Operational Efficiency of Commuter and “Hybrid” Rail Systems

Most people who know me know I have something of a fear of numbers. As a planner, though, I (rightly) have to take a statistics course, and Fall 2015 was the fateful semester when that had to happen. I’m happy to say I survived the course, and I even produced a piece of work that fits into my broader investigation of better suburban/commuter rail systems, and one I think is worth sharing.

We transit advocates talk a lot about the transformative potential of technologies unusual in the US, like, say, DMUs–diesel multiple unit railcars. Recently, the FTA split systems that use DMUs off into their own category in the National Transit Database, called “hybrid rail.” My final paper for the stats course looks at whether DMU systems have in fact delivered on the operational efficiencies and cost savings they promise. The results? DMU systems indeed outperform commuter rail systems on some measures of ridership, but still–somehow–cost the same or more to operate.

This is only an initial look, and a more complete investigation will likely require more time and facility (well, at least patience) with numbers than I have at this moment. I know those people are out there and I’m happy to share my data if anyone’s interested. I’ve also uploaded the data in Excel format here.

UPDATE: Since Scribd is a pretty mediocre product, I’ve uploaded a straight PDF here:

commuter rail and hybrid rail efficiency