Airport Connectors

The most interesting transit planner in the world:


This principle is true primarily for large international airports. As I will explain, this is less true of smaller airports. But before going on, I would like to clarify a distinction between bad and overrated. Airport connectors, as I have argued many times, are overrated: city elites tend to like them disproportionately to their transit usage, as do many urban boosters, who think a comfortable airport connector is a necessary feature of a great global city. The result of this thinking (and also the main evidence we have that this thinking exists) is that airport connectors are built at much higher costs per rider than other transit projects: the JFK and Newark AirTrains cost more than $100,000 per weekday rider, much more than other recent rail projects in New York; even the far over-budget East Side Access, at current estimates, is about $60,000.

However, overrated does not mean bad. There exist airport connector projects with reasonable cost per rider. They’re still overrated, which means they’ll be built concurrently with even more cost-effective non-airport projects, but they’re good enough by themselves. As an example, take the Canada Line. The total cost was about $2 billion, and the latest ridership figure I have, from 2011, is 136,000 per weekday, ahead of projections. At $15,000 per rider, this is reasonable by European standards and very good by North American ones. Let us now look at the two branches of the line, to Richmond and the airport. Lacking separate cost data for them, I am going to estimate them at about $300 million each, as they are entirely above-ground; the airport branch is 4 km and the Richmond branch is 3 km, but the Richmond branch has an urban el and the airport branch doesn’t. For ridership data, we have this set of figures per station (which results in a Canada Line total of only 113,000). Boardings and alightings sum to 19,000 on the airport branch and 34,000 on the Richmond branch; we’re double counting intra-branch trips, but there presumably are very few of these. As we see, the Richmond branch is more cost-effective, but the airport branch holds its own – since the per-station data has a lower overall Canada Line ridership, the airport branch’s presumed cost per extra rider generated is less than that of the entire line! (This sometimes happens, even with branches that generate less ridership than the trunk.) Clearly, despite the fact that airport connectors are overrated, this is an example of a good project.

The importance of the overrated vs. bad distinction is then that good transit advocates need to be wary, since airport connectors that don’t work well might get funded anyway, ahead of more deserving projects. But there remain good airport connectors, and therefore we should discuss what features they might have. The answer given by city elites is typically “nonstop connection to the CBD,” often with a premium fare. But the good transit answer is more complicated, and the graphic at the top of the post is only a partial answer.

There is a difference between short- and long-distance air travel. In many cities it doesn’t matter much because there’s a single dominant airport – Beijing, Frankfurt, Zurich, Atlanta, Toronto – but in others there are multiple airports, with different roles. Often there will be a smaller, closer-in, older airport, serving mostly domestic flights, and a larger, farther away, newer international airport. Paris has Orly and Charles-de-Gaulle, Chicago has Midway and O’Hare, New York has LaGuardia and JFK (Newark is intermediate in its role, even if it’s the oldest), Los Angeles has Burbank and LAX (the other airports are somewhat outside this division), Dallas has Love Field and DFW, Tokyo has Haneda and Narita, Seoul has Gimpo and Incheon. Because those airports have different functions, they require different kinds of transportation links.

First, let us consider departing passengers. If they travel to another continent, their options are quite restricted: for example, if they live within driving distance of Atlanta, they’re flying out of Atlanta. Even if there are closer secondary airports (such as Greenville-Spartanburg and Chattanooga), they don’t offer such service – at most, they offer a connecting puddle jumper flight to the primary airport. In contrast, if they travel shorter distances, and live far from the primary airport, they could fly out of a secondary airport, or might just drive instead of flying: a 2-hour drive to the airport is comparatively more tolerable for an 8-hour intercontinental flight than for a 1.5-hour short-hop flight. For example, when I lived in Providence, my air trips were all to the West Coast or Europe, so I flew out of Boston or even New York; but when my sister visited, she chained trips and also visited her boyfriend, who at the time lived in North Carolina, and for the domestic leg of the trip she flew out of T. F. Green.

The result is that primary international airports draw their departing passengers from a much wider shed than mainly domestic airports. In metro areas with such separation of airports, the international airports – Charles de Gaulle, JFK, DFW, Incheon, etc. – draw riders from faraway suburbs and even from adjacent small metro areas, whereas the domestic airports draw riders primarily from the city and its nearby suburbs.

