Union Pearson Express

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Union Pearson Express
Union Pearson Express logo.svg
An UP Express trainset at Mimico GO Station
Type Airport rail link
Status Operational
Locale Toronto and Mississauga
Stations 4
Ridership 2.35 million annually
(projected by 2018)[1]
Website UPExpress.com
Opened June 6, 2015 (2015-06-06)[1]
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) [2]
Route map

The Union Pearson Express (UP Express)[3] is a passenger train service in the Greater Toronto Area, running between Canada's two busiest transportation hubs, Union Station in Downtown Toronto, and Toronto Pearson International Airport. The UP Express began operation on June 6, 2015, in time for the 2015 Pan American Games.[1][4][5] The UP Express travels between Union and Pearson in 25 minutes[6] departing every 15 minutes, seven days a week. An adult fare from Union to Pearson is C$27.50, with reduced fare prices based on age as well as additional discounts for Presto card users and airport staff.[7] At the launch announcement, it was stated that UP is projected to carry 2.35 million passengers annually, and eliminate approximately 1.2 million car trips in the first year.[1]

UP Express is a division of Metrolinx, the Ontario government agency that manages and integrates transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. An airport rail link was one of the priority projects identified in Metrolinx's regional transportation plan, The Big Move.[8] Construction began in 2011 as part of the Georgetown South Project, which expanded the rail corridor the UP Express shares with its sister division GO Transit, and with Via Rail.[4][9] UP Express uses diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains that meet United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 emission standards. The Kitchener line and UP Express will be electrified, although no date has been set[10] The UP Express has been criticized for not using electric trains from the outset, and for fare prices that are high compared to other North American airport-city connections.[11][12][13]


Early proposals

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.[14]

SNC Lavalin era

The original Blue22 service proposed by SNC-Lavalin would have used refurbished Budd Rail Diesel Cars. Pictured are two cars used by Via Rail.[15]

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. An 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 November 13, 2003.[16] 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.[15]

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.[17]

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, in addition to the Mississauga Transitway, rapid transit corridors along Highways 427 and 407, and light rail transit lines along Eglinton and Finch Avenues.[14] In December 2008, Metrolinx became the proponent of new EA that would simultaneously assess a combination of both the UP Express and GO Transit's Georgetown South expansion.[18] The final Environmental Project Report was released on July 30, 2009.[14]

Metrolinx takeover

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.[19][20] Metrolinx established the new operating division that would become Union Pearson Express.[21] The name 'Air Rail Link' was used as a placeholder until the official name was unveiled on November 29, 2012.[3]

Metrolinx largely preserved the same project scope as had been approved in the environmental assessment, with the service designed for air travellers rather than for conventional commuters. Changes from SNC Lavalin's former proposal included refinements to take into account synergies with GO Transit.[21] In November 2010, the Board of Directors of Metrolinx authorized its staff to enter into negotiations with Sumitomo Corporation of America to supply Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs); the contract was approved by the Board in February 2011 and executed on 31 March 2011.[22] Kathy Haley was named the first president of the division in July 2011.[23]


Station construction in the SkyWalk beside Union Station in downtown Toronto.

It was announced on October 24, 2011 that the consortium AirLinx Transit Partners had been selected to complete building the UP Express. The consortium comprises some of Canada's largest construction companies such as Aecon and Dufferin Construction.[24] Construction on the spur line and passenger station at Pearson began in the spring of 2012, at a cost of $128.6 million.[25][26] As of 2010, the entire project was expected to cost C$456 million.[27]

Undertaken as part of the Georgetown South Project, the work consisted of five new road overpasses and two road underpass, one railway grade separation, one bridge reconstruction and the widening of 15 other bridges, construction/re-construction of four stations, major track and grading construction, signal installations utility relocations, as well as the new 3.3 km spur to and from the airport. This work was conducted while minimizing disruption to existing train operations, local residents and businesses. A new rail tunnel under Highway 401 is still required at a later date to meet future ridership demands.[28]


Map of the Union Pearson Express route

Route and stations

The UP Express picks up and drops off passengers from Toronto Union Station via a fully enclosed platform and waiting area accessed from the SkyWalk. A guest service desk, furniture, automated ticket vending machines, Presto card validators, and washrooms are included. An upper floor lounge allows passengers to relax or meet others. CIBC provides access to Canadian and foreign cash through multi-currency ATMs.[29][30]

From Union Station, the UP Express heads northwest along the existing GO Transit Kitchener line. This 22-kilometre (14-mile) section of track between Bathurst Street and Highway 427 was upgraded as part of GO's Georgetown South Project, which improved infrastructure along the route to accommodate the UP Express, GO Transit, Canadian National, and Via Rail services.[4][14] The UP Express makes two intermediate stops at Bloor and Weston GO stations. Bloor Station was 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.[31][32]

Beyond Highway 427, a newly constructed 3.3 km (2.1 mi) rail spur carries the UP Express from the Kitchener line to the airport, forming the longest elevated rail bridge in Ontario.[30][33] The elevated spur to Pearson Airport reaches a maximum height of 28 metres (92 feet), offering a view of the CN Tower in Toronto and the Absolute World towers in Mississauga.[30][34] At Pearson, the UP Express arrives at Pearson Terminal 1 Station. The station is directly adjacent to the existing LINK Train, which allows connections to Terminal 3 and the Viscount parking garage.[21]

Station list

Station name District Distance (km) Connections
From Pearson
Pearson Pearson Airport - 0.0 LINK Train
Weston Weston 11.1 11.1 GO Transit (Kitchener line), TTC buses
Bloor High ParkJunction Triangle 6.9 18 GO Transit (Kitchener line), TTC (Dundas West subway station, bus, streetcar)
Union Downtown 5.3 23.3 TTC (Union subway station and streetcar), GO Transit (all lines), Via Rail, Amtrak, PATH, TTC and intercity buses

Rolling stock

An UP Express train approaches Pearson Station.

