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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on November 20, 2014

All aboard

Airport rail services are increasing as cities and governments look to improve ground transportation links and reduce the environmental impact of their gateways, writes Justin Burns.

The development of dedicated air-rail links connecting airports with downtown city centres and beyond is enjoying something of a boom, with an ever-growing list of projects being planned and built across the globe.

And it is easy to see why, as in addition to enhancing surface access and making an airport more appealing to potential passengers and even airline customers, rail links are perceived to be good for the environment as they inevitably reduce the number of cars on roads and therefore cut carbon emissions.

Indeed, the clamour for rail has never been so popular, with the number of construction projects underway or in the pipeline ranging from new underground and metro arteries to the extension of intercity train lines, tramways and light rail systems.

Airport World reviews a handful of pioneering air-rail initiatives below and takes a closer look at the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project at Washington Dulles on page 40.



On the right track

For decades, government leaders, urban planners and city leaders have talked about an express rail service linking Toronto Pearson International Airport with downtown Toronto, and with construction near to completion, it is finally set to become reality in early 2015.

Operated by Metrolinx with rolling stock – 18 diesel multiple units (DMUs) – provided by Sumitomo Corp of America, the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) will connect Terminal 1 with downtown Toronto in 25 minutes.

Expected to replace 1.2 million car trips in its first year of operation alone, the C$456 million development is being touted as a “fast, reliable and convenient” shuttle service between Toronto’s Union Station and Pearson.

UP Express president, Kathy Haley, has no doubt that the link, which will operate every 15 minutes, will improve the speed of getting to the gateway and enhance the passenger experience. 

“Getting to and from Pearson is one of the biggest challenges faced by travellers, especially in cities like Toronto that battle traffic, construction and road closures every day,” she says.

“Most travellers use cars, whether they are their own, taxis or limousines, to drive to and from Pearson, and make a ‘congestion guess’ on how long the drive will take. This can be stressful but will no longer be an issue next year as people can relax and take the train knowing exactly how long their journey will take.”

Journey times between downtown Toronto and the airport today typically take between 30 minutes and an hour depending on traffic.

Scott Collier, vice president of customer and terminal services with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA), claims that providing more choice for passengers is vital – especially with traffic expected to rise from 36.7mppa to 47mppa over the next decade.

“The UP Express will be a welcome addition to the choices available to passengers as transit to and from the airport is an important issue,” says Collier.

“Having a guaranteed service between the airport and downtown that is not subject to weather or highway conditions will be a huge advantage to people as they plan their trips.”

Train operator, Metrolinx, is leading the development as part of its wider rail improvement scheme in Toronto, but Collier is quick to point out that it could not have happened without input from GTAA.


Customer service

According to Haley, the UP Express is modelled on services such as London’s Heathrow Express, Tokyo’s Narita Express and the Arlanda Express in Stockholm, all of which are seen as benchmark air-rail link services.

On-board amenities and services will include Wi-Fi, flight information, luggage storage and racks for oversized baggage, power outlets, tray tables on seat backs and Toronto event information.

All UP Express stations will boast ticket vending machines, service counters and fare card validators and e-ticketing, flight information, Wi-Fi, a customer service desk and airline check-in kiosks.

Not surprisingly, Haley has every confidence that the express train service will be a success because of the comfort and time-saving benefits it brings passengers, although she is a little more coy about ticket prices, which have yet to be revealed.

She concludes: “Travellers will choose UP Express because it is faster, less expensive and more reliable than the other direct airport-to-downtown modes of transportation.

“From stations to trains, UP Express has been designed with the comfort and convenience of guests in mind.”


Environmental benefits

In addition to reducing car journeys and subsequently CO2 emissions – 5,000 passengers a day are expected to use the UP Express in its first year – its diesel trains are reputed to be among the most environmentally friendly in the world.

Indeed, Metrolink claims that, as part of its commitment to “conforming to the most stringent air quality requirements”, its trains will utilise Tier 4 technology, which, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, reduces airborne particulate emissions by 90% and nitrogen oxides by 80%. 

The DMUs are also designed to be convertible to electric propulsion at a later date, pending the outcome of a preliminary design and environmental assessment process currently under way.


Other major projects

Toronto Pearson, of course, is far from being alone in its wish for an air-rail link to aid and assist it with future growth.

Indeed, this desire is the driving force behind many developments, including the construction of a new express rail link to Paris CDG, recently given the go-ahead by the French government.

First conceived in 2000, the plan for the CDG Express was put on hold in 2011 due to financial issues but is now back on the agenda and comes with a cost of around €1.7 billion.

Designed to link the centre of Paris with the airport station at Paris CDG, airport operator, Aéroports de Paris (ADP), admits that it is being constructed to enhance the attractiveness of one of Europe’s busiest hubs and France in general.

Chairman and CEO of ADP, Augustin de Romanet, explains: “This is a key issue for passengers in terms of quality of service and the competitiveness of Paris CDG. I have been committed to the success of this project since joining ADP in 2012.”

Elsewhere in Europe, in Italy the Marconi Express monorail is under construction at Bologna Guglielmo Marconi International Airport and scheduled for completion in 2016.

It will link the gateway to Bologna Centrale Station – one of the most important nodes of Italy’s high-speed rail network – in seven minutes and is viewed as a vital part of the airport’s expansion plans.

Meanwhile, in Romania a new underground rail artery is to be built that is expected to make it possible to travel between Bucharest Otopeni International Airport and the city centre in 30 minutes when it opens in 2018.

Air-rail link projects are also in the pipeline at a number of gateways in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region where they are seen as the answer to ease congestion issues, and enable and assist with growth.

In Australia, for example, the Victoria state government has revealed plans for an electric rail link connecting the centre of Melbourne with its fast-growing airport that will also help reduce the jams on the city’s highways.

Passenger traffic at Melbourne Airport is expected to double from 30mppa today to around 60mppa by 2033, and acting CEO, Adam Watson, believes that it cannot come fast enough.

“Getting our passengers, visitors and staff to and from the airport precinct in a timely and efficient way is becoming increasingly important as our airport grows,” notes Watson. 

In nearby Indonesia, the Airport Express is being planned to connect Jakarta’s Halim Perdanakusuma and Soekarno-Hatta airports via stops in the busy capital.

Government ministers claim the air-rail link will improve transport links as traffic congestion in Jakarta is getting worse every year, and it is crucial to have fast access to Soekarno-Hatta.

Finally, in the US, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority (GOAA) is set to get a train service as part of All Aboard Florida’s $2.3 billion mission to open a railway stretching 235 miles from Miami to Orlando via West Palm Beach.

All Aboard Florida has already started work on the first phase of the intercity train from Miami to West Palm Beach, and is currently waiting for the environmental green light before construction can start on the West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport section.

If all goes to plan, Orlando could be a truly multi-modal facility and the first gateway in Florida with a direct rail connection by late 2016/early 2017.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority’s board chairman, Frank Kruppenbacher, says the project will define the airport “as the centre of regional transportation and transform the way visitors and residents travel”.

Across the globe, the development of air-rail projects seem to be high on the agenda for gateways and a key service to help with growth ambitions. All aboard the airport express train.

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