Commuter Rail Express Service Best Practices

After my last post on poor timetabling in the New York area, I got a lot of feedback comparing New York’s zonal system with existing high-quality commuter rail networks. Some of it was in comments, but most interesting was a post by the pseudonymous socialist Emil Seidel, who compares the situation in New York with that of Munich.

I’m going to go over some best practices here – this is not intended as a highlight of poor American practices. That said, because of the application to New York, I’m going to go over Paris and Tokyo, as they’re both very large cities, in addition to cleaner German examples, including Berlin (where I live), Nuremberg (where Herbert in comments lives and where a Twitter commenter pointed out express service), and finally Emil’s example of Munich.

The upshot is that yes, commuter trains do often have express service, and it’s common for the express service to run local on an outer segment and then express closer in. However, this is not really the New York zone theory. Most importantly, high-quality local service always comes first, and everything else is an overlay. This is common to all of the examples we will look at, and is the most fundamental fact of commuter rail: S-Bahn service is urban rail on mainline tracks.

Infrastructure for local trains

Local service always comes first, ahead of any longer-range regional service. This can be readily seen in infrastructure allocation: in all examples I know of in the German-speaking world, Paris, and Tokyo, when there’s scarce infrastructure built for through-service, local trains get it ahead of longer-range regional ones.

  • In Paris, the RER is defined as what runs through on newly-built tunnels, whereas Transilien service terminates at one of the historic terminals of Paris. This distinction is fundamental and precedes other distinctions, such as frequency – there are sections of Transilien H, J, and L that have higher frequency than some RER branches. And where the two systems run side-by-side, the RER is the more local one.
  • In Germany, newly-built tunnels are for S-Bahn service. For example, in Munich, the S-Bahn gets to use the tunnel, while other trains terminate on the surface; this is also the case in Frankfurt, Stuttgart (until the upcoming Stuttgart 21), and Berlin (until the North-South Main Line opened).
  • In Zurich, there are two through-tunnels under Hauptbahnhof. The older one is used principally by the S-Bahn; the newer one is used by the S-Bahn as well as longer-distance trains. But many long-distance trains stay on the surface.
  • In Tokyo, local commuter trains get preference in JR through-running. The original set of through-tracks at Tokyo Station was used for local trains on the Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku Line, while faster, longer-distance regional trains were demoted, and through-running ceased entirely when the Shinkansen took their space in the 1990s. Regional trains only resumed through-running when the Ueno-Tokyo Line opened in 2015. The Shinkansen’s use of space over regional train is justified because it serves large secondary cities in the Tohoku region and not just suburbs.

Timetabling for local trains

Local trains are also the most important priority for high frequency. In all of the five example cities for this post, local frequency is high, even on branches. In Tokyo and Paris, the trunks don’t really run on takts; Japan and France overall have less rigid takts than Germany but do have off-peak takt patterns, it’s just not very important to passengers when a train on the RER A or the Chuo Line comes every 4-5 minutes off-peak.

Elsewhere, there are takts. There are also takts on the branches in Paris. Typical frequencies are a train every 10, 15, or 20 minutes; they may be lower on outer branches, especially ones that are operationally half-branches, i.e. branches of branches like the two halves of S1 and S2 in Munich. All of this depends on city size; Berlin is bigger than Munich, which is bigger than Nuremberg.

  • In Berlin, S-Bahn branches run every 10 or 20 minutes, but the ones running every 10 usually have short-turning variants, so the outer portions only get 20-minute service. The outer ends of 10-minute service – Spandau, Buch, Frohnau, Friedrichshagen, Teltow Stadt, Grünau – tend to be 15-18 km from the center, but one, Potsdam, is almost 30 km out.
  • In Munich, S-Bahn branches likewise run every 10 or 20 minutes at rush hour, with some tails that have ugly 40-minute headways. Off-peak, the numbered branches run every 20 minutes.
  • In Nuremberg, frequency is weaker, as it is a small city. But S2 has a 20-minute takt up to Schwabach, about 15 km out.

Let us now compare larger cities. Just as Berlin has higher frequency at a given radius than Munich and Nuremberg, so does Paris have even higher frequency, and Tokyo yet higher. On the RER A, branches run every 10 minutes all day; Marne-la-Vallée, home to Disneyland Paris as well as a suburban office park, sees trains every 10 minutes off-peak, 37 km outside city center. At the other end, Cergy sees a train every 10 minutes all day at similar distance, and at rush hour this rises to 5 minutes, but half the trains run on Transilien L rather than the RER.

