Union Pearson Express

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Union Pearson Express
Union Pearson Express logo.svg
A UP Express trainset at Mimico GO Station
Type Airport rail link
Status Under construction
Locale Toronto and Mississauga
Stations Pearson Airport
Union (SkyWalk)
Website UPExpress.com
Opening Spring 2015 (projected)
Owner Metrolinx
Rolling stock Nippon Sharyo DMU
Line length 23.3 km (14.5 mi)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Operating speed 145 km/h (90 mph) [1]
Route map

The Union Pearson Express (UP Express)[2] is an airport rail link service under construction in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It will run between Canada's two busiest transportation hubs: Union Station in Downtown Toronto, and Toronto Pearson International Airport. The project, estimated to cost C$456 million,[3] is to be completed in time for the 2015 Pan American Games.[4] Upon opening it will become the most expensive airport rail link to ride in North America.[5]

The UP Express is a division of Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency that manages and integrates transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. Metrolinx is also the parent company of the GO Transit regional transit system but UP is to be a distinct service from its sister division with a unique visual identity, vehicles and fares. UP will share some common resources, including tracks, signals and maintenance facilities.[6][7] An airport rail link was one of the priority projects identified in Metrolinx's regional transportation plan, The Big Move.[8]

The UP Express will travel from Union to Pearson in 25 minutes[9] departing every 15 minutes, seven days a week. It is expected to carry 5,000 passengers per day, replacing approximately 1.2 million car trips in the first year. Construction began in 2011, some of which is being accommodated as part of the Georgetown South Project, expanding a rail corridor the UP Express will share with GO Transit and Via Rail.[4][6] Initially, the UP Express will use diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains that will meet United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 emission standards. The DMUs will be convertible to electric power, which will occur with the electrification of the Kitchener line and the UP Express at an unspecified date.[10] The decision to not use electric trains at launch has led to opposition and legal challenges from the Clean Train Coalition (CTC).[11][12]


Early proposals[edit]

Improved transit connections to Pearson Airport have been of interest since the late 1980s. Before the specific pursuit of an airport rail link, three formal studies were conducted, and released in 1989, 1990 and 1991. The last two presented options for either making a connection from the GO Georgetown train line, or the Toronto Transit Commission's (TTC) Bloor/Danforth subway line.[13]

SNC Lavalin era[edit]

The original Blue22 service proposed by SNC-Lavalin would have used refurbished Budd Rail Diesel Cars. Pictured are two cars now used by Via Rail.[14]

Transport Canada made a request for proposal for an airport rail link in April 2001. In May 2003, the submissions were pared down to four pre-qualified private consortia, who were then invited to submit business cases. A SNC-Lavalin subsidiary named the Union Pearson AirLink Group was selected as the successful respondent to finance, design, construct, operate and maintain an airport rail link on 13 November 2003.[15] The service was to be called Blue22, as a trip would take 22 minutes to or from Pearson with a stop at the Bloor GO/Dundas West TTC Station. Trains were to be refurbished Budd Rail Diesel Cars, and were expected to begin running between 2008 and 2010.[14]

A GO Train operating along the Kitchener line. The UP Express project is combined with the Georgetown South Project, which is improving the infrastructure along the line for future GO Train service and the UP Express.[4]

By 2008, there had not been significant progress on the project because of failed consensus in negotiations, regulatory hurdles and community opposition. In June 2008, the Ontario government revised the environmental assessment process from a required three-year period to six months, and later that summer it resumed negotiations with Union Pearson AirLink Group on terms for a public-private partnership. Furthermore, the high-speed link received public statements of strong support from Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, Toronto Mayor David Miller and the federal government.[16]

In November 2008, Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency for Greater Toronto and Hamilton transportation, released its Regional Transportation Plan titled The Big Move, outlining how an airport rail link was part of a strategy to establish multi-directional high-order transit connectivity to the Pearson Airport district, alongside the Mississauga Transitway and future transit corridors along Highways 427 and 407, and Eglinton and Finch Avenues.[13] In December 2008, Metrolinx became the proponent of new EA that would simultaneously assess a combination of both Union Pearson AirLink's project and GO Transit's Georgetown South Service Expansion.[17] The final Environmental Project Report was released on 30 July 2009.[13]

