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Ottawa promises airport service by 2006

Union Link On Track



By Joseph Hall and Caroline Mallan
Toronto Star Staff Reporters

A rail link from Union Station could be running into Pearson airport by the time its new terminal opens in 2003, federal Transport Minister David Collenette says.

Costing between $250 million and $300 million, the link will be built entirely by the private sector and whisk passengers between the two facilities in 20 minutes, Collenette told a news conference yesterday

“If I had my wildest dreams, when we open the first stage of the new terminal in 2003 we will have the link built.”

“But at the very outside it will be ready for the second (terminal) phase in 2006 and it will be more than ready and will have had a lot of use by the time we get the Olympics in 2008,” he said.

Collenette, minister responsible for the GTA, said the city’s purchase of Union Station, announced yesterday, was the last hurdle to the rail link.

“I always said that once the ownership of the station is clear then we can move on the rail link to the airport,” he said.

In the past, Collenette has conceded that such a link would cost up to $1 billion. But he said new federal studies have shown it can be built for as little as $250 million.

An official request for proposals from the private sector will be put out in a few months, he said, adding he has talked informally with three domestic and two international companies about building and running the 24-kilometre line. He declined to name the companies.

“We believe we don’t have to put money into the rail link because the private sector has demonstrated to us in conversations that they want to build this link as they have in other parts of the world,” Collenette said.

He pointed to privately run lines running out of London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports. The latter line opened three years ago and made $9 million (Cdn.) last year.

But while many Heathrow passengers are heading for the heart of London, only 17 per cent of Pearson passengers are going to downtown Toronto.

Another difference is that a taxi or limousine ride from downtown Toronto to Pearson takes about 20 minutes and costs about $35 while a taxi into London costs about $100 and takes an hour.

If built, the Pearson line would likely run west out of Union Station on Canadian National’s main Lakeshore line.

It would then veer north on CN’s underused Weston subdivision right of way, which the federal government hopes to purchase from the railway.

The line, which would likely have a station at Bloor St. to gather subway passengers, would head northwest to Woodbine Racetrack, where there would be an interchange for VIA Rail and GO Transit passengers.

It would then turn southwest and enter the Pearson property just north of Terminal 3 where it would connect with the airport’s “people mover” monorail.

Collenette said CN now controls the bulk of the land needed for the link and that the federal government is negotiating to buy the right of way.

“And it’s not inconceivable that as part of the process with the private sector … that the actual link could be in government hands,” he said.

“But the operation and administration of the link would be the private sector and all the upgrades to the track and the signalling would be up to the private sector.”

The province made it clear yesterday that it had no interest in funding the link in any way.

Premier Mike Harris said news of the elaborate plan to connect Union Station and Pearson was a surprise to him, although he welcomed the idea of a revamped station.

“I don’t know anything about the announcement,” Harris told reporters before a morning cabinet meeting. “I do know that we are very supportive of the Union Station proposal and the (Robert) Fung (waterfront revitalization) proposal also talks about redevelopment of the Union Station.”

But Harris said no provincial money will be aimed at the rail link.

“If there is an announcement on a rail link to the airport, that must be a federal project because it’s not in the Fung report, it’s not been brought to us as a priority by the TTC or the City of Toronto but it may be a federal project and so we’ll take a look at it when we get the details.”

Greater Toronto Airports Authority president Lou Turpen, who has expressed skepticism in the past that a private Pearson link could ever make money, said he now welcomes the news that one might soon be built.

“We certainly want a rail link to the airport if one can be provided,” said Turpen.

Turpen, who once feared the authority would be on the hook for part of the rail link costs, said he’s now been assured he will not have to pay any money.

Collenette’s proposal will compete with at least two other link ideas. One would have speedy new streetcar lines run up the Weston right of way and into the airport.

The other would see GO trains running between Union and Woodbine, with a monorail taking passengers from the racetrack to Pearson.

While more cumbersome for passengers, this proposal is generally seen to be the cheaper alternative. Being linked to the GO system, it can also attract people from parts of the GTA other than downtown.

“My guess is it (the link) will require regular commuter traffic to make it pay,” said Mike Garrett, Toronto’s chief accounting officer.

“I think the combination of the two things (GO and an airport link) is what makes sense. Enhancing the Brampton-Georgetown line and having a connecting airport loop maximizes the revenue so it’s used not just for airport traffic but commuter traffic as well.”