Some of these Parisian RER trains run express. The RER B, off-peak, has a pattern with three services, each running every 15 minutes: at each end these go minor branch (Robinson or Mitry-Claye), major branch express (major stops to Massy and then local to Saint-Rémy or nonstop to CDG), major branch local (local to Massy or CDG). So yes, nonstop trains exist, in the special context of an airport, but local trains still run every 15 minutes as far as 20-30 km from city center. At rush hour, frequencies rise and there’s no more room for express trains to the north, so trains run every 6 minutes to each of CDG or Mitry, all local: local service always comes first.

Tokyo has even higher local frequency. Rapid lines tend to have their own dedicated pair of tracks, there is so much traffic. For example, the Chuo Line has four tracks to Mitaka: the local tracks carry the Chuo-Sobu Line, and the express tracks carry the Chuo Rapid Line farther out. Both patterns are very frequent.

What Tokyo does have is a melange of express services with names like Special Rapid, Limited Express, or Liner. However, they are timetabled around the local services, or the regular rapid ones if there’s a rapid track pair as on Chuo, even in environments with competition between private railways for commuter traffic. The Chuo Rapid Line’s basic pattern, the vanilla rapid, runs irregularly every 3-8 minutes off-peak, with Special Rapid trains making limited stops timetabled around those, with timed overtakes at major stations. Thus frequency stays very high even as far out as Tachikawa, 37.5 km from Tokyo Station. Moreover, at rush hour, where frequency is denser, there is less, sometimes no, special express service.

Timetabling for express trains

All of our five example cities have express trains. In Berlin, Munich, and Nuremberg, they’re branded as RegionalBahn, distinct from the S-Bahn. In Paris, some RER trains run express, but mostly Transilien provides extra express service. In Tokyo, it’s all branded as part of the Kanto area commuter rail network. This is the core of Emil’s argument: express service exists in Germany, but has separate branding.

Nonetheless, there are best practices for how to do this. In Jarrett Walker’s bus-based terminology, it is better to run limited, that is make major stops, than to run express, that is have long nonstop sections from outer areas to city center. Sometimes patterns are somewhat of a hybrid, like on some New York subway lines, but the basic principle is that regional trains never skip major stations.

  • In Berlin, the Stadtbahn, built in the 1880s, has four tracks, two dedicated to local S-Bahn trains and two to everything else. Intercity trains on the Stadtbahn only stop at Hauptbahnhof and Ostbahnhof, but regional trains make roughly every other S-Bahn stop. Elsewhere, some stations are never missed, like Lichtenberg and Wannsee. Note also that as in Paris, Berlin likes its airport express service, branded FEX, which skips the RegionalBahn station and S-Bahn branch point Schöneweide.
  • In Munich, some RegionalBahn services express from the S-Bahn terminal, where they always stop, to Hauptbahnhof; some also make a few stops on the way. It depends on the line – Dachau and Laim are both popular RegionalBahn stops.
  • In Nuremberg, I encourage people to look at the map. Express trains abound, at fairly high frequency, each named service running hourly, and they always make certain major stations like Erlangen and Fürth.

The stopping pattern can be more local once there’s no S-Bahn, but it’s not really local. For example, at both ends of Berlin’s RE 1, a half-hourly regional line between Brandenburg an der Havel and Frankfurt an der Oder with half the trains continuing west to Magdeburg and south awkwardly to Cottbus, there are stops spaced 7-10 km apart between the built-up area of Berlin-Potsdam and those of Brandenburg and Frankfurt.

In Paris and Tokyo, similarly, express trains stop at major stations. The RER B’s express pattern does run nonstop between Gare du Nord and CDG, but to the south of Paris, it makes major stops like Bourg-la-Reine rather than trying to run nonstop from Massy to Paris; moreover, the RER trains make all stops within the city core, even neighborhood stops like Cité-Universitaire or Nation. Tokyo’s Special Rapids likewise stop at major stations like Kokubunji, and don’t run nonstop from outer suburban branches to Shinjuku and Tokyo.

What this means for New York

New York does not run its commuter rail in the above way. Not even close. First, local frequency is weak. The pre-corona timetables of the New Haven and Harlem Lines have 30-40 minute gaps at rush hour at radii where Berlin still has some 10-minute service. Off-peak the schedule is more regular but still only half-hourly. Hourly S-Bahn systems exist, for example in Mannheim, but those are mocked by German railfans as not real S-Bahns but barely upgraded regional rail systems using the term S-Bahn for marketing.

