North America, Amtrak and VIA Rail Canada: Long Haul, Long Distance, Inter-Regional and more trains

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; March 23, 2022

Long Distance Trains.

Long Haul Trains.


Inter-Regional Trains.

Passenger Trains.

Passenger Rail.

Regional Trains.

Commuter Trains.

It can all be so confusing.

This platform has readers across the globe and we strive to use plain, non-confusing language and jargon in every written presentation. Modestly speaking, we meet that goal probably over 90% of the time. There are moments when we do lapse into colloquial expressions. We do apologize for those lapses.

There are several audiences for this platform: Readers who have an interest in passenger trains of all types, readers who are professional railroaders, readers who are politicians and their staffs who legislate and regulate passenger trains of all types, and “civilians” who may pause for a moment and read an article because a headline caught their eye or they are doing some sort of research.

Clarity is important. What is common knowledge in North America may not be for readers in South America, Europe, Asia or Africa.

In the beginning, there were simply passenger trains. But, which type? Express trains, Locals/All Stops, Mail and Express, Milk Runs, Mixed Freight (passenger train cars hooked on the rear of freight trains), All-Pullman, All-Coach, Day trains, Overnight trains, and more, depending on the railroad.

Each type of train had a specific purpose and place in the passenger railroad atmosphere.

When there were that many types of trains operating the working press had a much better understanding of trains and passengers and the news reporting was much more accurate than today.

Common mistakes among reporters writing about trains include lumping every passenger train into the category of “Commuter” trains and every passenger as a “Commuter.”

Rarely is a locomotive engineer identified as such in a news article, today it’s always a “Train Driver” or, even worse, engineers are mistakenly identified as a “Conductor.” Not only does that speak ill of the education of a reporter, but even worse of the education of an editor who lets that piffle go into print.

In today’s passenger railroading world in North America, for regularly-scheduled trains providing transportation, there are far fewer accurate descriptions of the few types of trains currently being operated.

While the terms “Express” is used in the Acela constellation on the Northeast Corridor, that is about the only appropriate place for it. As some of the private passenger trains entrepreneurs bring their projects to fruition the term will be more widely used.

Those of us with a certain amount of gray hair remember when Long Distance trains were properly referred to as Long Haul trains. That evolved into Long Distance in the 1990s.

Then, Long Distance become Intercity trains after the 21st Century arrived, which is an accurate description for modern times.

However, it’s time for the next evolution in describing those trains. As Andrew Selden has correctly brought the description of “Inter-Regional” trains into use, that makes the most sense. Today’s Long Distance/Intercity trains by description travel from region to region, providing passenger train transportation over long distances, both intrastate and interstate.

Which brings us to the term “Commuter” trains. Thirty years ago, the late Dr. Adrian Herzog and the late Byron Nordberg, both esteemed passenger train strategists, said very few “Commuters” were using trains by the correct definition of a Commuter train.

A Commuter is a passenger who uses trains on an established route from a given origin to a given destination on a recurring basis. That means the passenger who regularly travels from their suburban home to their place of employment on a regular basis – such as daily – and the route is less than 100 miles in length is a Commuter. While other passengers may be on the same Commuter train alongside our properly defined commuter, they are merely passengers using the train either on a single use or occasional basis, but not on a regularly recurring basis.

Dr. Herzog and Colonel Nordberg (United States Marine Corps, retired) proposed the term
“Commuter” train was outdated and too limiting in scope. They instead proposed the vast majority of Commuter trains be rebranded as “Regional” trains. The term was coined to denote trains that were more than Commuter trains but less than true Intercity trains, with routes up to 100 miles, or occasionally a little longer.

The Long Island Rail Road, perhaps one of the oldest and most famous of Commuter railroads, in the late 1950s created a Dashing Dan mascot for the railroad; a caricature of a perpetually late male passenger rushing to catch the on-time departure of his Commuter Train into Manhattan.

In 1963, an enlightened management of the Long Island recognized not all passengers were men and, after a marketing name search, added Dashing Dottie, similar to her counterpart of Dashing Dan.

Dashing Dan and Dashing Dottie were portrayed as 9 to 5 business commuters, as was typical of that era.

But, in these modern times, traditional Commuter trains have evolved into regional transportation at all times of the day and evening, including some late night/early morning departures to accommodate those attending special or sporting events.

It’s not unusual for someone other than a traditional business person to hop a “Commuter” train late in the morning to meet a friend for a leisurely lunch or a late afternoon or early evening train for a special dinner or event. By definition, these passengers are not commuters, but passengers on a Regional train.

It is time to ditch the “Commuter” definition in favor of a “Regional” definition which more accurately reflects the real use of the trains.

None of this will happen overnight, nor will the proper education of the working news media ever be attained so accurate articles may be written about different types of Inter-Regional and Regional trains.

While we are waiting for better use in the future, all of us can begin to use the more accurate terms and introduce them into modern conversation.

But, patience will be needed. Even over 50 years after the demise of the Pullman Company and its excellent service, some still refer to sleeping cars as Pullman cars and say they are “traveling by Pullman.”

Old habits often do die hard.

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