Thaddeus Reeves / Engineer / Dad / Blogger

List of Largest Cities in the USA with No Metro / Passenger Rail

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Having lived & worked in some of the best cities in the USA for transit (Portland, OR, Boston, DC, New York, Chicago, SF Bay) as well as some of the worst (LA, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay), there really is no question about how the availability of alternatives to driving on roads affects one’s quality of life in the city.

However, I never cease to be amazed at those cities that are transit-deprived who run vehement anti-transit PR campaigns, attempting to convince folks that they shouldn’t fund transit projects.

So, as a counterpoint to this, I’ve compiled a list of the 10  largest cities in the USA  with no Metro system of any sort – where your only option getting to work is either (a) sitting in your car in traffic, or (b) sitting in a bus that’s sitting in the same traffic as your car would be.

Worst offender: Tampa Far and away the largest metro area with no rail is the Tampa Bay area in Florida.  Tampa-St. Pete-Clearwater is a sprawling metropolis with over 3 million people, which jumps to 4 million if you include the Sarasota area.

The fact of the Tampa area being so car-centric has repeatedly landed Tampa on the #1 list for the most bicycle deaths per-capita in the USA, and is one of the most dangerous cities for cyclists in the WORLD.

Attempts at building any form of transit system have repeatedly failed.   This article is a FANTASTIC read, with some extremely telling maps and graphics that describe just how dire the situation is.

Some of the most-telling maps from the article above:

So, without further ado, the list of largest US cities without rail transit:

City Metro Area Population Rail Transit Commuter / Intercity Rail
Tampa / St. Pete / Clearwater, FL 3,032,171 No metro or light rail.

There’s a downtown heritage trolly in Tampa, but this is not for commuters.

No commuter rail. Daily Amtrak service for inter-city.
San Antonio, TX 2,429,609 Nope, just buses. Daily Amtrak trains (no commuter rail).

 

There are long-term plans in mind as well to develop a high-speed commuter rail train between Austin and San Antonio to relieve the I-35 corridor, but this is still in the planning stage.

Indianapolis, IN 2,103,574 No metro or light rail. No commuter rail. Amtrak for inter-city.
Columbus, OH 2,093,185 No metro or light rail.   Columbus is actually the largest city in the USA with no passenger train service of any kind whatsoever. No passenger rail service of any sort.
Raleigh-Durham, NC 1,795,750 No metro or light rail. No commuter service. Amtrak serves inter-city.
Milwaukee, WI 1,757,604 No metro or light rail. No commuter rail, and governor recently snubbed inter-city rail to Madison.  Only passenger rail service is 1x/daily Empire Builder and 7x/daily Hiawatha service to Chicago.
Oklahoma City, OK 1,373,211 No metro or light rail.

The Oklahoma City Streetcar recently broke ground and is under construction with a 7-mile loop and estimate of December 2018 to be in revenue service.

Amtrak provides daily service to Ft Worth via the Heartland Flyer.  No Commuter rail service.
Memphis, TN 1,342,842 No metro or light rail The Amtrak City of New Orleans operates one daily train in each direction between New Orleans and Chicago.
Louisville, KY 1,283,430 No metro or light rail

Louisville is the second largest city in the USA with no passenger rail service of any sort.

No intercity or commuter rail service.
Rochester, NY 1,078,879 No metro or light rail Amtrak provides intercity service.

Note: Updating this for August 2017, as there are a few cities previously on the list when I first wrote this (Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Orlando) that have rolled out rail transit services for commuters.   I’m striking from this list any city that does have an option for transit that doesn’t involve getting gridlocked into the rest of the city’s road infrastructure.  So, light rail, streetcar and commuter rail count.

Recently Stricken from the List:  (i.e. cities which now have passenger rail options for commuters)

City Metro Area Population Rail Rapid Transit Commuter / Intercity Rail
Detroit, MI 5,207,434 There is a 2.9 mile people-mover loop in the downtown area, and the new Q-Line service is a 3-mile streetcar. No commuter rail. Amtrak for inter-city service.
Orlando, FL 2.861,296 No metro or light rail.  SunRail is now open!  Also, high-speed rail will soon connect Orlando to the Miami / FLL corridor, and Amtrak Silver Service provides intercity to Tampa, Miami and points north.
Cincinnati, OH 2,179,965 No light rail or metro.  The city tried to construct a subway in 1927, but it was never completed – leaving a massive un-used tunnel under the city.  Every plan to try to bring train service to Cinci failed until the new Cinci streetcar system which broke ground in 2012, and opened in 2015. No commuter rail. Amtrak service for inter-city.
Kansas City, MO 2,122,908 The new KC streetcar opened in 2015 as a starter line for what (WE HOPE!) will be a larger transit network to serve the city. No commuter rail. Amtrak service for inter-city.

15 Comments

  1. kabul's Gravatar kabul
    August 30, 2013    

    Cincinnati has inter-city Amtrak at Union Terminal and is constructing a streetcar

    • August 30, 2013    

      Indeed it does. Updated the post to clarify such. Unfortunately that does little to help the folks stuck in daily commuter congestion. Hoping they do indeed go through with light-rail.

