Driverless rail transit line recommended to link Calgary Airport

Jun 24 2019, 1:30 pm

The City of Calgary is one big step closer towards creating a possible longer-term master plan of connecting Calgary International Airport (YYC) with rail transit service.

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City staff have released their route and technology recommendations for the proposed service, which would be a standalone line running between the future Green Line extension’s 96 Avenue NE Station and the future Blue Line extension’s 88 Avenue NE Station.

There could be six stations along the rough 10-km-long route, including the terminus stations and the airport terminal station.

Modelled after Vancouver’s SkyTrain

Three technology options were considered for the new line: bus rapid transit (BRT), automated driverless transit, and light rail transit (LRT).

The municipal government has stated its preference for a driverless, fully grade-separated rapid transit line, similar to Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, which includes the Canada Line serving Vancouver International Airport.

“Between the three options, we’re recommending the Automated People Mover. This option is based on what we would use for the medium- to long-term time frame, based on the ridership that we’ve forecasted,” Alex Saba, a senior transportation engineer with the City of Calgary, told Daily Hive, who noted the Canada Line as an example.

“This system provides a faster turn-around time at the airport station, allowing for more frequent service and saves about 25% in travel and wait times, compared to a system that requires drivers. It’s also a better customer experience. There are no local emissions and reduces impacts to the environment.”

Vancouver International Airport YVR Airport Station Canada Line

Canada Line’s YVR Airport Station. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

A driverless system would carry a similar construction cost as LRT, with additional costs for automation offset by reduced station sizes, given that capacity increases can easily be accomplished with higher train frequencies instead of longer trains. If the airport line were a spur of the LRT network, station platforms would have to be significantly longer to accommodate four-car trains.

Driverless systems also have a lower operating cost than LRT and BRT.

In making their recommendations, city staff said they considered factors such as speed, fast travel times to downtown, frequency, capacity, reliability, and technologies with a proven track record.

Preferred route

City staff have envisioned a tunnelled approach for the western end of the airport line, including an underground station that directly connects with the future Green Line station at 96 Avenue NE.

But as the route travels east, it will deviate from Airport Trail, travelling southeast in a trench with future stations that directly serve Aurora Business Park.

Calgary Airport Line

Preferred station interchange concept at the 96 Avenue NE Station between the future Green Line and Airport Line. (City of Calgary)

Calgary Airport Line

Proposed Calgary Airport Line route to connect with the future Green Line. (City of Calgary)

It will transition into an elevated guideway over Deerfoot Trail, before re-transitioning into a trench and at-grade guideway.

In its final approach to the airport terminal station, the line would be elevated over the airport parking lots, with a station serving this area.

East of the airport terminal for the remaining span to the future Blue Line extension, the line would run beneath a runway, before transitioning into a ground-level and elevated track towards the future 88 Avenue NE Station juncture. The operations and train yard facility for the line would be located on this eastern half of the route, at a site near Metis Trail.

Calgary Airport Line

Proposed Calgary Airport Line route and alignment. Click on the map for an enlarged version. (City of Calgary)

There is no timeline for the implementation of this new airport line as the project is unfunded, but city staff highlighted it could be completed in two phases, with the eastern half built first given that the 88 Avenue NE Station on the Blue Line will be completed before the 96 Avenue NE Green Line Station. This span is also less expensive to construct, and is supported by ridership forecasts.

The first phase — the eastern half from the Blue Line to YYC — could cost between $400 million and $800 million to build, with an operating cost of about $14.5 million per year. Peak service frequency would reach every four minutes.

And the second phase — the western half from the Green Line to YYC — could cost between $500 million and $1 billion to build. Its operating cost would be in the range of $20.5 million annually, with peak service trains running every 4.5 minutes.

Calgary Airport Line

Proposed Calgary Airport Line route, in relation to the wider rapid transit rail network. (City of Calgary)

Currently, the existing Route 300 Airport/City Centre express bus, running between the airport terminal and downtown Calgary, sees about 900 boardings per day. Its end-to-end travel time is approximately 45 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.

Vancouver’s Canada Line opened in 2009, just in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the airport span contributes to 9,700 of this SkyTrain line’s approximate 150,000 daily boardings. Passengers do not need to transfer for their trip to downtown; a one-seat train ride from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to downtown Vancouver is 25 minutes.

Toronto’s Union-Pearson Express opened in time for the 2015 Pan American Games. Unlike the Canada Line, which doubles as a local subway service, the Union-Pearson Express is a commuter rail-style service with just four stations along its 24-km-long route. The end-to-end travel time between Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and downtown Toronto is 25 minutes.

Union Pearson Express

Union-Pearson Express’ station at Toronto Pearson International Airport. (Shutterstock)

Although YYZ has significantly more air passengers and employees than YVR, the Union-Pearson Express achieves a significantly lower proportional ridership — the entire route to downtown Toronto has the same number of passengers as the Canada Line’s airport span.

Following a new round of public consultation that begins today and ends on July 9, city staff will create a final plan that will be presented to the public and city council in the fall and winter of 2019.

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