Single Track Operation? More common Than You Think!

Classic Swiss single track railway!

Classic Swiss single track railway!


OK folks, the following is a small list of the many European regional railways, operating on single tracks or which route operates on portions of single track.

Why am I posting this, you say?

Last week I received an angry phone call from a gentleman who claimed had done some work for Metro Vancouver on the subject of reinstating a passenger service on the former BC Electric interurban line to Chilliwack.

He wanted me to: “…….cease publishing blog posts on reinstating the former interurban passenger service and refrain from sending mail referring to reinstating an interurban to the various Metro Vancouver Councils!

He further said; “I was wasting his time because he had to debunk what have stated in various mail and he was tired of dealing with the issue.

I stated that; “I was not an expert, nor claimed to be  but an informed taxpayer who has a interest in local transit and transportation affairs“, or something like that anyways. I further added, “that what had been stated in recent mailings and the RftV blog, was information from credible media sources and from real experts in Canada, the USA, the UK and Europe, which I wished to share with those who are making the decisions on transit and transportation.

I did manage to pry what offended him the most and that was the concept of single track operation as; “according to TransLink, no viable passenger service could be operated on single track!

Really? Doesn’t the Canada Line have 600 metres of single track operation in Richmond Centre and almost 700 metres of single track at YVR? (of course this was an after thought and i wished I was speedier with the repartee!)

He then warned that “some sort of legal action would be taken against me if I continued“…………. click! Less than two minutes and from a private number as well.

To be honest, I was very slow on the uptake, didn’t quite get his name or who he worked for, or was he just a member of the SkyTrain Lobby who is in denial.

Well I heard that threat before and all I can say is bring it on!

The following are videos from YouTube showing single track operation on all or portions of the line. There are a lot more “Driver’s view” videos and I would recommend watching them, if only to have a scenic train trip, through delightful countryside holiday in the quiet of your home.


Classic German regional railway in the Black Forest.

Classic German regional railway in the Black Forest.

 Please cut and paste to view or open on a new tab.






French rural railway

French rural railway


8 Responses to “Single Track Operation? More common Than You Think!”
  1. Haveacow says:

    No viable passenger service can be operated on a single track, wow. So Otawa’s Trillium Line that was with the exception of one passing track, all single track from 2001 to 2015 operating at first 20 minute then 15 frequency with 3 trainsets. Starting with 6400 per day in 2001 up to 14,000 passengers a day by 2015. All for less than $41 million in 2001. This price includes all construction and trainset purchase costs plus 2 Years of operating costs over the length of the original planned trial period).

    Then from 2015 to 2019, 2 more short sections of passing track were added plus 6 new trainsets (the first 3 were retired) and 10 to 12 minute service started, the line was still 88% single track and was moving upwards of 20,000+ passengers per day.

    Now after the huge system wide upgrade (including a line extension, a branch line to our airport, more trainsets and longer station platforms) from 2019 to spring 2024, we are still 56% single track, including the entire 4 km long airport branch service (this branch includes 2 stations with passing tracks) and expecting between 22,000 to 40,000 passengers per day.

    Dows Lake Tunnel

    Dows Lake Station Under Construction

    End to End video of new service, with its many km’s of single track.

  2. Haveacow says:

    Original O Train images with the original Bombardier BR 643 Talent DMU’s.

  3. zweisystem says:

    I was quite taken aback from this call. The chap was mad. I just shake my head with this.

  4. Haveacow says:

    Not only is Ottawa’s Line #2 (Trillium Line) mostly single tracked but the Northern San Diego County Transit District’s Sprinter service is too. A commuter rail/LRT Hybrid Rail Line that has 15 stations and is 35 km (22 miles) long, 57% being single track only. The current service frequency is 30 minutes but it is slowly being increased to 20 minutes. The Sprinter (fleet of 12 Siemens Desiro trainsets) much like Ottawa’s Line #2, it uses DMU’s on its mainline railway track age instead of Light Rail Vehicles (LRV’s). It started in 2008 and cost only $477 Million. It moves post Covid, 4000 per day, at its height it was ranging from 7800 to 8500 per day between 2011-2019.

    10 th Aniversary Celebration

    Mostly single track service

  5. Haveacow says:

    The Capital MetroRail in Austin Texas is mostly single tracked but is adding some passing tracks, infrastructure improvements and new trainsets to improve operating frequency from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. The Line is 51 km long and uses, you guessed it DMU’s.

    New Downtown Austin Station

  6. Haveacow says:

    So yes there are more than a few single track operations in North America they do work. Yes, in some cases that limits frequency but 10 to 15 minute frequency is possible with judicious use of passing tracks, especially at key stations. More importantly they are cheap and easy to start, very cheap when existing lines are under or not used at all by freight operations. That’s nearly every freight line in North America. This makes the service financially scalable something the Skytrain just can’t do. If part of your existing rail right of way goes somewhere that isn’t necessarily useful, you can add new track, Austin built considerable rights of ways on downtown streets in central Austin.

    One of the newest mostly single track rail system is in the very well to do Sonoma and Marin Counties area of California, the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit or SMART, it started in 2018.

  7. Haveacow says:

    It sounds like Zwei is being seriously pestered (for lack of a better term) by the people at the Skytrain for Surrey group, I obviously don’t know for sure but it sure sounds like them. That or some big time hard headed Skytrain fan, to be angry enough to call you at home. Chill, Skytrain people, it’s going to be okay!


    The Portland Max and Streetcar, both operate as ‘single track’ on parallel one-way streets.

    The reason for putting a single track per street in Portland, Oregon, is because the original town plat laid streets at 50-foot widths, and city blocks at 200×200 foot dimensions. Every tenth street is platted as an ‘avenue’ at 80 foot width.

    The result is a very walkable town. The intersections arriving every 200 feet give the city a sense of openness when walking. Even if it was building very tall buildings as early as the 1930s and 1940s, the streets in Portland feel airy and bright. Just about in every district of the square mile plan, Portland retains a sense of human scale urbanism.

    However, the consequence of running just one track per street is an overall reduction in the ‘scale’ or intrusion of streetcars and trams in the public right of way. The result achieved with single track operation on paralleling streets, in my eye, has more balance.


    Before Skytrain was put in a tunnel under Broadway, in Vancouver, I thought a good solution would be to run a single track along Broadway, with a return track or coupling, on 12th Avenue. This would have reduced the ‘scale’ of transit on Broadway, perhaps allowing to operate the service between parallel tree medians.

    That would achieve something of the wonderful effect of the double track in the center tree median, on St Charles Street, in New Orleans.

    On 12th Avenue, the result of adding a single track of tram would be to reduce the space allocated for cars and help tame the street.

    The distance between Broadway and 12th is 1,000 feet or less than a 5 minute walk. Of course, an advantage of operating single tram lines is widening the reach of transit.


    The clearest demonstration of single track operation with passing track was the Olympic Tram. It ran for a short distance, but just long enough that a passer by might be able to study just how single track system can operate.

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