Metrolinx takeover[edit]

After two years of failed negotiations and financing difficulties, the public-private partnership between Ontario and the Union Pearson AirLink Group was called off in July 2010, and Metrolinx was handed responsibility to directly own and operate the service.[7][18] Metrolinx established the new operating division that would become Union Pearson Express.[19] The name 'Air Rail Link' was used as a placeholder until the official name was unveiled on 29 November 2012.[2]

Metrolinx largely preserved the same project scope as had been previously approved in the EA, with the service designed around air travellers rather than conventional commuters. Changes from SNC Lavalin's former proposal included refinements to take into account synergies with GO Transit.[19] In November 2010, the Board of Directors of Metrolinx authorized its staff to enter into negotiations with Sumitomo Corporation of America to supply DMUs; the contract was approved by the Board in February 2011 and executed on 31 March 2011.[20] Kathy Haley was named inaugural President of the division in July 2011.[21]



The UP Express is described as having a focus on customer service. Multiple features are being considered, including power outlets, onboard refreshments, Wi-Fi internet, luggage facilities, washrooms, flight information screens, and airline check-in and ticketing machines.[22] The Presto card will be available for use on the system.

Map of the Union Pearson Express route

Route and stations[edit]

The UP Express will pick up and drop off passengers from Toronto Union Station via a fully enclosed platform and waiting area. Purpose-built for the UP Express, it will be accessed from the SkyWalk. A customer service desk, furniture, automated ticket vending machines, Presto card validators, and washrooms are included. An upper floor lounge will allowing passengers to relax or meet others. CIBC will also provide access to Canadian and foreign cash through multi-currency ATMs.[23][24]

From Union Station, the UP Express will head northwest along the existing GO Transit Kitchener line. This 22-kilometre (14-mile) section of track between Bathurst Street and Highway 427 is being upgraded as part of GO's Georgetown South Project, which is improving infrastructure along the route to accommodate the UP Express, as well as current and future GO Transit, Canadian National, and Via Rail services.[4][13] The UP Express will make two intermediate stops at Bloor and Weston GO stations. Bloor station will be redesigned for better access and connection to GO Transit, and Metrolinx is working towards a future direct connection to the Dundas West station of the Toronto subway.[22][25]

Beyond the 427, a newly constructed 3.3 km (2.1 mi) rail spur will carry the UP Express to Toronto Pearson Terminal 1 Station, making it the longest elevated rail bridge in Ontario.[26][24] The elevated spur to and from Pearson Airport reaches a maximum height of 28 metres (92 feet), offering a view of the CN Tower in Toronto and the Absolute World condominium complex in Mississauga.[24][27] At Pearson, the UP Express will arrive at Pearson Terminal 1. The station is directly adjacent to the existing LINK Train, which will allow connections to Terminal 3 and the Viscount parking garage.[19]

Rolling stock[edit]

The Union Pearson Express will operate using Nippon Sharyo DMU trains. The fleet will consist of 18 diesel multiple unit (DMU) cars, as four three-car and three two-car sets.[28] On 1 March 2011, it was announced that Metrolinx had chosen to buy 12 DMU cars (six two-car trains) from Nippon Sharyo at a cost of C$53 million, for the service.[29] This was later expanded to 18 DMU cars (adding one car to each train) via an option order. This brought the a cost to US$75 million.[3][28] The DMUs were manufactured in Japan, assembled in Chicago, and towed by rail to Toronto.[27]

Each car can seat 60 passengers and have flip-up seats to accommodate mobility devices, LED overhead and at-seat lighting, and fully automatic doors. The UP Express DMUs are based on the design created for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit system in California. Powered by a diesel hydraulic drive with a six-speed automatic transmission and regenerative braking, they are FRA Tier 1 compliant with crash energy management features. Braking energy is converted into electricity by the auxiliary power generator, and helps to provide onboard lighting and heating.[30] Modifications for UP Express use include Transport Canada compliant enclosed overhead luggage bins and an enhanced enclosed luggage tower.

The DMUs are believed to be the first trains in the world that are compliant with the United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 emission standards, which will reduce emissions up to 90%.[27] They will reach speeds of 165 km/h (103 mph) in straight areas, but slow to 42 km/h (26 mph) through certain curves.


