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Airport rail link must serve GTA, not just downtown

Commuter Corner
Joseph Hall

The most promising proposal for a new rail link to Pearson International Airport might well have the scent of horse manure about it.

The idea, which got a boost last week as part of the Greater Toronto Services Board’s new GTA transportation plan, would likely use Woodbine Racetrack as the linchpin in its airport connection.

While the GTSB is vague on details, preferring a consultative approach before deciding on routes over the coming months, its proposed airport link would have GO Transit’s Georgetown rail corridor as its backbone.

It’s a good bet the Georgetown line would then rely on a new station at the racetrack, at Rexdale Blvd. and Highway 27, as its main Pearson transfer point.

From Woodbine, passengers would travel via an elevated people-mover, like those used at Florida’s Disney World, for a five-minute run into the Pearson terminals.

Collenette has said his high-speed connection likely would run in a single uninterrupted trip from Union Station right into the airport’s massive new terminal, now under construction.

His preferred route, Collenette says, could be partially or wholly paid for by the private sector and would take passengers from Union to the airport in as little as 15 minutes.

Each of the plans, however, has its own pros and cons.

While the direct route from Union to the airport would be at least twice as fast as the GO proposal, for example, it would also require extensive new tracking and cost at least $1 billion to build.

The GO plan would be significantly cheaper to set up - a new Woodbine station, for example, could be built for $3 million.

Aside from slower trips, however, GO passengers would also face a transfer at the Woodbine people mover before arriving at Pearson.

Most transit experts agree transfers present passengers with a major psychological barrier and this could seriously detract from the GO link’s popularity.

On the other hand, if it were to be privately funded, Collenette’s quicker link would likely cost passengers using it significantly more than the slower GO service.

It has been estimated the direct link would cost those using it $15 a shot, while a GO train now from Union to Georgetown costs less than half that amount.

If, however, the private sector could be lured into building the express project - by no means a sure thing - its cost to taxpayers at large would be far less than the cheaper GO proposal.

There is, however, one advantage to the GO idea that might well outweigh anything else Collenette’s project could offer the GTA.

A GO link would simply serve a far larger area and give hundreds of thousands more people access to an airport link.

The single most pressing problem with an express link connecting Pearson exclusively with Union Station is that a mere 17 per cent of people arriving at the airport currently travel downtown.

In addition, a large number of those headed downtown are business travelers who can write off airport limousines on expense accounts.

The small percentage of Pearson passengers travelling downtown then, and their access to cheap, convenient alternatives, brings into question the financial viability of the Union link, and its utility to the broader GTA.

A GO link would obviously connect Pearson and Union Station, plus it would also tie the airport in with a massive, existing commuter system that could collect passengers on a single run from Georgetown out to Oshawa.

Pearson’s passengers and employees are dispersed throughout the Greater Toronto Area. A transit system feeding the airport, then, should have as broad a reach as possible.




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