State Rail Plan modeled “regional metro” service but didn’t give it a name (yet)

In response to the blog post on The State Rail Plan and the Caltrain Network, we heard back from the Caltrans State Rail Plan team that we’d put a finger on something important that the report didn’t call out by name. The post  identified that something was missing in categorizing Caltrain as a classic “commuter rail” system.

Caltrans staff told us that the underlying modeling for the State Rail Plan actually modeled Caltrain (and some other corridors in major metros) with 15-minute frequency, all day, both directions, to local stations.  Without giving it a name (yet), the State Rail plan already was assuming that Caltrain (and other corridors) would transform to provide a service pattern similar to what France calls “RER”, or Germany calls “S-Bahn” – frequent, all-day service with local stops, integrated with other local and long-distance services in the metropolitan area, generating much higher ridership per investment in train seats and miles of track.

Caltrain’s metrics suggest it’s already on the verge of being something different,  carrying bi-directional traffic, and generating more than 10x the number of passengers per route-mile than other services in the category.  Electrification creates the opportunity to flip the switch to the new service pattern, and higher ridership.

This is an important concept – and we think it would be powerful for the State Rail Plan to give it a name and to make the point explicit!  Around the rest of the world, metropolitan areas have evolved their rail lines that started as “commuter rail” into electric, all-day, frequent services, well-integrated in schedule and pricing with local service.    Comments are due on the draft State Rail Plan by December 11 – the draft and comment info are here.

In order to call it by name, though, the service pattern needs a name. People who are familiar with global models such as the French RER and the German S-Bahn sometimes call it “regional rail.”   But for a US customer audience, this blogger’s concern is that “regional rail” would connote services that are even longer-distance, less frequent, and more expensive than conventional “commuter rail” – the opposite of what these global service models deliver.

I’m suggesting “regional metro” to mean a hybrid that provides a frequent, all-day, integrated metro service pattern, and connects out to the region.  Do you like this, or have better suggestions? What do you think?

By Kabelleger / David Gubler ( - Own work:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Kabelleger / David Gubler ( – Own work:, CC BY-SA 3.0,




But it classifies Caltrain with classic commuter rail services. The service pattern envisioned isn’t differentiated from other “commuter rail” services in the plan: “integrated all-day, express, and local service between San Francisco and San Jose, allowing all stations to be served at least half-hourly, and to connect with the Statewide rail network in San Jose.”