. And even if they weren’t, this runs into the problem that trains are not infinitely punctual. Having 12 knots between a circular line and radials around Berlin, or even just 10 if weak ones are dropped, means that suburban Berlin would have more knots every 20 minutes than Switzerland has today every half hour (8), and not too many fewer than Switzerland is planned to have every half hour in the 2030s. The required schedule discipline is intense, especially in a big city defined by crowded rush hour trains.

This has implications elsewhere. Paris has its Grande Ceinture, which is tempting for a regional rail ring, but the frequency at which it can support a full RER line is not high; instead, the region is breaking the line into segments, to be turned over into tram-trains, with some segments diverging from the mainline to serve nodes near but not on the line.

In general, what this means is that if you’re not connecting to a major city center, there’s only so much service you can run. If you’re within the densely built-up area, as the Ring is or as the various orbitals Paris has (M2/M6, T3) or plans (M15), then it’s fine – untimed transfers are fine when trains come every 5 minutes, and overlapping one-seat rides like Prenzlauer Berg-Neukölln and Ostkreuz-Tempelhof and so on can help fill the train as well. But once frequency drops below about a train every 10 minutes, untimed transfers no longer work, which means that services that rely on connections only work if the connections are at a handful of key points, not at 12 different radii around the city.


  1. anonymouse

    Moscow also has an outer circle line, further out into the suburbs (around the 70 km mark) and it also has mostly pretty terrible service. No trains go all the way around and it isn’t even possible to make a full circle in a day. Most sections have around 3 trains a day and the few that have better service are mostly either operated as branches off the radial lines or as shuttles connecting to the radial service. It runs mostly through a whole lot of nothing (having been built as a freight bypass) and at bwst connects to small regional cities that don’t generate huge demand.

  2. michaelrjames

    “the soon-to-close Schönefeld airport …. the soon-to-open Berlin-Brandenburg Airport”

    Just a nitpick because talk of it closing was very confusing to me when I first read about it (years ago). The airport and terminal facilities aren’t closing. They are merely retiring the name Schönefeld because it will come under the single brand of Berlin-Brandenburg airport (BER) whose new runways and terminals are adjoining the same site. The old Schönefeld terminal becomes Terminal #5 of the merged entity and will be dedicated to LCC, I understand. Apparently only weeks away from opening.

    • Herbert

      Yeah but if you’ve ever used SXF you hope they aren’t kidding when they say this whole “terminal 5” business is temporary…

      • michaelrjames

        I think SXF terminal 5 won’t be upgraded until BER’s construction cost is paid back, so, you know, sometime next century.
        Besides which, it is only appropriate as it’s already serving the LCC market with Ryanair etc. I don’t understand the economics of LCCs but do they pay the same per pax airport fee (landing charges etc)? How is it possible when sometimes they boast €1 return fare (I know, I know but still ….). Isn’t this why they often use obscure and remote airports? I presume that Berlin airports/Berlin city admin gives the LCCs a good deal to get their tourists, so it’s hard to be sympathetic.

      • R. W. Rynerson

        Herbert, you summed it up nicely, In 2008 after 37 years, my wartime romance and I had a wonderful reunion and were in Berlin saying farewell for the second time and it turned out to end up in SFX. There were tears as we said goodbye, but I wasn’t sure if it was due to the occasion or the tackiness of the flughafen. I’ve seen used car dealerships that looked better.

  3. R. W. Rynerson

    You touched on one of the problems of Berlin’s Outer RIng, that it was built to avoid West Berlin, but to add a bit of information: due to the urgency of completing it, segments of pre-existing lines were used. That included the Prussian military railway that forms the west side of the ring, but misses the Potsdam Hbf. It was built in the run-up to WWI. The east side of the Outer Ring was built in 1941, apparently for freight and/or military purposes.

    After the Wall was completed there still was a gap in the Outer Ring and the Reichsbahn had to use charters from around the GDR to create a bus bridge. Big segments were single track, which led to the use of double-decker high-density trains, steam or Diesel-powered, on one to two hour headways, with freight trains added to the mix.

    As an ad hoc radial route, the northern side of the Outer Ring also provided a link to an isolated segment of the third-rail S-Bahn that lost its access through Tegel. Trains made an 8-minute run between Velten and Hennigsdorf.