The Union Pearson Express uses Nippon Sharyo DMU trains. The fleet consists of 18 diesel multiple unit (DMU) cars, as four three-car and three two-car sets.[35] On 1 March 2011, Metrolinx announced that it had chosen to buy 12 DMU cars (six two-car trains) from Nippon Sharyo at a cost of C$53 million, for the service.[36] This was later expanded to 18 DMU cars (adding one car to each train) via an option order. This brought the cost to US$75 million.[27][35] The DMUs were manufactured in Japan, assembled in Chicago, and towed by rail to Toronto, with the first trainset arriving on August 15, 2014.[34][37]

The trainsets seat between 115 and 173 people. On-board features include power outlets, Wi-Fi internet, luggage facilities, and washrooms.[31][38] The service operates daily between 5:30 and 1:00 am every 15 minutes, making a total of approximately 140 trips daily.[38]

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, the DMUs are believed to be the first trains in the world that comply with the United States Environmental Protection Agency Tier 4 emission standards, which will reduce emissions up to 90%.[34] Braking energy is converted into electricity by the auxiliary power generator, and helps to provide onboard lighting and heating.[39] They also comply with FRA Tier 1 crash energy management features. Modifications for UP Express use include enclosed overhead luggage bins that comply with Transport Canada rules and an enhanced enclosed luggage tower.

Environmental impact

The Tier 4 engines produce substantially lower emissions than most other diesel vehicles in Toronto.[40] 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 raise any pollution level above the provincial criterion levels.[41] 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 on the order of 0.2% to local air pollution, and that electrification would result in only a small improvement to local air quality.[42] 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.[43]


UP Express trains are stored at GO Transit Don Yard located at the corner of Cherry and Mill Streets.[citation needed] The facility stores trains outdoors on layover tracks with other GO Transit train sets.


Fares range based on age, origin and destination, and the method of payment. Discounts are available for groups, riders meeting others, and airport employees.[7] The fares have been criticized as being the most expensive airport link in North America.[13] VIA Rail tickets are also accepted as payment as well for those travelling by train to and from other places in Canada due to an interline agreement with VIA Rail.[44]

Union Pearson Express Fares[7]
Fare Class One Way (Round Trip) to/from Pearson
Union Bloor Weston
Adult Presto Card $19.00 ($38.00) $15.20 ($30.40) $11.40 ($22.80)
Non-Presto $27.50 ($53.00) $22.00 ($42.00) $16.50 ($31.00)
Student/Senior Presto Card $16.15 ($32.30) $12.90 ($25.80) $9.70 ($19.40)
Non-Presto $23.40 ($44.80) $18.70 ($35.40) $14.05 ($26.10)
Child Presto Card $9.50 ($19.00) $7.60 ($15.20) $5.70 ($11.40)
Non-Presto $13.75 ($25.50) $11.00 ($20.00) $8.25 ($14.50)
Family Non-Presto $55.00 ($110.00) $44.00 ($88.00) $33.00 ($66.00)
Minors (under 6 years) and accessibility companions ride free of charge. $2 is added to fares paid on board instead of prior to boarding.


By June 19, 2015, the Union Pearson Express was averaging about 3,250 riders a day, or 12 percent capacity.[45] Metrolinx has projected that a year after opening, the service will attract 5,000 riders a day — about 1 million customers. By 2020, Metrolinx expects 2.46 million rides will bring it up to full operating cost recovery.[46]

However, ridership declined in the service's opening months. Ridership in August 2015 was 17 percent lower than in June 2015 and a further 4 percent lower in the first two weeks of September. Ridership ended up averaging 2,300 per day during a four-week period in September 2015, a drop of 29 percent since June. The service needs about 7,000 riders per day to break even on operating costs,[47] which is a little over three times the most recent ridership figures. Even to match the initial Metrolinx projections, the service will need to more than double the ridership in nine months.

Public opposition and legal challenges

Residents living along the Weston section of the 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.[17][19] 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.[48] 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.[26]

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).[43][49][50]

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 November 21, 2012, the Ontario Divisional Court turned down the application, and ordered the CTC to pay $30,000 in court costs.[51]



GO Transit and the TTC offer bus service to and from Pearson Airport.

The Toronto Transit Commission operates the 192 Airport Rocket bus route, an express service linking the airport to Kipling Station on subway Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth), and the 52 Lawrence West service, a local bus route connecting the airport to Lawrence West and Lawrence (TTC) stations on Line 1 (Yonge-University). Cash fare for the TTC is $3.00 (the cheapest option between the airport and the city), including free transfers to or from the subway or other routes as needed to complete one's journey. The travel time from downtown by TTC is normally at least 45 minutes, twice as long as by the UP Express.[52] The 192 does provide a luggage rack for travellers, unlike most TTC vehicles.[53] The TTC also operates the only overnight bus services to the airport, as part of the Blue Night Network.

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 a semi-express service from Finch Bus Terminal on subway Line 1 and Yorkdale to Pearson .[54] Fares for these services range between $5.20 and $6.35, depending on the distance travelled.[55]

The Eglinton Crosstown line had been projected to connect Pearson with the main TTC transit network by 2018 as part of Transit City.[56] However, Mayor Rob Ford announced the cancellation of Transit City on the day that he took office.[57] The redesigned Eglinton Crosstown line announced four months later terminated at Black Creek Drive instead of connecting to the airport.[58] Metrolinx's The Big Move Regional Transportation Plan calls for the Eglinton Crosstown to be extended west to the airport, in addition to the Finch West LRT.[59]


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.[60] 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 October 31, 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.[61]

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 for a single rider, 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


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External links

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