Beyond Commuter Rail in SFO Bay area (StreetsBlog)

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Clock-face schedules, frequent off-peak service, timed transfers are key to maximizing use of rail infrastructure

“Would you put BART in the category of Berlin’s S-Bahn, or New York’s Long Island Railroad, or LA’s Metrolink, or LA Metro, the NY subway, the Paris Métro, the Washington Metro?” asked Alon Levy, transport guru, analyst of transit systems around the world, blogger and Streetsblog contributor, at the ‘Beyond Commuter Rail’ talk yesterday evening at Remix in San Francisco.

“Answering this question is relevant for deciding what to build,” he said. The talk was arranged by Friends of Caltrain, the San Francisco Transit Riders, and Seamless Bay Area, a new advocacy group that aims to better integrate the Bay Area’s disparate transit systems.
The world’s metropolitan transit services, explained Levy, are generally classified into two types: urban rail and regional rail, as seen in the diagram of German “U-Bahn”(urban) and “S-Bahn” (regional) services seen below:

Knowing which type helps planners decide how to emulate best practices from rail systems in other cities. Urban Rail, he explained, generally has overlapping lines and tight stop spacing. Regional Rail, on the other hand, has several branches with less frequent service in more suburban areas. The branches combine into a single trunk which has frequent service. The best examples of Regional Rail, he said, are the Paris Réseau Express Régional (RER) and the S-Bahn in Germany.

And BART clearly looks like Regional Rail – with multiple lines feeding into a central trunk – but with one enormous handicap.

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Written by Long Branch Mike