Now, let us consider arriving passengers. Destinations are more centralized than origins, but this is especially true for international trips than for domestic ones. Tourism trips are heavily centralized around a few attractions, which in most cities are in the CBD, or in specific locations: if you’re flying to the Paris region for tourism, your destination is either Paris proper or Eurodisney, rather than an average suburb. Business trips are also heavily centralized around the CBD and a few edge cities. Personal visits have no such concentration, and these are much more common for short-distance domestic flights than for long-distance international flights. I am unusual in that I live on a different continent from my parents; usually, people live within ground transportation or short-distance flying distance from family and friends, depending on the country they live in (short-distance flying distance is more common in the US). The result here is that arriving passengers at domestic airports are typically interested in visiting the CBD but often also the rest of the metro area, whereas arriving passengers at international airports are much more CBD- or tourist attraction-centric.

Some evidence for this difference can be found in looking at the Consumer Airfare Report, which has domestic O&D traffic counts between airport pairs. The primary international airport usually has a smaller percentage of its domestic O&D traffic going to shorter-distance cities. For example, at LAX, 13% of traffic is within California, and another 6% is to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson, within a 3-hour high-speed rail range. At Burbank, the corresponding figures are 42% and 21% respectively. The same pattern can be observed for O’Hare (8.6% of traffic is internal to the Midwest) and Midway (14.6%), and DFW (3% of traffic is internal to the Texas Triangle) and Love Field (27%).

The mode of transportation that best suits the needs of international airports is then mainline rail. On the one hand, it tends to be better than urban transit at serving trips that are dedicated to CBD service, since commuter rail is more radial than urban transit, and the stop spacing is typically also longer (although dedicated premium connectors are still often wastes of money). On the other hand, it can extend deep into the suburbs and to adjacent metro areas, and expand the airport’s draw. People can ride intercity (often high-speed) trains direct to the terminal at Frankfurt, Zurich, and Charles-de-Gaulle, and this allows those airports to be the primary international airports for metro areas in a wide radius: SNCF code-shares with airlines to connect people from Charles-de-Gaulle to Lyon, 400 km and 2 hours away by TGV.

This is not true of small domestic airports. A TGV connection to Orly would’ve been much less beneficial than the current connection to Charles-de-Gaulle: most of Orly’s traffic is short-distance, often competing with the TGV rather than complementing it.

With this distinction in mind, we should look at the situation at the major American airports. In California, the current plan is to have California High-Speed Rail serve both SFO (at Millbrae) and Burbank Airport; the original plan served Downtown Burbank instead of the airport, but the HSR Authority seems to have shifted its focus, and wants Burbank to be the southern terminus of the line, pending construction to LA Union Station. This is bad planning. Nearly two-thirds of Burbank’s traffic competes either with California HSR or with future tie-ins. People from Bakersfield and Fresno are unlikely to take a train to the airport to connect to a flight, since they can take a train the whole way, or drive directly to Las Vegas or Phoenix. People in Bakersfield and Fresno would be more interested in a connection to LAX, whose traffic complements rather than competes with intercity rail.

Los Angeles could build a connection to LAX, running both frequent electric commuter trains and high-speed trains on it. The Harbor Subdivision has existing tracks from Union Station almost the entire way to the airport, although the route is at-grade, with a large portion of it running next to Slauson Avenue, and most likely a major project like this would require viaducts. Only a short greenfield segment, elevated over Century, is required to reach the proposed Terminal 0 location, and that is only necessary if, as in Zurich and Frankfurt, LAX wishes to avoid a landside people mover. It is both bad transit and bad politics to build this only for nonstop trains: the route passes through reasonably dense urban neighborhoods, and should have 10-12 stops along the way, with some trains running local and others making only 1-3 stops, at major nodes such as Inglewood or the intersection with the Blue Line. There is room for passing sidings at the line’s midpoint, but the low top speed and the short length of the line is such that overtakes are only necessary if there are nonstop and local trains every 10 minutes. Such an airport connector would serve many different trips at once: HSR trips from Central Valley cities to LAX, arriving trips from LAX to Downtown LA (and, via transfers at intermediate stops, to the Westside), and local trips on the Slauson corridor. It’s a flexibility that modernized regional rail has, and that other modes of transportation, which can’t mix local and intercity traffic as well, lack.

Leaving California, let us look at New York. There are perennial proposals for a new connection to LaGuardia (via an extension of the N) and an additional connection to JFK (usually using the Rockaway Cutoff). There is also a new proposal for a Newark connection via PATH. With the distinction between short-distance domestic and long-distance international airports (Newark is intermediate between the two), we can analyze these proposals. Newark is the easiest to dispose of: the cost is extreme, $1.5 billion for 4 km above ground. It also has several design flaws: unlike the LAX connector I outlined above, this proposal is nonstop from Newark Penn, skipping the former South Street railroad station; the lack of intercity service improvement and the poor service to the Midtown hotel clusters doom it as a CBD connector.