It was also announced on 24 October 2011 that consortium AirLinx Transit Partners was selected to complete building the UP Express. The consortium comprises some of Canada's largest construction companies such as Aecon and Dufferin Construction.[31] Construction on the spur line and passenger station at Pearson began in the spring of 2012, at a cost of $128.6 million.[32][33]

The first trains-set arrived in Toronto on 15 August 2014.[34] The trainset was tested in Chicago prior to delivery.[35] The CBC News reported the service will be ready for fare service by spring of 2015 -- safely in advance of Toronto's hosting of the 2015 Pan American Games.

Station at Pearson Airport Terminal 1 beside the parking garage and LINK Train
Station location in the SkyWalk beside Union Station in downtown Toronto

Environmental impact[edit]

The propulsion units for the airport link trains will be new Tier 4 diesel engines with substantially lower emission than most other diesel vehicles in Toronto.[36] The Environmental Impact Assessment for the UP Express was carried out assuming that trains would be Tier 3 standard rather than Tier 4, and showed that at peak frequency the air quality effect of the additional trains would not take any pollution level over the provincial criterion levels.[37] The 2010 Metrolinx electrification study, which did assume the use of Tier 4 emissions technologies for diesel propulsion options, found that the Georgetown/UP Express diesel service would contribute in the order of 0.2% to local air pollution and electrification would result in only a small positive effect on local air quality levels.[38] In an additional review of human health assessment in 2011, GO Transit examined the current plan for Tier 4 emission controls on both the UP Express trains and conversion of existing GO locomotives to Tier 4 and found that the human health risks of the diesel UP Express service are negligible, but that current background air quality (from other pollution sources in Toronto) is an issue.[39]

Public opposition and legal challenges[edit]

Residents living along the Weston section of the proposed route have objected to alterations to accommodate the GO Georgetown South corridor improvements and the addition of UP Express trains. Concerns include the division of Weston from the closing of level crossings, noise levels, air quality and property values.[7][16] In April 2009, the Clean Train Coalition (CTC), representing the communities along the rail corridor, formed to put pressure on Metrolinx and the province to immediately prioritize electrification of the densely populated Georgetown South corridor and Union-Pearson Rail Link on opening day.[40] However, both the province and Metrolinx Chairman Rob Prichard have indicated that using diesel trains is the only way to prevent significant delays. "We believe the Greater Toronto Area needs this project as fast as possible, and that means going with the cleanest diesel technology in the world," stated Prichard.[33]

In August 2012, the CTC took legal action against Metrolinx by submitting an application for judicial review. The application requested "quashing and setting aside any decision to implement or run Diesel Multiple Units along the Air Rail Link", on the basis that by taking direction from the Ontario government to complete the UP Express in time for the Pan American Games, a proper analysis between operating diesel and electric trains was not completed, running contrary to Metrolinx's legislated mandate. It also asserted that another review of air quality was warranted due to the World Health Organization's (WHO) reclassification of diesel exhaust as a carcinogen.[11]

However, since 1988 the WHO has classified diesel emissions as "probably carcinogenic to humans" and this classification (in part) has led to the new tighter standards on diesel emission (such as the Tier 4 emission standards of the UP Express). The carcinogenic classification is based largely on studies of high occupational exposure to diesel emissions, such as in underground mining. The WHO announcement on the change in diesel classification does not propose any changes to the WHO Air Quality Guidelines, which were used for the air quality thresholds in the 2011 Additional Review of Human Health Assessment for the UP Express (and noted to be more stringent than the guidelines used in earlier studies).[39][41][42]

Saba Ahmad, the lawyer representing the CTC, described the application as a test of whether government agencies must obey their own legislation. "We have been left with no choice but to seek a legal remedy to stop this dirty diesel plan," said CTC Chair Rick Ciccarelli. "We tried to persuade the government and Metrolinx to do the right thing and build an electric air rail link from the start."[12] On 21 November 2012, the Ontario Divisional Court turned down the application, and ordered the CTC to pay $30,000 in court costs.[43]



The TTC offers an express bus service between Pearson Airport and Kipling subway station