  4. Andrew in Ezo

    The Musashino Line in the Tokyo metropolitan area is a half-circle (Tokyo Bay precludes a full circle) outer suburban line that manages 10 minute headways off-peak, so just makes the threshold for usability on non-timed transfers. Morning peak heads are 5-6 minutes, while the evening is 7-8 minutes. Of course most passengers are using only segments of the route to connect between two radial lines. Interestingly, every twenty minutes is a train that runs from Tokyo Station (via the Keiyo Line) all the way to the end of the line at Fuchu-Honmachi, a distance of 96 km, that takes almost two hours, taking a roughly spiral routing.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, so 10 minutes is about the limit, and that’s a line that’s 18-28 km from Tokyo Station, roughly similar to the distance range from Hauptbahnhof to the Outer Ring (11 km in Lichtenberg, 20-27 km in all other directions). But then Tokyo is vast, and the development intensity near Nishi-Kokubunji, Minami-Urawa, and Shin-Matsudo looks more comparable to that around the major stations on the Ring than to that around the Outer Ring. Nishi-Kokubunji and Shin-Matsudo have about the same ridership as the busiest U-Bahn station, Alexanderplatz, and Minami-Urawa has twice that ridership. And this is even while missing the busiest nearby JR stations, i.e. Kokubunji, Urawa, and either Matsudo or Kashiwa.

      I should probably preface my regional rail network design posts, especially the ones that talk about the suburbs and timed connections, by saying that even though everyone thinks I’m secretly talking about New York, I’m actually secretly talking about Boston. The rules are different in cities where individual two-track lines have comparable ridership to the entire S-Bahn. In New York, a circle at 20-somthing km from Midtown would connect Yonkers, New Rochelle, Floral Park, Valley Stream, JFK, Coney Island, EWR, the Oranges, and Paterson, and could get pretty decent ridership. The problem is that the entire ROW would have to be carved out, with two river crossings.

      • adirondacker12800

        would connect Yonkers, New Rochelle, Floral Park, Valley Stream, JFK, Coney Island, EWR, the Oranges, and Paterson. and could get pretty decent ridership.

        No it wouldn’t. I lived in Newark or it’s immediate suburbs most of my life and I’ve been to Paterson a few times. I’ve passed through Yonkers, New Rochelle and Valley Stream. On a train going to Manhattan or on a limited access highway but I’ve never been in any of them. There isn’t a lot of compelling destination out there.

          • Alon Levy

            The plan people in my mentions on Twitter talked about was to follow I-287 to connect White Plains and Tarrytown.

          • adirondacker12800

            You have to check the American Community Survey. Westchester isn’t a big work destination for Rockland. Westchester is vaguely aware that there is something on the western end of the bridge. For ease, and in nice round numbers, Wikipeka say I-287 runs from the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 in Edison New Jersey to Mahwah and the border with New York. For 67 miles or 108 kilometers. It’s 18 miles or 29 kilometers from the state line to Tarrytown and 24 miles or 39 kilometers to White Plains, And 31 miles or 50 kilometers to the interchange with the New England Thruway/I-95. 6 miles out of 98 is very ring-y. And the people who work in Tarrytown don’t all live in White Plains or vice versa.There isn’t a whole lot of demand. And I-287 is stereotypiclal-ish edge city not someplace amenable to walking to and from the train station. Take their crayons away.

          • adirondacker12800

            Go ahead, tell me what compelling destinations there are in Paterson. That makes me want to go there from New Rochelle. Finagle it right the Penn Station Access train that stops in New Rochelle could be the one that goes to Ridgewood or even Suffern and they don’t need a train that goes through Yonkers to get there. Screws the people who want to go to EWR but that’s life. They just have to take Amtrak like they already can.

      • Paul

        A suburban Hudson crossing would also have value as redundancy for a part of the Northeast Corridor and as a freight connection south of Albany. I don’t know that either of these uses would justify an expensive bridge or tunnel on their own, but if its main purpose is regional rail then they certainly represent side benefits. Alon, I think you’ve written before that no conceivable Northeast Corridor service would skip New York Penn but what I have in mind is the nightmare scenario where either the Portal Bridge or the North River Tunnels fail before their replacements come online. Given current levels of political foot-dragging, that looks increasingly likely.

        • R. W. Rynerson

          Given current levels of foot-dragging regarding trans-Hudson projects I would recommend investing in ferry boat stocks. This is one of those local issues that has national import, but it seems to waiting to be introduced to the rest of the country as a disaster.