And second, express trains are not designed to provide an express overlay on top of local trains with transfers where appropriate. When they’re zoned, they only make a handful of stops at rush hour and then express, often without overlapping the next zone for a transfer. This is the case even where the infrastructure is a four-track line set up for more normal express service: the Hudson Line is set up so that Ossining, Tarrytown, and Yonkers have express platforms, but its timetable largely ignores that in favor of long nonstops, with 20-minute gaps at Yonkers.

In the future, it is critical to focus on a high-quality local takt, with frequency depending on city size. In Boston, a Berlin-size city, the TransitMatters plan calls for a 15-minute takt, sometimes 10 minutes, generally as far out as 20-30 km. But New York is a larger city, and needs 5 minutes within the city and 10 well into suburbia, with a strong local schedule that express trains can go around if appropriate. S-Bahn service, by whatever name or brand it has, is always about using mainline infrastructure to operate urban rail and extend the city into the suburbs.

72 comments

  1. Eric2

    What is the difference between “takt” and “clockface schedule”? If they are effectively the same, I think the latter would be better to use, as it’s more comprehensible to the average English speaker.

    • Alon Levy

      I think of a clockface schedule as the concept, translating the German word Taktfahrplan, and a takt as the basic interval between trains in that concept. So the Berlin S-Bahn runs on a clockface schedule with a 20-minute takt on most branches and a 10-minute takt on overlays and overlaps.

      • TransportCzar

        I use the term clockface schedule to refer to the basic line scheduling practice (e.g., departures at 17, 37, and 57 past the hour), and refer to “takt” in the context of integrated network planning (e.g., a “pulse” network, where all routes run every 20 minutes with timed connections). I usually see “headway” when referring to the interval between trains.

      • TheKorot

        I would suppose that a :05; :20 & :45 departure schedule is technically clock-fase, but not takt (15, 25 & 20 min intervals)

        • Herbert

          In which case S1 of the Nuremberg S-Bahn doesn’t run to a takt because it has 40 and 20 minute intervals

          • Henry Miller

            If from a less frequent takt you can get to any other train then I’d qualify it a a takt. If there is any connection that you can’t make though, then it isn’t. Note that mussing a connection because the stop time isn’t long enough for your slow legs to walk then it isn’t a takt. (This is personal of course, some people walk slow )

          • Herbert

            Connection times should take the elderly those with strollers the mobility impaired and the otherwise encumbered into account

      • Tiercelet

        So “takt” just means “frequency” or “interval”? i.e. “a 20-minute takt” means exactly the same as “every 20 minutes,” “at 20-minute frequency,” or “on 20-minute intervals”? I think that’s right but googling didn’t really turn up a clear and straightforward definition, since most of the hits are about the use of the word in manufacturing, which isn’t a perfect parallel.

        I love this blog and have learned a great deal since becoming a regular reader a couple months ago, but I’ve had a bear of a time following some of the arguments because of the jargon. I agree with Eric2 that the arguments would be more accessible–and thus persuasive–for a general audience if that were reduced.

        • Herbert

          Jargon is unavoidable for any sufficiently advanced discussion of any given subject.

          • Richard Mlynarik

            The thing is that it’s a foreign concept (in several senses of “foreign”) and English doesn’t have a good word for it and English is utterly promiscuous about adopting words … so why not use a good foreign word for this good foreign concept?

            “Pulse”, “beat”, “clockface”, “regular-interval” … they don’t quite do it. So why not take a concise and perfectly good word, widely used, and with a pretty clear meaning in the field? (“Taktverkehr” even beats the combination of “trafic cadencé”, “horaire cadencé” , “trafic à intervalles réguliers”, etc.)

            I’ll concede that “Integraler Taktfahrplan” might be a bit hard to take in one dose, but you can manage “Takt”, no problem.

          • Eric2

            Transit isn’t just “an academic field”. To implement a transit policy, you don’t just have to convince other experts, you have to convince the policymakers and population at large. To do that successfully, you need to work very hard to minimize the amount of jargon. There’s a limit to how much jargon you can teach the general population before they tune out you and your ideas, and it’s a very very low limit.

          • Herbert

            ITF is a foreign concept to Americans anyway. So you’ll need to explain it anyway. And if you need to explain it, why call it by some pseudo English term instead of one already in widespread use?

          • Tiercelet

            I fully acknowledge the utility and necessity of precise language for technical discussions (I work in a technical field myself). But “trains should come every 20 minutes” is not exactly quantum physics or a finely detailed theological point.

            I’m just saying this is a blog, not a whitepaper; a blog author can neither assume that the audience is well-versed in the field nor that they’ll have read all the previous posts.