  2. Tom's Gravatar Tom
    August 30, 2013    

    The Tampa streetcar is definitely faster than walking… Unless someone is walking 2.7 miles in 15-20 minutes. Just FYI.

    • August 30, 2013    

      True indeed. I guess my comment was a bit uncalled-for. However, with the amount of time I’ve spent in & around Tampa / Clearwater, the lack of a commuter solution just continues to baffle me – especially with the obvious money that’s gone into continually widening the freeway system. With an economy that’s also so heavily driven by tourism, there are so many light-rail alignments that would make sense in a metro area of that size & density.

    • Jonah's Gravatar Jonah
      August 30, 2013    

      Given that the train only comes every 20 minutes, you’d be better off walking for pretty much any occasion other than going from the absolute end-to-end of the system…

  3. Bus62's Gravatar Bus62
    August 30, 2013    

    Milwaukee is bigger than St Louis (metro pop of 1,566,981 according to Wikipedia) and has no urban rail system. One was planned in the 80’s but it died long ago. A streetcar is planned. Also Detroit’s people mover (with questionable utility) is for all intents and purposes heavy rail (metro), even if it is very short. I would take off Tampa and Detroit and add Milwaukee and whatever the next one is.

    • August 31, 2013    

      You’re totally right in that the Detroit people-mover is – technically speaking – a heavy rail metro system. But the sprit I wrote the list in was if it would give commuters any sort of meaningful option in being able to get to & from work, and the Detroit People Mover (as well as the similar system that exists in Jacksonville, FL) only really provides some additional mobility within the CBD.

      With respect to Milwaukee, I was going to add that as well, and should have put it in place of Louisville. The population figures I used were the Primary Statistical Area figures from this page. But Milwaukee is especially relevant to the discussion due to the recent snubbing of high-speed rail expansion and service to Madison that the partisan BS in Wisconsin has given us. Milwaukee and Madison are barely further apart than DC and Baltimore or Dallas and Fort Worth, and as such a high-speed rail line connecting the two would have UNDOUBTABLY been used by commuters just as our DC->Baltimore MARC trains are.

  4. Dougie's Gravatar Dougie
    August 30, 2013    

    San Antonio is planning a streetcar system which will is schedule to open by 2017.

    • August 31, 2013    

      Do you have a link for such? Casual googling on my phone didn’t get me much of anywhere.

  5. September 1, 2013    

    While Miami has the Metrorail, the fact it doesn’t really go anywhere sucks, highly underused. The addition of the Airport(2012) spur is a big plus though.

  6. Caleb's Gravatar Caleb
    September 2, 2013    

    Columbus needs a rail system. Yesterday.

  7. Tapha Ndiaye's Gravatar Tapha Ndiaye
    October 8, 2014    

    This article is extremely misguided: not having a rail system is not the same as not having good transit. Even in cities with rail, I’ve often preferred to take the bus because of better frequency, the time it takes to get from the sidewalk to the rail platform (and vice versa), and you can see outside. These types of articles are just perpetuating the myth that cities should spend billions of dollars on rail transit just to be part of some “rail city club.” It’s the same mentality that led to cities gutting themselves to build interstates in the 1950s through the 1980s. A city can provide superior transit (and indeed, many already have) by improving the EXISTING bus network: frequent service, off-board fare payment, bus-only lanes that are enforced, transit-signal priority, or Bus Rapid Transit which costs a quarter of light rail and is faster to build.

    What’s really lacking in most of these cities isn’t rail, it’s transit ridership to justify a big transit ridership, because minimum parking requirements have made driving so cheap that there’s no reason to use transit unless you’re desperate.

    • October 8, 2014    

      You’re absolutely right that not having a rail system is not the same as not having good transit. There are advantages to bus rapid transit in terms of implementation cost and flexibility, and there are advantages to rail in terms of sheer riders/hour capacity, as well as segregation from the surface condition or level of congestion of the road network. There’s no one-size-fits all in terms of transit plans, and it could be that cities like San Antonio, TX /never/ end up with a Metro system owing to development of a BRT network like Santiago, Chile.

      In smaller cities without a dense urban core, a BRT network could likely work to provide decent transit. However, on larger-scale cities, there really isn’t much of an alternative to rail. There’s a right place for each major technology.

  8. Xi Li's Gravatar Xi Li
    August 9, 2017    

    Why does LA perpetually get a spot on “worst transit” lists? LA Metro has the #2 most ridden bus system in the country, a very high ridership subway/LRT system, and a couple good BRT lines. In terms of # of jobs within 30 minutes of transit, LA is #3 in the country. Stop going off perception and look at reality. LA has great car culture and LA loves beautiful cars and driving, the traffic is atrocious, but it also has decent transit, better than any US city except the legacy Northeastern cities and SF.

  9. JP Baldwin's Gravatar JP Baldwin
    September 10, 2017    

    September 10, 2017

    Columbus is the most unskilled, untalented, unoriginal, fake, cookie cutter, bottom of the barrel, incompetent, ultra-corrupt shit hole in North America. It will never have rail service and the rest of the country shouldn’t have to pay for it. I have had multiple rail service plans for Columbus that have been laughed at and thrown in the trash for 15yrs. Columbus could have rail service in 5 yrs without even trying.

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