    • Frederick

      Fuchu-Honmachi is also connected to the Nambu line, which goes from the western suburbs of Tokyo to Yokohama. So it’s a bit longer than a half-circle.

      • Andrew in Ezo

        Yes, but the Musashino Line trains terminate at Fuchu-Honmachi though, and requires climbing stairs and traversing a concourse to get to the widely separated up/down direction Nambu Line platforms, so no cross-platform transfer convenience.

    • Tonami Playman

      The Tobu Noda line is also slightly further from the Musashino line about 30km from Tokyo station, though it does not quite make a circle. It too has an 8 – 10 minute frequency and has decent ridership(higher than BART). Tokyo might be one of the few cities that can sustain such high ridership that far out of the city.

  5. michaelrjames

    I have no issue with this analysis under its assumptions. But how about from the point of view as a tool in urban planning, to guide the growth of certain TOD, especially in fast growing cities. Clearly any station on a radial metro line will promote development but one wants to concentrate certain kinds of activity to create size threshold autocatalytic effects. A node of radial and circumferential lines should be particularly good for creating mini-CBDs.

    Also, technology has greatly improved likely performance, for example full automation (such as Paris’ M15 orbital) will allow higher frequency operation and better operation outside of peak hours with little cost penalty, plus allowing higher speeds with shorter headways.

    Are the growing mega-cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Delhi, even Moscow, planning orbitals like this? Australia’s two 5m+ giant sprawled cities have crayon plans (eg. ’Melbourne Loop’) but timetables of “implementation” to beyond 2050 (in other words, plans not to build it).
    It’s expensive and I suppose more focus on radials wins on a short-term perspective …

    • Tonami Playman

      I don’t see any planned orbitals in any of those cities. Shanghai is building outer tangental lines (Lines 15,18,20, and 21) but no outer loops. New Delhi could use an outer orbital connecting Gurgaon, Faridabad, Noida, and Ghaziabad once it’s core network is complete, but no plans that I’m aware of either.

      Tokyo seems do have done a good job of rapidly building residential development around the stations on both the Musashino and the Tobu Noda line once they started getting passenger priority in the Musashino’s case and full elimination of freight in the Noda line’s case.

      • Eric2

        There are plans for a Gurgaon-Faridabad line. The bottom of the image lists some additional similar projects.

        • Tonami Playman

          Nice, thanks for the link Eric2. Hopefully they plan on future extensions to the west and east of the line and not make the end stations dead ends.

    • Alon Levy

      M15 is at a radius of 8-10 km from Les Halles, rather than 20-25 km like the Musashino Line or most of the Berlin Outer Ring. And on Twitter people have been discussing a New York line at radius 35 km in my mentions.

      I haven’t seen plans for entirely greenfield circles in Beijing and Shanghai. Moscow has the Big Circle Line, but it’s M15-size, not Outer Ring-size.

      • adirondacker12800

        …35 km…. The only thing I’ve ever contemplated is Suffern to Rye. So I went and dug out a then current American Community Survey. There isn’t much demand. Then considered the trip-to-work. The origins and destinations are too diffuse. People don’t live at the station so there would have to be a bus. And the jobs aren’t at the station so there there would have to be a bus. It’s a three seat ride and people who own cars will drive. People who don’t own cars will look for work locally or in Manhattan. They have to put down the crayons.

      • michaelrjames

        Right. But what I am getting at is pre-emptive urban planning. M15 and these others are being built long after the urbanisation is over other than a bit of further densification. And only when the pressure on both the central Metro and RER, and on the road networks has become beyond intense. That is to say, entirely reactive rather than proactive planning. This is beyond just promoting certain sites as desirable TOD and in most cases seems as driven by the aim of reducing peak hour pressure on the centre of converging radial lines. Incidentally the desire to avoid such central choke points (like Chatelet in Paris) will cause some to use M15 rather than travel into the centre and back out even if that might look more “efficient”. An inner-ring orbital like M15 provides this function to those further out too, though it turns most journeys into three-seat rides which becomes considerably less attractive.
        I am surprised if such a strategy isn’t being applied in Shanghai but then I can’t really tell. Their master plan is based on 9 subsidiary cities ‘orbiting’ the main core and one would think linking them by an orbital line(s) would be necessary if only to take pressure off the centre. Perhaps it is being done but by regional rail which doesn’t show up in the Metro maps/plans? Also Shanghai (and Beijing) seems to suffer from very large number of stations on metro lines which is part of their strategy of making all parts of the megacity no further than 600m from a station, but it must make travel from the outer regions very slow. One might have expected to see this kind of thing in Shanghai (and Beijing or other Chinese megacities) and Moscow because their explosive growth is recent compared to the likes of Tokyo, Paris, London or NYC where the bones of urbanisation are long established.