          • Tiercelet

            In re Richard Mlynarik’s point that English regularly acquires foreign vocabulary–yes, of course. But this particular term is *not* in wide use–or rather, even worse, it has a pretty clear meaning among railfans in *this* field, but an adjacent-but-mostly-distinct meaning in *other* fields, and unfortunately those other fields are what come up when you Google “takt” or “takt time”–you get the IEOR definition, which seems to be something about just-in-time manufacturing, or adjusting product assembly time to meet demand. Even googling “Takt transit” reverts to: a) takt time (IEOR definition), b) clock-face scheduling (which you’re saying is not even the right definition; and I’d agree assuming the takt and 60 are relative primes), c) a post from this blog, and then d) a couple songs by a band called Takt. Even the search “what does takt mean for trains” gives you clock-face scheduling (again, a definition you just said is wrong!) and then a bunch of Lean, Six Sigma, etc. business.

            My point is only that it would go a long way both to improving the accessibility of the general-audience posts and to increasing the widespread English-language adoption of this particular term to throw in a little parenthetical “(i.e. every 20 minutes)” the first time it appears in a post.

  2. Phake Nick

    >Limited vs non-stop express for bus
    From experience on buses in Hong Kong, the non-stop express option is usually much more attractive and sustainable than limited-stop routes.
    Unlike what the blogpost claim, most non-stop express bus in Hong Kong which travel directly from a region A to region B, are able to attract sufficient demand all-day, sometimes even expanded into operating all-night service past midnight, as it can get passengers from different regions directly to all the other regions, either directly or with a convenient transfer at key region or interchange center. Even for further out smaller satellite town, where demand are dominated by commuter traffic, their express routes are still capable of attracting enough demand to operate from like 5am to 8pm inbound into city center, and 10am to 1am outbound back to those satellite town.
    On the other hand, there’re only very few limited-stop bus routes in Hong Kong nowadays, with most of those examples serving only a few special frequencies, and only present because there is a lack of parallel uncongested highway for the bus to bypass traffic, like KMB route 6X, 33, X42C, 290, and NWFB route 30X, in addition to a number of holiday leisure bus routes serving countryside. Many of these routes can only sustain a 20/30 minutes headway frequency, or even only operates in peak hour, and still have less passengers than other bus routes in general despite they might stem from high demand routes.
    ——–
    When applying this to commuter railway, I see it as what is necessary being the rail equivalent to highway for railway, aka construction of express rail corridor where the demand can justify, probably similar to Seoul’s plan to construct GTX. But I am not aware of much similar examples already in operation around the world. The GTX project itself pointed to London’s Crossrail as example but I am not familiar with its system either. Anyone know more about them or other similar projects around the world?

    • borners

      GTX draws on RER, Crossrail and the Tsukuba Express (that’s where the TX comes from). Its a logical extension for a rich 20 million megacity that has close to the best construction costs, lacks a pre-car legacy system and has already built through-running subways galore and a high-speed network (albeit with fiddly terminal stations).

      High-speed rail does this function “railway highway” function already. We know that the Shinkansen overperforms Alon’s gravity model in the Tokyo peripheries (Utsunomiya, Odawara etc) despite the cost, the Omiya-Ueno speed/capacity bottleneck and lack of through-running at Tokyo station. And it certainly helps explain Taiwan’s HSR ridership numbers. I don’t know if the Koreans are thinking that way, the speeds look similar to the express Tsukuba express trains adjusting for TX being stuck with narrow guage limitations.

      What interests me is that GTX’s lines have very few stations compared to those three acknowledged influences. Although it makes sense given Seoul’s geography of a hyperdense core, a powerful-port-city and a nucleated belt separated by greenbelt/mountains.

      • Phake Nick

        I thought GTX’s name came from KTX, with G initially stand for the name of the province around Seoul.

        High speed railway typically perform the function of “railway highway” between different cities, but not inside the same city.

        • Luke

          That’s correct; I’ve seen it written out alternately “Gyeonggi Train Express” and “Great Train Express”. Vis a vis terminal stations in Seoul, the only true terminal is Suseo and that’s going to change with the completion of the GTX A line expected to at least provide the possibility of through-running of the KTX to Cheongnyangni, and eventually to Uijeongbu (and hypothetically to Wonsan and northeastern North Korea in the distant future), even if current plans for the Yeongdong transfer center in Gangnam don’t include that. Every other station with KTX service has through- service, if not on a dedicated line.

