|UPX 3002 arrives at the Pearson station. The centre DMU cars are fitted with a driving cab, allowing the trains to easily run in 2 or 3-car formations.|
The “UP” (as people call it) connects Pearson Airport Terminal 1 with Union Station between 5:30 AM and 1 AM, 7 days a week. Trains run every 15 minutes and the trip, which also serves the intermediate Bloor and Weston stations, takes 25 minutes, easily beating all existing transport links. The brand-new Nippon Sharyo DMUs, equipped with luggage space, electrical outlets and complimentary Wi-Fi, are sleek European-style trains which, according to rail staff, are a joy to drive. They are very similar units to the modern DMUs used in the UK, which brought back happy memories for me. Of course, all of these improvements come at a cost. A one-way ticket costs $27.50 (although PRESTO card users get a significant discount) and the entire project cost nearly half a billion dollars. However, when you consider the cost of flying these days, the cost doesn’t seem so bad.
I arrived just before 11 and, quite by accident, managed to see the official cake-cutting ceremony. Lots of important-looking people took turns with the ceremonial knife for the media. Excitement over, I boarded a train and waited for my ride to begin. The coaches are quite spacious and the seats, complete with retractable armrests and tray tables, are comfortable. There is lots of luggage space in each coach and the whole ambience is a good welcome to the city. Soon, the train was off and slowly rolled along the nearly 3.3 km-long elevated section which connects the airport with the existing Weston Sub. Imagine: the only thing stopping trains travelling to the airport was this tiny stretch. That said, the elevated section is a feat of engineering. Reaching as high as 28 metres, it is the longest bridge in Ontario and gives you the impression that you are still flying.
Once the train joins the main line, you are treated to a view of Woodbine Racetracks, industrial and post-industrial wastelands and the shabby eclecticism of West Toronto. The train makes brief stops at new stations at both Weston and Bloor so that people don’t need to travel all the way downtown. Both of these stations are still being built (in fact, delays in station construction have pushed back the opening of the UPX, which had only committed to an opening date about a month ago). The train rolls under the West Toronto Grade Separation, which has seen the once-busy diamond transformed to allow trains to pass one on top of the other without delays. This was one of several construction projects needed to allow the UPX to work. At Strachan Ave., the level crossing has been replaced with a rail underpass to improve safety in what is becoming an increasingly populated part of the city. Beyond the underpass, the train rounds the curve past Fort York and coasts through the Union Station Rail Corridor to the new UPX station at Union.
The station at Union is the flagship for the entire service, featuring a gift shop, cafe and restaurant. Located in the Skywalk, it is a short walk from the main Union Station, offering a seamless connection to the TTC, VIA and GO Transit. The Pearson station is little more than an enclosed platform, while the Bloor and Weston stations are essentially tacked onto existing GO stations.
So often in Canada, new about public transportation is grim. However, I think we have a good news story for once in the form of the UPX. Of course, whether the UPX will succeed remains to be seen. The fares are high, especially compared to the TTC’s airport shuttle, and relying on more affluent travellers is a bit of a gamble. I don’t see anyone using it as a commuter route into downtown, so it will have to rely on air travellers and may not benefit ordinary Torontonians as much as has been advertised. With rising fuel costs and increased security, flying is more arduous than at any time in recent memory and all bets are off for the future of commercial aviation. Despite my reservations, this project shows that the current government is willing to built public transportation in Ontario (the south at least). For that reason, I think we should smile and praise the UPX for what it is - a step in the right direction.