The Toronto Transit Commission operates the 192 Airport Rocket bus route, which links the airport to Kipling Station on the Bloor-Danforth line subway line. Cash fare for the TTC is $3.00, and allows passengers transfer to other routes to complete their journey without an additional fare. The travel time from downtown by TTC is normally at least 60 minutes, more than twice as long as expected by the UP Express.[44] The 192 does, however, provide a luggage rack for travellers unlike most TTC vehicles.[45]

GO Transit operates two bus routes connecting to Pearson. Route 40 provides hourly non-stop service between Richmond Hill Centre and Pearson. Route 34 provides service to Brampton and the York Mills Bus Terminal.[46] Fares for these services range between $5.20 and $6.35, depending on the distance travelled.[47]

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT had been projected to connect Pearson with the main TTC transit network by 2018 as part of Transit City.[48] However, Mayor Rob Ford announced the cancellation of Transit City on the day that he took office.[49] The redesigned Eglinton–Scarborough Crosstown line announced four months later included the Scarborough RT, but the line will terminate at Black Creek Drive instead of connecting to the airport.[50] A future extension could eventually reach the airport, completing the line as envisioned.[citation needed]


From 1993 until 2014, the Toronto Airport Express was a privately operated airport bus service from the airport to downtown Toronto operated by Pacific Western Transportation. Gray Coach founded the route in 1979.[51] As of 2012, a "One Ride Scheduled Service" to or from downtown Toronto cost $26.95 and a "One Ride On-Demand Airport Express Connect" fare cost $29.95. A one-way trip took approximately 45 to 90 minutes, depending on traffic. The service ceased operation on 31 October 2014 due to declining ridership, popularity of the Billy Bishop Airport, delays due to downtown road construction, and anticipated competition from the Union Pearson Express.[52]