          • Phake Nick

            The name “Great Train Express” was something came up later trying to wash away the Gyeonggi-centric name, but it’s not a good name and thus didn’t gain much traction.
            As for using GTX tunnel for KTX through running, I wonder how realistic is such new commuter rail dual use plan with the failure of through running with Sinansan Line due to the extra cost of making the line compatible with KTX trains in mind.

    • Herbert

      Many express buses run on a different route compared to their non-express brethren

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, the limited vs. express distinction works differently for buses, because in Jarrett’s formulation express buses go on freeways whereas limited buses just go on the same route and make fewer stops. Best practice for buses is not to have local-limited distinctions and instead have every bus stop every 400-500 meters.

      Trains aren’t buses, and have no concept of an urban freeway, which is a fast way of getting between places but an undesirable place to locate on. Every rail corridor becomes an important destination. So the RER, for example, stops every 2-3 km within Paris, and Crossrail is similar within Central London; German S-Bahn trunks have tighter stop spacing and are not as express as the RER or Crossrail but are still somewhat more express than German U-Bahns. Tokyo is full of rapid lines making major stops at regular intervals. Occasionally there’s a few km of nonstop running, like on S7 between Westkreuz and Wannsee, or when there’s a mountain tunnel in Zurich, but it’s a small proportion of the overall length of the line.

      • Phake Nick

        Isn’t 400-500 meters still a bit too close to each others? That’s like the guideline for minimum bus stop distance in Hong Kong, although exceptions applies.

        • Eric2

          No, that’s a great distance. Buses are the most local, short-distance mode of transit, the slowest, and the most nauseating over long distances. Thus they should have closer stops than any other mode. 400-500m is pretty good because walking distance along the line to a stop is <250m, very short. For a 1km trip the walking distance is much more significant, particularly for the elderly/disabled. Faster overlay routes like trams and particularly metros can have further stops, like 1km apart.

          • Phake Nick

            I thought 400m is typical walking distance for bus passengers, and for rail it is something like 800-1000m
            And localized mobility options like minibus in HK or community buses in Japan, fulfil the role of more fine-grained and localized access to individual block than regular bus services.

          • Sascha Claus

            400-500m is pretty good because walking distance along the line to a stop is <250m, very short.

            Who walks only along a line? Many people have an additional walk orthogonal to the route, up to half the distance to the next route (if everybody always walks to the nearest route). Multiply this with the typical walking speed with shopping bags and child(ren) and try to keep transit competitive with cars, timewise and effortwise.

            And localized mobility options like minibus in HK […]

            And outside HK? Not every place has the ridership to support an additional minibus route. If the “proper” routes have additional peak frequency, these buses can be used off-peak for such stuff. But if the base service has a base route and a “localized mobility option”, you’re running headlong into Stop spacing: risks of multiple patterns (or multiple routes).

          • Phake Nick

            @Sascha Claus
            They usually connect to different destinations. And it is not just Hong Kong. Regular bus line connect to different places in a city, while minibus, or community bus in Japan, or Maeul bus in Korea, usually provide fine-grained connection among neighborhood or to nearby transportation hubs. A minibus usually carry 9-30 people depends on situation in different places or rules, while a bus usually carry 60-150 people depends on different places or vehicles. For example, because it doesn’t make sense for a regular bus route to stop too frequently and make detour, it might make one or two stop outside a community, while a minibus route can make stip at every single block in the community, or even operate with no marked stop and allow everyone to board at the part of street closest to their own home. Minibuses are usually more suitable for feeding into railway stations or local transportation hubs since their lower capacity mean they can be ran more frequently, as well as connecting to facilities like hospitals with lower demand, while regular bus routes can connect to major spots like urban center and markets and office districts and schools and shopping area and such.

        • Alon Levy

          It depends. For a bus system that mostly connects to trains (or is in a small enough city it shouldn’t be connecting to trains), 500 m is roughly the optimum.

          • Herbert

            Of course you don’t have to stop every 400-500 meters on rural roads between villages…

      • Herbert

        There are a few rail stops that are surrounded by not much. Granted, some of them on 21st century high speed lines. But by no means all

  3. borners

    Two things. 1. Is the Chuo line the right exemplar of Japanese best practice? As anonymouse observed its not completely unique in having a peak time cut-down of express services to maximize frequency, the Keio line and the Ueno-Tokyo/Shonan-Shinjuku act a lot like locals outside the Ofuna-Omiya section especially in Kanagawa. Sheer scale of West-Tokyo’s commutes plus the knarlyness of trying to intergrate Chuo-Sobu lines makes it more bespoke.