        • Alon Levy

          It’s China, what regional rail?

          Shanghai would be wise to build an orbital like what you’re proposing – it’s huge and atypically dense – but it isn’t, and it’s currently trying to cap its population in order to prevent the unwashed masses of Anhui from moving in and sending their children to city schools.

        • Tonami Playman

          @michaelrjames, both Shanghai and Beijing have no regional rail. It’s HSR and metro, nothing in between. And yes shanghai metro and Beijing metro are slow for long distance commutes. In Shanghai for example on Line 2, it takes 1:41 to travel 63.8km from East Xujing to Pudong Airport about 37.8km/h average speed. on Line 9,, it takes 1:44 to travel 65.6km about 37.9km/h. Compare that to Paris where on RER A it takes 1:15 to travel 65km from Poissy to Gare de Marne la Vallée – Chessy about 52km/h. In SF, BART takes 1:24 to travel 77km from Dublin Pleasanton to Milbrae about 55km/h ( and that includes a 6 minute wait for transfer at Balboa Park). In Tokyo, The Yokosuka line takes 1:23 to travel 73.3km from Kurihama to Tokyo about 53km/h. The same trip can be made on the Keikyu line with a transfer to Ueno-Tokyo line in 1:12 about 53km/h (though its shorter route of 63.6km but includes a 9min transfer at Yokohama station) Looking at these few examples, It’s taking roughly a half hour more to travel similar distances in Shanghai compared other cities with regional rail.

          And you’re right about proactively planning an outer loop for fast growing cities, but it seems no city is doing that despite an existing template.

          • Eric2

            It seems that Shanghai Line 2 is 20-30% slower than those other lines. That said, Shanghai has significantly more stops on the route, which makes it quicker to get from origin to Line 2, and from Line 2 to destination. Given that Shanghai seems to be built diffusely with few concentrated activity nodes, that tradeoff may be for the best. If eventually one of the lines becomes overcrowded, they can then build an express route in parallel to it.

          • Frederick

            When the Chinese cities first built their metros, they took inspiration from the metro in Hong Kong. The high density of stations and the lack of express train are the main features of the Hong Kong system, which is good for Hong Kong but is unsuitable to be scaled up and adopted by the larger Chinese cities.

          • Eric2

            “is unsuitable to be scaled up and adopted by the larger Chinese cities.”

            I don’t think that’s true. In NYC local stops are often 0.5km apart and express stops 2km apart. In China stops seem to be typically 1-1.5km apart. That is not really “local” by NYC standards, it’s actually closer to “express” in terms of travel time. Tonami is criticizing a line that takes 1:41 from end to end, that’s 50 minutes from either end to the center. 50 minutes is not really excessive to get from the edge of a 25 million person metro area to the center – LIRR times can be much longer. And this particular line happens to have an express line paralleling it (the maglev) for part of its length, so time conscious travelers wouldn’t sit through the full 1:41 to begin with.

          • Frederick

            Shanghai Line 2 is 64 km long, so half of it will be 32 km. Unfortunately, even the distance from the edge of Hong Kong to its CBD is longer than 32 km, let alone from the “edge of Shanghai” to Shanghai’s center! The edge of Shanghai is much farther than 32 km and that’s why Line 11 and Line 17 exist.

            Because of politics, all railway planning in China has to consider province-level concerns, sometimes even supra-provincial concerns, and these often trump regional interest. This is a significant reason why there is no conventional regional rail in China. On the other hand, there is much less restriction on a metro system, so metro systems in China often need to double as regional rail.

            And my point is, you can’t just scale up a normal metro system to a 50-60 km radius and think that it will perform well as a regional rail.

          • Eric2

            There’s no intrinsic difference between metro and regional rail. Both are (generally) grade separated rail with long trains. So the only question is average spacing between stations.

            If the average spacing allows a 50 minute ride from the line end to city center, I think that is perfectly acceptable in terms of travel time, many parts of the NYC and London regions have longer commutes. The only way to improve that 50 minutes is to remove stops along the way, which means many existing riders will no longer be able to walk to the station. That is a net negative.