The JFK proposals are problematic as well. The AirTrain connection to Jamaica is quite useful, since it lets people from all over Long Island connect to the airport. Improving JFK access hinges on improving service to Jamaica, then: through-service from New Jersey, higher off-peak LIRR frequencies, reelectrification with catenary to permit Amtrak send Northeast Corridor trains that aren’t needed for Boston service to Jamaica. East Side Access improves JFK access as well, since it allows LIRR trains to serve Grand Central, which is closer to the Midtown hotel clusters than Penn Station. Ideally there wouldn’t be an AirTrain connection, but it’s the best that can be done given existing infrastructure and given Jamaica’s importance. A Rockaway Cutoff connection, which branches from the LIRR Main Line west of Jamaica, would not help Long Islanders go to JFK; it would also not be able to carry intercity trains, since Amtrak trains to Jamaica can serve both airport riders and Long Island riders, each of which groups alone is too small to justify intercity trains on its own.

In contrast, LaGuardia proposals are better, since for a close-in, domestic airport, service to the entire city is more important. I remain somewhat skeptical – airport connectors are still overrated – but less dismissive than of Newark and JFK proposals. LaGuardia travelers from the Upper East Side, which as far as I remember supplies a majority of its departing traffic, would have to transfer at 59th Street; but they have to detour through 59th or 125th via taxi already, and the subway would not get stuck in Manhattan traffic. Conversely, there is much less need to connect the airport with the suburbs and with neighboring metro areas than there is with JFK, which means that there is no point in constructing people movers to the LIRR.

Finally, let us look at Chicago. O’Hare has the airport connection of a domestic airport rather than that of an international airport. There are plans for an express link to the Loop, but these do nothing for departing passengers from neighboring areas. While airport connectors tend to be overrated, express premium-fare links are especially overrated, since they give business travelers dedicated trains, on which they always find seats, without needing to commingle with lower-income riders.

However, some of the Midwestern high-speed rail proposals include a connection to O’Hare from the outlying metro areas, and this is good planning, assuming the cost is not excessive. SNCF’s proposal includes a bypass of Chicago that serves O’Hare, similar to the Interconnexion Est. A second step, if such a connection is built, is to attempt to connect regional lines to it, if they are electrified. This includes both inward connections, i.e. a frequent commuter rail connection to the Loop or West Loop with good connections (ideally, through-service) to other commuter lines, and outward connections, i.e. low-speed short-distance intercity lines, such as to Rockford.

In all of these cases, the common thread is that the connection to the airport does not need to be a premium service, marketed only to the business traveler. These services are never the majority of airport transit ridership: see Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London numbers on PDF-p. 28 here. However, it does need to provide service to both departing and arriving passengers, and for a major international airport, this requires good service to the suburbs and to adjoining metro areas. The optimal technologies are often bundled together with premium fares – high-speed rail is in many countries, mainline rail is in North America – but the benefits come from features of the technology and service pattern, rather than of the branding. Good transit projects connecting to airports will make sure to have the correct service reach, while at the same time not excluding local riders.

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147 Responses to Airport Connectors

  1. sajohnston says:

    Living Upstate, I would kill for a direct Empire Service connection to JFK (that is, Jamaica). I know one could transfer to LIRR at NYP, but who wants to do that with bags, especially if you have to do it again at Jamaica? A one-seat ride from destinations Upstate to JFK would be a huge ridership driver for ES.

    • Peter Brassard says:

      Utilizing mostly existing track, it would be more likely that Connecticut and the eastern edge of Westchester could have a fairly easily one-seat ride to JFK. Upstate would be more complicated though desirable.

      • Alon Levy says:

        On the contrary: Hudson Line-Jamaica requires a realignment of Empire Connection track at Penn Station, but this should be done independently of JFK, just because it’s the best way to use Penn Station tracks; but New Haven Line-Jamaica requires a connection that splits frequencies, reducing the frequency in the most central portion of the line. A wrong-way transfer at Sunnyside is much likelier, even if it requires transferring with bags.

        • anonymouse says:

          Not it doesn’t. The Empire trains go to Sunnyside anyway to turn around, instead of going to the yard, they can just continue to Jamaica. The real problem is what do you do with them when they get there? The trains are single-ended and need a loop (as at Sunnyside) or a wye (as at Albany) to turn the train, or at least the locomotive, around. Maybe Amtrak will finally get some DMUs for the Springfield shuttles and free up some cab cars for the Empire trains. Or maybe they will buy more cab cars when they finally replace the Amfleets.