Taxis and limousines are available, at variable and flat-rates, depending on which zone in Toronto the trip will originate or terminate, and are the most expensive form of transport, other than driving a car and paying the parking fees at the airport. Ride sharing services such as Uber Technologies's UberX are available, and will cost the user approximately $30 from the downtown core.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Georgetown South Projected Train Volumes and Speeds". GO Transit. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Metrolinx Unveils Next Wave of Big Move Projects". CNW Newswire. 29 November 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  3. ^ a b "The UPE Project". Metrolinx. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Georgetown South Project". GO Transit. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "Is Toronto's air-rail link the priciest in North America?". BlogTO. Retrieved 14 December 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "The Air Rail Link (ARL) - Fact Sheet". Metrolinx. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Kalinowski, Tess (31 July 2010). "Province vows rapid rail link to Pearson by 2015 Pan Ams". The Toronto Star (Toronto). Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  8. ^ "The Big Move". Metrolinx. 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2012. 
  9. ^ "UP Express Information". Toronto: UP Express. 28 October 2013. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Kalinowski, Tess (19 August 2011). "Metrolinx ad ruled ‘misleading’ on electrification". The Toronto Star (Toronto). Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  11. ^ a b Clean Train Coalition Inc. v. Metrolinx, 380/12 2 August 2012 (Ontario Superior Court of Justice).
  12. ^ a b Mackenzie, Robert (11 August 2012). "Clean Train Coalition seeks judicial review to stop diesel trains along Air-Rail Link". Transit Toronto. Retrieved 11 August 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Environmental Project Report – Georgetown South Service Expansion and Union-Pearson Rail Link". Toronto: Metrolinx. 2009-07-30. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  14. ^ a b "Backgrounder 2 – Union Pearson Airlink Group's Blue22 Service". Transport Canada. 13 November 2003. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Transport Minister Announces Winning Proposal for Toronto Air-Rail Link" (Press release). Ottawa: Transport Canada. 13 November 2003. Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  16. ^ a b Boyle, Theresa (5 August 2008). "High-speed rail link to airport on fast track". The Toronto Star (Toronto). Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2011. 
  17. ^ CNW Group (15 December 2008). "Metrolinx is new proponent of Georgetown Line". CNW Group. Retrieved 29 April 2010. 
  18. ^ CNW Group (30 July 2010). "Metrolinx to build, own and operate Air Rail Link". CNW Group. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c "Air Rail Link Service:Pearson to Union". Toronto: Metrolinx. 16 November 2010. Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  20. ^ Ontario Superior Court (21 November 2012). "Clean Train Coalition Inc. v. Metrolinx, 2012 ONSC 6593". Canadian Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  21. ^ "Key Dates". Toronto: Union Pearson Express. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  22. ^ a b "Air Rail Link". Metrolinx. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  23. ^ Union Pearson Express: The Project - Stations
  24. ^ a b c "UP and Coming - UP Express: Operational Readiness Update". Toronto: Metrolinx. March 2015. Retrieved 04 March 2015.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  25. ^ "GO Transit Bloor GO Station Construction Update". Go Transit. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  26. ^ "Georgetown South Project – Ail Rail Link". Toronto: GO Transit. 30 November 2011. Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  27. ^ a b c Kalinowski, Tess (9 March 2015). "UPX offers 'clean' train ride with a view". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 9 March 2015. 
  28. ^ a b "The Vehicles". Union Pearson Express. 
  29. ^ "Metrolinx orders DMUs to work airport rail link". Railway Gazette. 1 March 2011. Archived from the original on 1 March 2011. Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  30. ^ "SMART Technical Specification for Diesel Multiple Units". 20 January 2010. 
  31. ^ CBC News (24 October 2011). "Toronto's airport rail link to be built by consortium". CBC. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 
  32. ^ "Financial Close Reached on Three-Kilometre Air Rail Link "Spur Line" and New Passenger station Project". Government of Ontario. 19 December 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  33. ^ a b Ferguson, Rob (19 December 2011). "Construction to start in spring on airport rail link". The Toronto Star (Toronto). Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  34. ^ Stephen C Host (2014-08-15). "Toronto airport express trains arrive in Canada". Railway Journal. Archived from the original on 2014-08-16. Retrieved 2014-08-16. THE FIRST two of 18 DMU cars being supplied by Sumitomo to Toronto transport authority Metrolinx for use on the Union Pearson Express (UP Express) airport rail link have arrived in Canada. 
  35. ^ "Union Pearson Express: Behind-the-scenes look at new airport route". CBC News. 2014-08-13. Archived from the original on 2014-08-17. Retrieved 2014-08-16. Toronto’s new airport express train is almost ready for its first batch of travellers, with construction nearly complete. Travellers will be able to ride Metrolinx’s Union Pearson Express starting this spring. 
  36. ^ "Georgetown South Project FAQ’s, 'GO Transit'". Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  37. ^ "AIR QUALITY ASSESSMENT GEORGETOWN SOUTH SERVICE EXPANSION & UNION PEARSON RAIL LINK TORONTO, ONTARIO, RWDI Consulting Engineers & Scientists'". July 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  38. ^ "Appendix 9, Multiple Category Evaluation - Findings and Conclusions, Metrolinx". December 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2012. 
  39. ^ a b "Georgetown South Project Additional Review of Human Health Assessment – Executive Summary". GO Transit. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  40. ^ "Backgrounder – Position Statement", Clean Train Coalition, 3 June 2009
  41. ^ "UN health agency re-classifies diesel engine exhaust as ‘carcinogenic to humans’". UN News Centre. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  42. ^ "W.H.O. Declares Diesel Fumes Cause Lung Cancer". The New York Times. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2012. 
  43. ^ "Court clears way for diesel trains on new Pearson route". CBC. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  44. ^ "TTC Trip Planner". Toronto Transit Commission. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  45. ^ "192 Airport Rocket: Route Description". Toronto Transit Commission. Retrieved November 2014. Luggage racks are available on this route. 
  46. ^ Going to the Airport – GOTransit.com
  47. ^ "Fare Calculator – GOTransit.com". GO Transit. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  48. ^ "Commission Report Macro" (PDF). Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  49. ^ "Mayor Rob Ford: "Transit City is over"". Toronto Life. 1 December 2010. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  50. ^ Natalie Alcoba (31 March 2011). "Funding questions linger after new transit plan announced". National Post. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  51. ^ "Fares". Toronto Airport Express. Mississauga, Ontario: Pacific Western Transportation Ltd. 2011. Archived from the original on 30 November 2011. 
  52. ^ "Toronto Airport Express bus to stop service this fall". Toronto Star. 14 June 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2014. 

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