    2. In this reformed LIRR how would you make best use of legacy express 3rd tracks?

    • adirondacker12800

      The LIRR doesn’t have any branches with three tracks. They are building one but doesn’t have have any.

    • anonymouse observer

      There is, and Alon says it is a bad practice, but the reverse branching on Chuo-Sobu Local Line could be something not really avoidable due to enormous amount of passenger volumes the line was handling when the through service to Tozai Line subway was built. Because Chuo-Sobu Local Line doesn’t go to Tokyo Station and other stations in Toshin district, simply increasing the capacity would add too much pressure to other lines going to the Toshin and transfer stations, which were very overcrowded. Just to remind you, a half of Shinjuku Fukutoshin was water purification plant at that time, so the prominent core of the Tokyo was the Toshin.

      Through service to Tozai Line provides one-seat ride to Otemachi, the center of the Toshin, and reduce the risk of blowing up other lines and station facilities with additional passengers on top of already overcrowding situation.

      I guess there are other situations like this where reverse branching could be a reasonable and workable solution although it could be a bad practice in general…

      • Sascha Claus

        London’s Northern Line has a situation where it is a reasonable solution to the problem of “the interchange passages are insufficient to handle the expected interchange traffic”. See London’s Northern headache. Similar situations might exist elsewhere, for the same reason.

  4. Herbert

    At least on S1 (at least going by branding this should be the most important line) frequency is hampered mostly by infrastructure. Nuremberg-Bamberg is supposed to be quadruple track, but between Nuremberg and Fürth the S-Bahn usually has only one track “dedicated to it” and between Fürth and Erlangen Eltersdorf the whole thing narrows to a two track bottleneck due in large part to a lawsuit by the city of Fürth against DB. They are in the process of rectifying this by installing additional switches which should make three S-Bahn trains per hour possible on S1 some time 2022 or 2023

  5. Matthew A da Silva

    Is Caltrain’s Baby Bullet + local pattern the only “best practice” commuter railroad in the US?

  6. seangillis78

    Are any of these regional rail lines automated? Or is that only for shorter metro lines?

    • Alon Levy

      So far the only automated passenger trains are metro trains and people movers. They can be tens of km long, but they have to be isolated from the mainline network. But plans for driverless commuter trains exist, and JR East is planning to transition the Yamanote Line, the most metro-like of its lines, to driverless operations.

      • Herbert

        In theory ETCS could run a train automatically 95% of the time… But it’d apparently be a rather jerky ride

  7. Oreg

    About the tunnels in Zurich: The purpose of the new Weinberg tunnel is to allow through-running from west (Bern, Basel) to north-east (airport, Winterthur). It seems that almost all trains that do that go through the tunnel, long-distance or S-Bahn. S24 is an exception, reversing at HB and going through the Wipkingen tunnel. (The only HB approach with no tunnel is from the west.)

    The Hirschengraben tunnel is used only by S-Bahn because no other trains go east from Zurich between Winterthur and Rapperswil. The Zimmerberg tunnel, in contrast, is used by non-S-Bahn trains only, except the S25, which arguably is a mislabeled Regionalexpress.

    A typical S-Bahn tunnel has multiple underground stations before resurfacing. Zurich doesn’t have that. (The Sihl tunnel has two stations but ends in a terminus.)

    Zurich doesn’t look like a good example for the point that “when there’s scarce infrastructure built for through-service, local trains get it ahead of longer-range regional ones.”

    • Max Wyss

      The purpose of the Durchmesserlinie (which is more than just the Weinbergtunnel) is providing a connection between Altstetten/Wiedikon and Oerlikon which serves Hauptbahnhof, but does not require reversing. In fact, this route has 4 S-Bahn lines, as well as 4 IC/IR lines. So, it is well balanced…

      The Zimmerbergtunnel bypasses Enge, which is an important stop for S-Bahn services. It can only be used by trains serving (as earliest) Thalwil, and those are EC/IC/IR… plus freight. The S25 is an “inner circle express”, just as the S2, S7, S5, S11, S12 etc., which become locals in the outer area. And towards it outer end, the S25 stops almost at every manure pile…

      The Hirschengrabentunnel is indeed used primarily by S-Bahn (although it also serves the fastest connection to Winterthur). There are a few freight trains using it as well, and in the past, Bahnhof Museumstrasse had EC and ICE departures.

      Stadelhofen can be considered as a tunnel station, and Stettbach even more so. So, the Hirschengrabentunnel – Zürichbergtunnel line would qualify as S-Bahn tunnel. And the same situation is with Zürich Enge.

