Commuter Rail Stations: How far apart should they be?

January 24, 2008 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Many believe that commuter rail stations must be spaced, on average, at least 5 miles apart. However, the most efficient systems space their stations according to the needs of each corridor. Not all commuter rail lines operate under these parameters.

Caltrain, which has been in operation since 1987, is a commuter rail system linking San Francisco and San Jose.

On average, Caltrain's (red line heading south to San Jose) stations are spaced 1.8 miles apart, and include many locations with stations less than a mile from each other.

Blowing a hole in the 5 mile station spacing theory, Caltrain has been very aggressive in adding new stations to serve new developments along the line. Caltrain operates on a theory of providing service where people are as opposed to obeying a recently accepted unwritten rule.

Baby Bullet Service

Caltrain also operates a "Baby Bullet" service. The Baby Bullet is an express train that has limited station stops between the rail corridor's end points. This is a successful way to use existing track for both local and express rail service.

Metro Jacksonville believes that the planning of local mass transit, both rail and bus, should be focused on fostering walkable environments, as opposed to "getting people off the highways". As of right now, JTA's Bus Rapid Transit plan ignores the concept of enhancing walkable environments with transit in Jacksonville's densest communities.

Caltrain proves there's no magic formula for commuter rail station placement. Instead stations should be placed to address what's already there. In Jacksonville's case, this means that our mass transit trunk line should focus on providing efficient service to the inner city, just as much as it should to the suburbs. We already have rail corridors in place that can be used to provide this type of service at a cost significantly cheaper than constructing and operating parallel busways. It's time that we accept the rail opportunity that continues to repeatedly knock at our door.