Riding the Union-Pearson Express
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Riding the Union-Pearson Express

We checked out the Union-Pearson Express station at Pearson airport, and did some trainspotting.

If you’ve been wondering when the Union­-Pearson Express will officially roll out, don’t worry if you’re still in the dark. It doesn’t seem like officials have any better idea.

“Spring 2015” is the largely­ vague time frame offered by press materials, and it’s certainly the most hopeful outlook for Metrolinx and participant heavyweights.

The signage at Pearson itself remains vague, with directions throughout Terminal 1 completely avoiding any mention of the “Union­-Pearson Express.” Only on the platform itself, adjacent to Terminal 1’s boarding area for the existing Terminal Link service, does anything comparable exist: a wall, a couple of doors, a lot of Metrolinx renderings, and the cacophany of construction equipment behind them.

To be fair, though, there’s reason to think that spring of this year might be a more reasonable end ­date than transit­-weary travellers would, quite understandably, let themselves believe. This morning, journalists were invited to the Terminal 1 platform to check out the construction progress, and to see whether reality meets the Metrolinx renderings.


How Much You’ll Pay for the Union-Pearson Express

Whether it will be worth the cost, of course, is something that can only be determined once the nebulous definition of a “spring 2015” roll­out actually materializes.

When it does, the trains will run between Union Station and Pearson International Airport about 140 times per day, the trip taking about 25 minutes, every 15 minutes, 19 hours per day.

Stopping at Bloor and Weston stations, the existing Kitchener Corridor then veers into the vicinity of Pearson, culminating in a newly constructed three­-kilometre “spur,” ­­an elevated loop that passes over power lines and overpasses, winds between buildings, and comes to a stop at what will eventually be called “UP Express Pearson Station” at Terminal 1.

The route, Metrolinx materials say, gives “visitors and residents spectacular views of the city” as they arrive at and leave the airport. On tracks raised 30 metres above the ground, that much is certain.

20150309 Torontoist UP 097

After the donning of reflective vests and helmets to safely enter what it still a construction site, journalists were given a tour of the rail concourse under development. Here, said Daryl Barnett, Metrolinx’s VP of Network Construction, passengers will be treated to everything from another commanding view of the Greater Toronto Area to Wi­Fi access, one of the service’s most-­touted perks.

Ontario-­grown wood lines the ceiling, windows leave the space open to the sun, and supporting beams, officials said, are intentionally designed in a Y­-shape to represent a person with arms raised in elation. ­This is supposedly the way you’ll feel when you’re not stressed out by your trip to and from the airport, an official said earnestly.

It was, of course, a public-relations pitch designed to appeal to Torontonians not universally on board with the plan. The ride, however, did what the most well­-crafted pitch couldn’t.

20150309 Torontoist UP 167

Easing out of Pearson, the “tier 4” trains softly bumped along the connecting track before meeting the spur line, riding at an elevation that rivals only Pearson’s tower in terms of view. Boeings and Bombardiers sitting at Terminal 3, waiting to receive passengers, were visible on the left side; the skylines of Mississauga and downtown dominated the view to the right. With ample luggage space, technical amenities, and decent enough legroom—not to mention the view and the quiet ride­—the lasting impression was of exactly what you’d want between the subway and the airliner.

Despite the quality of the ride, it likely won’t be enough for everybody. While the tier-4 design used by the Union-Pearson Express will be environmentally progressive, at least nominally, the big questions for those who live along the Corridor relating to electrification may not be satisfied.

“Absolutely,” Metrolinx representatives said, addressing questions from press on the subject. As in yes, absolutely, it’s going to happen one day—with a commitment from the Ontario government and environmental approval, electrification of the route has received every green light possible, short of actually flipping the switch. But there remains, as ever, no firm timeline on when that might happen, representatives said.

“We know we’re going to get there.”