  8. anonymouse observer

    There is a guy who visualized Chuo Line service pattern in stringline diagram format. It seems like old (from 2009?), so the pattern might have changed:

    • Michael Thornton (@dr_maikeru)

      The pattern is slightly different – there are now 5 tph “special rapid” (Chūō and Ōme combined), on top of 8 or 9 tph “rapid” (orange) services. There’s been a push for more rapid service for ages from suburbs and cities further west, as well as access to more seats. In addition to boosting the special rapid frequency, JR East plans to lengthen Chuo Rapid Line trains to 12 cars by adding 2 “green cars” (i.e. 1st class, 2 by 2 seating, which come with a fare premium) by 2023.

      To borners point above re. the uniqueness of the Chuo Line: it was the only major radial line that never got fully quad-tracked under pre-JR plans to boost commuter capacity (the “Five Directions Commuting Strategy” from the 1960s). Partly as a result, the “rapid” services end up functioning like local trains, even relatively close to central Tokyo (i.e. they make all stops from Nakano westward.) The Tokaido, Sobu, Joban, and Tohoku lines have much longer stretches of four track service, enabling greater segregation of local and rapid services. Plans still exist to extend four tracks as far as Tachikawa by adding express tracks underground, with few if any stops (and possibly connecting to a Crossrail-style extension of the Keiyo Line from Tokyo station via Shinjuku to Mitaka); the likelihood of any of this happening is low.

      Another political factor slowing down the rapid service is that Suginami Ward has deeply resisted the end of rapid service to Asagaya, Kōenji, and Nishi-Ogikubo ever since those stations were quad-tracked in the late 60s. (The compromise: rapids skip these stops on weekends.)

      The mix of service types on a two-track line, along with the high density of service, makes the Chūō one of the least reliable commuter lines in Japan. So maybe there are some cautionary tales there, too…

      • Alon Levy

        How does this work on the private railroads? I was told they’re more reliable than JR because they’re more self-contained, i.e. they’re operationally extensions of self-contained subway lines.

        • anonymouse observer

          It is in some extent, but there must be other factors because self-containedness itself cannot explain why Keikyu-Toei Asakusa- Keisei service is very reliable with extensive branching and reverse-branching or Meitetsu Nagoya Main Line is more reliable than JR Central’s Tokaido Main Line conventional rail service even though Meitetsu has extensive branching, single-track branch lines, and very limited capacity through Nagoya, near Toyohashi, and just south of Meitetsu Gifu Station as well as track-sharing with majority single-track JR Central Iida line in Toyohashi while Tokaido Main Line service is self-contained within Greater Nagoya region between Ogaki and Toyohashi (there are freight service on Tokaido Main Line, but freight trains don’t get priority over passenger trains).

          Also, those private railways tends to keep trains running under extreme weather like heavy snow or heavy rain when JR companies shut down. Private railways typically handle recovery from the service disruptions better than JRs.

          I guess one of the possible reasons includes difference in train dispatching/operations control practice. JRs tend to control operations of wider geography from one central locations heavily using the computer-aided dispatching system whereas private railways tends to control from multiple locations and rely on human dispatchers’ skills and experience. One extreme example of this is Keikyu, which doesn’t have even CTC; traffic are controlled by multiple chief operators stationed at different “towers” along the line (and won an award for the reliable operations):

          Also during the service disruptions, private railways tends to get more creative on keep the trains running in the segments where it was not affected by pulling as many available trainsets as possible out of the yards for service and change stopping patterns and final destination of the trains constantly while JRs tend to stop the trains and wait until the blockage is cleared. Again, one of the examples is how Keikyu and Meitetsu operates in what Japanese foamers called “逝っとけダイヤ”.

          • Andrew in Ezo

            I experienced such a situation first hand a few years back on Keikyu during one of those freak snowstorms that tend to hit the Kanto area every few years around coming of age day mid-January. Keikyu was running all its trains more or less in the snowy conditions, but at much reduced speeds (the kaitoku were seemingly running in slow motion but as always had priority). OTOH the parallel JR Tokaido line trains were operating using the “mabiki unten” (thinning out) technique where it seemed every other train was cancelled, in effect spacing out the trains. Apparently JR uses this in cases of poor weather as it makes the operation more manageable and reduces the chances of trains being stranded, as such stranding can be problematic on JR lines (versus private railways) as station spacing is greater.

        • anonymouse observer

          The other factor would be some differences in the scheduling practice between JRs’ and private railways’.

