The journey will take roughly 25 minutes calling at two intermediate points; the services will operate every 15 minutes for 19 hours a day; and the vehicles will run on - for the most part - existing rail corridors. Sound even remotely familiar?
I'm not referring to a Melbourne Airport Rail Link, I'm in fact referring to Toronto's Union Pearson Express project that is well underway and scheduled to be operating next year.
Over the weekend Urban Toronto published a piece asking "The lanes of Melbourne: could something similar happen here?" and in the spirit of mutual recognition our eerily similar, arguably long-lost Doppelganger located on the other side of the planet, I'd like to take a look at what Toronto's doing with its airport transportation.
The Union Pearson Express project in a nutshell:
This is where comparing the UP Express project with the many ideas that have been floated for Melbourne Airport Rail Link gets really spooky.
Toronto's airport is located in the über-burb of Mississauga to the west of central Toronto with a road distance (as measured by Google Maps) of approximately 25km. Tullamarine is uncannily similar when you measure road distance from Southern Cross: 22km.
The Albion freight and interstate standard gauge rail corridor, the preferred alignment of State governments of both persuasions, passes to within 1km of Tullamarine airport's southern boundary; the Kitchener GO Rail corridor which is to be used for Union Pearson express services, is within spitting distance of the northern corner of Pearson airport's boundary.
If you stick to limited-access roads, the road journey in Melbourne is more direct versus using Toronto's grid of inner city freeways. Conversely the rail journey in Toronto will almost be as direct as is possible versus, should a Melbourne Airport Rail Link use the Albion corridor, the rail journey to Tullamarine which will swing out west via Sunshine then turn north east towards the airport.
Perhaps most importantly in explaining how Toronto's UP Express project has come about so quickly as opposed to the stagnation confronted by the predicament we face in Melbourne, it's wise to look at how differently rail has developed in our respective regions.
Despite many similarities between Melbourne and Toronto - and perhaps Australian and Canadian cities in general - a stark difference lies in the way our respective rail networks have developed over time. Where many of Melbourne's current rail corridors began with private operators, nationalisation was all the rage from the 1870s onwards and it laid bare to the vast metropolitan rail network we now have reaching from the CBD to the suburban fringes in all directions.
With the colonial and post-Federation state government owned and operated rail networks acting as the backbone for suburban expansion throughout Australia well before anyone had even heard of an 'automobile, private companies pushed forward and continue to be a dominant owner and operator of rail corridors in Canadian cities. The Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railway companies have played a part in suburban rail services in Toronto like private companies did in Melbourne a long time ago but it wasn't until (relatively) recently - in the 1960's - that the Ontario Government rolled out the 'GO Transit' services operating over private railways.
According to Wikipedia, GO Transit now owns 80% of the track in which it operates services over and given the relative lack of service frequency compared to most Melbourne Metro lines, Metrolinx (which owns and operates to the GO Transit brand for the Ontario Government) has a lot of flexibility to make projects like UP Express work.
As I wrote last year, half of Melbourne's Airport Rail Link is already under construction through the Regional Rail Link project.
In that piece I argued that the capacity which will be unlocked as part of the RRL project should be used to run rail services utilising an operator and a separate train configuration we already have to and from Tullamarine after expansion of the Albion corridor and a Tullamarine branch has taken place. I'm still very much of this view.
If you watch the current Spring Street Government's pre-campaign advertising about the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, the Government appears fixated on the notion the airport should be serviced with standard metro trains by making the Pakenham/Cranbourne corridor through-route to the Sunbury and a new airport line. The ALP's policy, stretching back to when they were last in government, is similar in that they originally proposed to have Pakenham/Cranbourne services run through the Melbourne Metro tunnel rather than the current Liberal Government's proposal to run it through existing track between South Yarra, Flinders Street, Southern Cross and North Melbourne.
Like the East West Link, this position has not be explained well, if at all.
Passengers heading to or from Tullamarine are going to have different needs than those who use the rest of the Metro network. Even a business day-tripper traveling with hand luggage to Melbourne will take up more space than the average Metro commuter.
In short, the vehicles which operate an airport service must take into account the extra spatial and luggage storage needs of airport passengers.
Any Tullamarine Airport rail link project should be an opportunity to break the "one train size/technology caters for all" mentality we have in Melbourne that so often produces great ideas but ultimately, at best, is severely delayed owing to enormous capital requirements or at worst enters the never-never. We must recognise that an airport rail link will be a premium service and therefore we should plan accordingly, just like Toronto has with the Union Pearson Express.
Image credit: UPExpress.com.