          • adirondacker12800

            There’s ten tracks of passenger railroad at East New York/Broadway Junction in Brooklyn. All the the trains don’t have to make every stop between there and Downtown Brooklyn. Or Jamaica. If there is high frequency service to the center 50 km out chances are good it will need more than two tracks. There can be local and express service.

          • michaelrjames

            Multitracking for metro service appears to be quite rare in the world. Clearly Manhattan is special, I assume relating to its geography of being very long but quite thin (and having very wide streets used in cut-and-cover construction). An equivalent would be passing loops allowing some trains to be express for some stations but apparently Shanghai has only one or two lines with any of those. Instead they have trains that only serve part of the full route but that only relieves congestion issues and not the intrinsic problem of very slow trains on their long routes out in the suburbs. In lieu of the extremely expensive and disruptive duplication of lines, can one have a system of alternate trains stopping at every second station, with all trains stopping at, say, every 6th station? Or do trains inevitably bunch behind each other and thus defeat the purpose? Does it limit the tph too much to be useful? This would have the additional benefit of allow designation of major nodes and thus TOD or subsidiary CBDs etc.

          • adirondacker12800

            Multitracking for metro service appears to be quite rare in the world. Clearly Manhattan is special,

            The French didn’t ask you and went and built the RER instead of extending Metro lines.
            There bit over 20 blocks of six tracks under Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. A long stretch under Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and short stretch of the Fulton Street line in Downtown Brooklyn has six tracks, two of them aren’t used regularly.
            Local service on the Queens Blvd line, stops at Forest Hills. There are four tracks all the way out to Jamaica. One of the express trains runs local and the other one runs express east of Forest Hills. It’s a few blocks away from the Forest HIlls Long Island Railroad station. Wikipedia says the Forest Hills LIRR station is 10.8 km from Penn Station in Manhattan. The subway ends at Jamaica. The LIRR station is 15 km from Penn Station. There’s four tracks of LIRR to just past the city’s border, in Floral Park 24 km from Penn Station. People in Nassau and Suffolk don’t need to stop every ten blocks in Queens. The people in Queens are filling up the trains that stop every ten blocks. People from Connecticut don’t have to stop every ten blocks in the Bronx…. there can be local and express service. Or you have to figure out how to put 90 trains an hour on a track.

          • Alon Levy

            Multitracking for metro service appears to be quite rare in the world. Clearly Manhattan is special

            It is, but this became part of the American way of building rapid transit, so there are four-track lines in Philadelphia and Chicago too. London has two short four-track segments (District local, Picc express; Jubilee local, Met express), but I think they’re both historically mainline rail that got converted to pure Tube operation? In mainline service you see more four-tracking: Seoul Subway Line 1, Berlin Stadtbahn, 60926022.5 different JR and private lines in Tokyo, a bunch of RER lines, most London commuter lines.

          • yuuka

            Peking has regional rail (Beijing Suburban Railway), but it’s being run by CR and so has all the trappings of Poohism like security checks at stations. Otherwise, I generally agree that many Chinese cities exhibit loads of cultural cringe towards the MTR, down even to things like signage (though props to Chongqing for hiring JR East design consultants and actually doing something different).

            In any case, it’s probably simpler to think of the really long Chinese metro lines as something like Seoul line 1 or maybe even BART, with a “regional” component providing through service to the “metro” component, albeit both branded the same and with the characteristics of a subway. Seoul and Tokyo avoid some of the issues this presents by specifying the subway trains to be faster, like 120-130kph or so. Even Hong Kong is also expecting 130kph regional rail trains to run at 80-90kph inside the subway section of the Shatin to Central Link.

            So you *can* extend a metro line to 50-60km out and expect it to act like regional rail, though for some reason they just don’t in China. As for seating, Japan and Korea are perfectly OK with longitudinal seating that far out, but for some reason that hasn’t taken off in China with the Line 16 trains still using transverse seating like American commuter railroads.

          • Tonami Playman

            But does the Beijing Suburban Railway count since it’s peak service is hourly and you are better off justing riding the slow subway than using the suburban railway as an express. Also does the entire Beijing subway not have security theater? I remember the seeing images of long queues of commuters waiting to go through screening in rush hour outside of stations especially suburban ones. Those large crowds make perfect targets for bombing with maximum casualties. Maybe they should screen everyone before they leave their homes so they don’t bring explosives to the crowds before the final screening to enter the station.