          JRs use physically possible and most aggressively handled shortest trip time between station stops for the pure run time and add pads and round to their unit time used in the scheduling (typically 5, 10, or 15 seconds) to derive the base run time between station stops. In this process, JRs sometimes round down the run time to the nearest scheduling unit time when the rounding up adds too much time compared to the end-to-end pure run time plus by-percentage pad. JRs also set the base run time for each trainset models, configurations, and track assignment combinations and apply it accordingly.

          On the other hand, private railways always round up the run time to the next scheduling unit time in base run time calculation (never round down). Their base run times are typically based on the worst-performing trainset model and configuration the railway would put for the particular base run. Also, unlike JRs, private railways does not push the train to the limit of physics and the most aggressive handling when they compute their pure run time. This gives private railways more margin of error/delays, and operational changes like fleet assignment change to worse-performing models would not affect the on-time performance as much as it would to JRs operations.

          One of the best summary of this I found so far is unfortunately on Japanese Wikipedia entry:
          https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%9F%BA%E6%BA%96%E9%81%8B%E8%BB%A2%E6%99%82%E5%88%86

          • borners

            Is this a result of the major JR East Regional/Commuter Rail lines having longer distances and more populated areas*? Going for speed and capacity makes more sense than in more central locations that make up the bulk of the private railways business.

            *Comparing Tobu-Isesaki/Nikko systems to the Takasaki/Utsunomiya or Odakyu vs Tokaido main line.

          • anonymouse observer

            It is probably not because what I said above is nationwide practice/phenomenon; all JR companies do set the base run time that way and round it down when they think it makes their sense whereas almost all private railways never round down the base run time like JRs do.

      • Phake Nick

        Wouldn’t other JR lines have lower reliability due to through running under the brand of Shonan Shinjuku Line and Ueno Tokyo Line?

        • anonymouse observer

          Data from MLIT shows Chuo Rapid Line and Chuo-Sobu Local Line is less reliable than all lines under Ueno-Tokyo Line or Shonan-Shinjuku Line except Saikyo Line based on Proof of Delay/Delay Certificate issuance data in 2019. Because the proof/certificate was issued on 19 days out of 20 weekdays in an average month, Chuo Line are late almost every day:

          Click to access 001328948.pdf

          This also shows Keikyu and Keio excel in terms of reliability despite their capacity limit, high train traffic density, and complexity of their service (branching, multiple tier of express service, bigger difference of stop spacing between Local and the fastest express trains, and frequent use of double-/triple-overtakes).

      • anonymouse observer

        In addition to points I mentioned, I guess the capacity limit at Tokyo station (2-track stub-end station with no separation of boarding and alighting despite heavy train and passenger traffic) and a short single-track segment near Kami-Suwa (all Limited Express from/to Matsumoto are affected) might be affecting the reliability of the Chuo Rapid Line.

    • Martin

      Anyone ever change the string line to a thick line that accounts for the signal system? All the white space seems to imply capacity that doesn’t really exist.

      • anonymouse observer

        You don’t have to thicken the line for it. You can figure it out by checking the signal locations on the cab view video:

        • Sassy

          That isn’t a chart/diagram. I think expressing the signalling system capacity on the stringline diagram would make it too complicated and do too much, but it would be neat to be able to visualize the information though.

          • Phake Nick

            I think for block signalling it can be done by adding each signal block location onto the y-axis, and then you know each block can only have one train at a time

          • Jan

            Would look something like this for conventional block signalling:

  9. adirondacker12800

    as far out as 20-30 km. But New York is a larger city, and needs 5 minutes within the city and 10 well into suburbia,
    Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx have the subway for local service and New Jersey has a swamp.

  10. Pingback: An S-Bahn is an Inner Zone Train with Separate Branding | Sewer Socialists
  11. Sassy

    Would JR East’s recently discontinued Ohayo Liner Shinjuku, and Home Liner Odawara be violating these best practices by skipping Shinagawa and Yokohama?

    • Andrew in Ezo

      Both these guaranteed seating trains aimed at power commuters utilized the Tokaido Freight Bypass Line to serve western Tokyo business/commerce nodes of Shibuya and Shinjuku, and thus have nothing to do with access to Shinagawa or Yokohama- Shinagawa was served by the Shonan Liner trains, and Yokohama was/is adequately served by regular Tokaido Line trains.

  12. Nathanael

    Metro-North is not implacably resistant to any change suggested from outside (unlike LIRR), and the Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven lines are designed for standard local / limited service, so it might actually be possible to convince them to change the schedules. Might be worth a try.

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