It seems odd that the supporters of commuter rail ignore the principal reasons why traditional mass transit solutions are ill-suited to many cities (insufficient employment density along the rail corridors near city stations and low user density at the rural stations).
Many who work in the city, but
live outside will resist using any commuter system that is less convenient than their cars. The primary inconveniences being that commuter rail doesnt pick you up where you live and doesnt drop you off where you work without transfers (which can result in the commute taking longer than it would by car).
To build a commuter transit system you would need various size vans similar to commuter pooling vans currently used, but with professional drivers. To give the system a travel-time advantage, they need to be able to run on both streets and rails. This is not difficult technically, except that the crossing signal system would need to be updated to allow control by these lightweight vehicles. This is also the reason you need professional drivers.
Imagine that you are a commuter. It is a weekday in the near future. You are getting ready for work. Since it is a normal day, you have left your normal 7:15am pickup-time in place with the transit system. If you were not going to go, you would have notified the system via the internet or Email, for which you would have received a fee discount. As you leave the house, the van pulls up and you board.
While the van makes a few more stops, you sit back and contemplate the day or chat with your co-commuters. The van drives to the rail station and onto the tracks. It also picks up a few at the station who arent pickup subscribers. These riders know that the trolley is going to the east side of town and can get off at the station or any of the other stops shown on the displays at the station and in the van.
The van runs on the tracks right to downtown and makes a short stop at the station to drop off the non-subscribers. It then leaves the tracks to drop you and the other riders off. Since your van is fairly heavily subscribed, it only stops at a few locations, one of which is right outside your office building.
I have to wonder why such a simple system doesnt already exist. It must surely be that transportation magnates and government executives have determined that a system like this is wildly impractical compared to the 19th century solutions currently considered.