Tuesday, June 02, 2015

UP Express highlight of Global AirRail Conference

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Union Pearson Express Union Pearson Express Chris Edwards

Toronto’s venerable Royal York Hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, was the main setting for the 2015 Global AirRail Conference, held May 20-23, 2015. The hotel’s location was ideal, physically and symbolically, being directly across Front Street from Union Station, a massive Beaux Arts structure dating from the World War I era.

Union Station is Toronto’s transportation hub, served by VIA Rail intercity trains, GO Transit commuter trains, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subways and LRVs, and now, Metrolinx’s brand new Union-Pearson Express (UP Express), operating to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. Union Station is now owned by the City of Toronto; back in the early 1970s its then-owners, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, had sought to demolish it for a massive redevelopment, Metro Centre, but were blocked by the city.

UP Express, which officially opens June 6, 2015, provides a traffic-proof connection to the airportirport, named in honor of a highly respected former Prime Minister of Canada, Lester “Mike” Pearson. The new service loomed large over the conference, which attracted worldwide operators of airport rail connections, technology suppliers, a railway president and marketing and technology specialists, among others. The rail technologies utilized by the service providers ranged from conventional electric and diesel main line rail to Vancouver’s unusual intermediate capacity transit system to light rail.

UP Express President Kathy Haley, in her presentation, mentioned that a link to Toronto’s main airport had been discussed as far back as 1958, in the form of a monorail. Nothing came of this, of course, or subsequent proposals, until finally, in 2010, faced with major traffic congestion and delays, the Province of Ontario ordered that work begin on a rail link.

It is expected, said Haley, that UP Express, in addition to providing a premium, traffic-free ride to/from the airport, will also stimulate further development there. “UP Express will provide a huge benefit for the city, province and country,” she said. “We call it ‘the train at the end of the plane.’”

Greater Toronto Airports Authority President and CEO Howard Eng continued in this vein, saying, “Today, many airline passengers expect a high end train service in major cities.” This is the role that UP Express. “It propels Pearson into the league of a world-class airport for a world-class city.” He noted that 150 million people live within a 90-minute flight of Pearson, with another 50 million two hours away. “It’s the second largest gateway airport in North America. Excellent ground transportation is vital.”

VIA Rail Canada President and CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano described how, in certain circumstances, his company is working in cooperation with airlines. VIA recently signed an agreement with China’s Hainan Airlines for selling VIA tickets.

Vancouver’s $300 million Canada Line, opened six years ago, as described by Mike Brown, Strategic Planner, Vancouver Airport, is not a dedicated airport line. Rather, it is an integral part of the city’s rapid transit system. The trains are automated and unstaffed, apart from roving security employees. “After the line opened, studies showed that it didn’t have a negative impact on airport parking revenues,” Brown explained. “In addition, the airport now has access to a much larger labor pool. We found that households within a mile of the Canada Line spend an average $44 more on airline tickets.” Brown said that, with taxis costing $40-$52 to downtown Vancouver, and the Canada Line $2.50, rail has a strong advantage.

SNC-Lavalin Senior Vice President, Transportation and Power Operations Marc Devlin provided further data on the Canada Line. As well as being responsible for designing and building then line, his company holds a 30-year pperations and maintenance contract. The line is 11.5 miles long (4.7 elevated, 1.1 at grade, 5.6 in tunnel), with 16 stations. It carries 122,000 passengers on weekdays, 70,000-90,000 on weekends. Since the Canada Line’s opening, major development has taken place near the Templeton Station, and other projects are in the planning stages near stations that become, in effect, town centers. Devlin also mentioned that, originally, the airport general manager had misgivings about the project that had to be overcome.

Abellio Greater Anglia (England) Commercial Director Andrew Camp discussed the 70-mile rail link between Cambridge and Stansted Airport, the UK’s third busiest. The franchise agreements between the rail operator and the airport have benefited both, he declared. Rail stations have seen major upgrades, while the airport has enjoyed numerous physical improvemens in the process. On-time operation of Stanstead Express is now the best ever, supplemented by improved information provision, a more appealing fare structure and more convenient fare purchasing, with advance and group fare discounts. Sixty per cent of revenues come from the standard fare. The Stansted service operates 1,900 weekday trains with an annual patronage of two million riders. The journey requires 47 minutes, with trains on 15 minutes headways. At present the service shares most of the route with commuter trains, however, there are plans to install a third track.

Heathrow Express (England) Commercial Director and Business Lead Fraser Brown, observed that a major challenge facing airport rail link operators is to counteract the automatic tendency of many air travelers to take a taxi. The financial saving by using the Express is one of the strongest selling points: about one-third the cost of a taxi to central London, as well as the time saved. Paid advertising for the Express has been in place at Heathrow Airport for some time. Working with the airport’s media, Express staff have developed a real-time advertising package for the baggage hall digital screens, with videos. “Renting the screens is quite costly, but it pays off in directing potential passengers to our trains,” said Brown. The Heathrow Line, 16 miles in length, carries 74 million passengers annually. An estimated 58% of airport travelers use the service.

Helsinki, Finland has plans to open its 11.8-mile airport line this summer, linking the airport with the city center. The project is a joint venture of the Finnish Transport Agency and the cities of Vantaa and Helsinki. The stations at the airport are 130 feet deep. Helsinki Airport is the leading transfer airport for northern Europe.

In the island country of Iceland, the Lava Express to Reykjavik’s airport from the city center will represent the country’s first railway line. Construction is planned to start in 2015 and require eight years, with a combination surface and underground alignment. The estimated cost is $840 million. Icelandic tourism is growing rapidly: About 4.5 million passengers are expected through the airport in 2015; initial projections are four million annual passengers on the Lava Line. Traction power for the trains will originate from geothermal-generated electricity.

Edinburgh, Scotland, in common with many European cities, has brought streetcars back, in their modern LRV form. However, in a tribute to the vehicles that made their last runs in Edinburgh in the mid-1950s, the new operation is dubbed “Edinburgh Tram.” Director and General Manager Tom Norris told conference delegates how the agency used a “well-conceived, playful social media campaign” to turn public feeling about the project from negative to positive. Major problems and delays, including budget overruns, were encountered with the construction of trackage in downtown Edinburgh, resulting in severe media criticism of the project, which was initiated by the city. The main thoroughfare, Princess Street, was torn up for six years. Norris explained how, by being totally forthright with the public, including the promise of an investigation into the cause of the delays, the agency was ultimately able to get the public on its side. He noted that research estimated that the majority of riders would be younger people. Since opening, the Edinburgh Tram to the airport has enjoyed an estimated 99% reliability and 95% customer satisfaction.

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