          • michaelrjames

            As for seating, Japan and Korea are perfectly OK with longitudinal seating that far out, but for some reason that hasn’t taken off in China with the Line 16 trains still using transverse seating like American commuter railroads.

            Have you rode longitudinal seating for 5km let alone 50km? It’s terrible. You end up all tensed up because there is no way to relax, especially if most seats are filled. The only people who ‘like’ such seating are the econocrat designers who want to squeeze as many as possible into those tin cans. Fair enough for short-ride inner city Metro but not for longer journeys.

            And there’s far worse models to follow than the MTR. Even if it isn’t a model for regional rail, pretty sure it has transverse seating on the 30km Tung Chung line (but admit I’m having trouble remembering) and certainly on the 34km airport express. Also, all of the route is above ground and quite interesting to see but longitudinal seating gives you the worst possible view. These are the reasons why Paris-RER, BART, LIRR, London commuter rail beyond LU and any that involve long journeys have transverse seating. While some of these lines may suffer some inefficiencies and discomfort in their very centres, I’d bet it would be more than offset if one calculated pax-km for the whole line.

            Moreover, when a line begins approaching saturation and levels of poor function (eg. in dwell times to cope with crowding & egress times etc) then the solution is not ‘cleverer’ ways of squeezing more pax into existing trains–or forcing 100% of pax to stand even over 50km routes. Simply it is the signal, loud and clear, that the line and network needs serious work. The most commuter crowded line outside Asia is RER-A in Paris (with >300m pa) and it remains stressed despite upgrading the trains and their designs, signalling and platform-aligned doors etc. The only solution worth talking about–ie. not the ones that talk about getting rid of transverse seating or duplex trains–are network solutions, and those are nearing completion via RER-E western extension, M14 northern extension, M15 orbital, M1 improvements (new auto trains, platform-aligned doors etc) and likely western extension. How Shanghai and the other Chinese mega-cities solve their problems I don’t know but it won’t be helped by forcing pax to stand for 50km (or 10). I don’t suppose their tunnels can take duplex trains? It seems entirely weird that the Chinese went ahead and built a massive set of metro systems that had built-in problems that were bound to manifest themselves sooner rather than later.

          • R. W. Rynerson

            In preparation for some large orders of buses in Edmonton we surveyed passengers as to which type, longitudinal or transverse, they preferred. (This was on urban local lines.) As I recall about 80% favored forward-facing and 20% favored center-facing. What may be relevant here is that there was a correlation with the length of their trip. Center-facing, one lady asserted, made it easier to get out at a stop coming up soon. With our 1982 trolley coaches we ordered 2-1 front-facing seats ahead of the rear door and that worked out well for high-turnover routes.

            The Denver “S-Bahn” commuter rail emu’s have 3-2 seating on each end and 2-2 seating between the two doors. The 2-2 seating makes an aisle big enough for mobility aids, but it also helps general circulation. I’ve observed that as usual in 3-2, the middle seat of 3 is wasted space.

          • michaelrjames

            @R. W. Rynerson

            In fact, those 20% weren’t strictly choosing longitudinal seating but rather a location on the bus, ie. closest to the exit, and also designed to take prams and wheelchairs. My top choice is the solo (but extra wide) seat facing the front windscreen of the bus (to the side of the driver, directly behind the front steps and in front of those longitudinal seats which in our buses are strapontin).
            Re the 3+2 arrangement, the better non-wasteful arrangement is on some duplex RERs where the ‘extra’ (5th) seat is a strapontin type that folds down into the aisle and which will always be the last seat occupied, ie. by natural inclination of the pax. As I have noted before, the 8 strapontin seats in each foyer/vestibule of Paris Metro & RER trains is a good idea. Good if you’re only going a few stops, whereas in peak times they are not used thus liberating more standing room for the crowds. Apparently London CrossRail carriages will have groups of 3 side-by-side seats of this type, ie. fold-down/strapontin.

            Re the Tung Chung MTR, I remain unconvinced, ie. by the real need for that arrangement (link below); doesn’t it look utterly uninviting with only the two end seats of those groups of 6 being desirable. I am also still not sure if it didn’t have transverse seating when I last (probably) used it, which is when I stayed at a friend’s apartment at Tung Chung. That was 2007 (13 years ago already!) and it turns out the same year that they replaced the 7-car trains with the current-design 8-car trains. The earlier trains were identical to the Airport Express trains (which is 100% transverse) though can’t be absolutely certain about seat arrangement on the TC train back then. The thing is that the line is only moderately busy, approx. 60m p.a. which is a quarter of Paris-M1 (whose new trains retain plenty of transverse seating in 2+1 arrangement). It may be acceptable because though the line is 30km it is fast as there are only 8 stations and a 10km non-stop stretch on Lantau Island. Still, I’d bet they only really get crowded for a tiny bit of each day at peak. Oh, and they are forced to crowd trains more than should be necessary because, for unclear reasons, the Tsing Ma bridge has only a single track each direction which must be shared between the Airport and TC line. (The whole 40m-wide lower deck of the bridge is for trains only (I’m pretty sure) so this limitation seems illogical, unless because it is the longest suspension bridge carrying rail it has a weight/stability issue?)

            BTW, just to be clear, in my discussions I am not doubting that the longitudinal arrangement can hold more people. Just that I believe the design should be a balance between planners’ desires and pax comfort, especially as peak crush times are only a fraction of a train’s use. IMO, the Paris 2+2 or 2+1 Metro arrangement or the RER duplex arrangements achieve this balance with barely any serious compromise on carrying capacity or performance.

          • adirondacker12800

            Part 2 Multitracking for metro service appears to be quite rare in the world. Clearly Manhattan is special,

            Forgot all about DeKalb Avenue which has two island platforms and four tracks of trains that stop and two tracks that don’t stop there. With an extra two more for a short stretch south of the station.

            And for a few short blocks south of the six track section of Sixth Avenue, in Manhattan, the four tracked 8th Avenue lines are running above the four tracks of the Sixth Avenue lines.

          • yuuka

            @Tonami Playman that’s exactly what I was getting at with “Poohism”, or control over security. In general it’s very pervasive in the PRC from what I see, and Russia also has such security theater too, so it sounds like a relic of communism to me (though it obviously didn’t stop the St Petersburg metro bomber)

            @michaelrjames the Tung Chung line is fully longitudinal seating. On the KCR, the old East Rail trains have some transverse seating in standard class but those are also due for replacement any day now. If you insist, a mix of standard class and “business class” like Shenzhen line 11 and JR’s green cars could work, but if trains are making all stops anyway you pay only for the seat.

            I went and checked, anyway – Shanghai line 17, which fits pretty well the definition of regional rail with high(er) speeds and long average interstations, operates five-door cars with fully longitudinal seating throughout. In this aspect line 16 may well be the exception and not the norm.

          • Frederick

            @R. W. Rynerson

            One difference between a bus and a train is that a bus can accelerate much faster than a train, so a bus with longitudinal seats is much more likely to throw a passenger (or at least their belongings) towards another passenger. I think one shouldn’t use longitudinal seats on buses unless there is no other choice.

    • Herbert

      Berlin is unlikely to undermine its own tax base by strengthening development along the outer ring which is mostly in Brandenburg. Plus the (theoretically at least) official plan calls for star shaped development

    • R. W. Rynerson

      In 1999 and still true today, Chicago has missed connections due to the history of often competing lines. To an outsider it would seem that tackling those should happen first. I discussed this years ago with a Chicago RTA colleague and learned that he and some others recognized that, but it wasn’t a high priority for funding at the political level.

  6. SB

    Suin Line in Korea connects Suwon and Incheon and forms outer circumferential lines for Greater Seoul Area.
    It is set to fully open in this September.
    Interestingly it is planned to have through running with radial Bundang line and share tracks with part of line 4.
    Currently it has 15 minutes frequency but I don’t know if frequency will increase with through running.

      • Matthew Hutton

        Well really it’s connecting Oxford, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury, Bedford and Cambridge. So basically connecting a bunch of outer London commuter towns (which are far enough out they are their own centres) and of course Oxford and Cambridge universities. And from Oxford you can take cross country trains to Southampton via Reading and Basingstoke and Greater Anglia trains from Cambridge to Ipswich.

        • michaelrjames

          IIRC, that is on a disused Victorian-era ROW that has been converted into a much-loved walking trail that connects Oxford to Cambridge. I can’t imagine they are liking the idea of it reverting to rail.
          In these times of Covid, some kind of deja vu here because Cambridge was created (as the second seat of learning) during one of the black plagues when Oxford was evacuated and they decamped to Cambridge for a year or two (this included Isaac Newton, supposedly giving his brain more free time for thinking, so the story goes).

  7. Pingback: More on Suburban Circles | Pedestrian Observations

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