        • lop says:

          Would most or all LIRR/MNR trains be able to stop at a Sunnyside station? And how many of them would then stop at Jamaica? Would the station likely be set up for a cross platform timed transfer between Manhattan bound LIRR/CT bound MNR, and Manhattan bound MNR/Jamaica bound LIRR? If not I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier for most to just make the transfer at Penn.

          What’s the connection between MNR and LIRR going to be like at GC? Will the escalators coming up from the cavern connect to MNR easily?

          I’ve done LIRR-NJTransit to get to Newark for an international flight. It’s not the most convenient, but it’s not horrible off peak when NYP isn’t as crowded. Adding even just that level of connection between MNR and LIRR to bring Westchester and CT travelers to JFK would be an improvement.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Probably most trains could stop at Sunnyside, yes. I’m not sure about wrong-direction transfer timing; the most important transfer to time is same-direction, i.e. between Penn Station-bound Metro-North trains and Grand Central-bound LIRR trains. People could still transfer at Penn, of course, but that’s another 5 minutes on a train in each direction, plus longer walking time between platforms. It’s hard to time trains to meet each other at a transfer that requires walking between platforms, especially when those platforms are side by side rather than one on top of the other. However, since trains on both lines are likely to be frequent on the trunk, it’s possible to do something like run trains every 10 minutes and have them arrive with a 5-minute offset, so the 2 or 3 minutes of walking between platforms eat into the waiting time and don’t make you miss your train.

          • lop says:

            A Sunnyside transfer between NYP and GC bound trains would be nice, even without MNR PSA, right at the end of the trip instead of at Jamaica. But I thought they wanted to put the Sunnyside station by the QB bridge, after the GC bound tracks break off?


            It looks like Sunnyside is to have two through tracks, four tracks stopping, one in each direction served by a center platform, and two side platforms. Some trains stop at Woodside but not Jamaica. I’d hope that if some trains stop at Sunnyside but not Jamaica they try to run those on the outer platforms and make clear for the few airport bound passengers who are less likely to know what to do and may have never been there before that they can’t take that train. Good platform level, rather than just mezzanine level, displays would be a big help for those making transfers. If you can do a transfer on the center platform with a wait of less than ten minutes, at least with a roof to shield from snow or rain, that would be alright.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The proposed station is on the west side of the Sunnyside complex. The tunnels to Grand Central emerge on the east side of the complex.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      No it wouldn’t. People upstate may be rubes but they know how to use Expedia and Orbitz and can figure out that taking the train to JFK costs more and takes longer than flying to a hub and changing planes to get somewhere. They ain’t gonna do it to fly to the hub cities because they can get a non stop at their local airport.

      • Alon Levy says:

        That’s the difference between JFK and LaGuardia! Half the traffic at JFK is international. If you live in Albany, the hub you’d fly out of internationally is JFK. Maybe Newark, if you have a lot of Star Alliance miles, but JFK has much more international traffic. If you’re flying to California then maybe it’s faster to fly Albany-O’Hare-LAX/SFO, but I doubt it; air-air connections are long, and short-haul flights have padded schedules.

        • sajohnston says:

          Just some quick numbers on this, from a quick Kayak search (I moved to Albany from Chicago last year, and my parents still live in Chicago, so I have a personal stake here): a one-way ticket from ALB to ORD will run you $215 minimum, and that’s the cheapest I’ve ever seen–it’s more often in the $250–$270 range. Flying out of midsize airports is freakin’ expensive. A one-way ticket JFK-ORD starts around $160, and Empire Service is typically $42 ALB-NYP. The cost differential almost certainly isn’t worth the extra travel time for most people, though once Empire Corridor South improvements bring the trip time down (and presumably prices along with it–there’s no reason the fare on ES needs to be TWICE what Greyhound costs for the same trip), that might change. The cost differential for flights to the West Coast actually isn’t all that great ($50-$70), but there is no such thing as a nonstop from Albany to any airport on the West Coast that I know of. All of which is to say, I’m not sure an Empire Service connection to JFK would be as useful for domestic travelers as I assumed–though I’m sure it would still be very useful to international travelers. In any case, if and when Metro-North gets around to Hudson Line Penn Station Access, those trains should almost certainly be through-routed at least as far as Jamaica.

          • letsgola says:

            This may just be because I’m old and creaky, but I sort of prefer having a short layover to having a direct flight when I’m going coast to coast. ;)

            If you’re going international, how much does a puddle jumper from Albany to JFK cost? I just did a couple searches on Kayak for a month or two out and they were shockingly high – like $300+ (‘cuse was still $200-$250). If that’s typical there’d definitely be some market for Hudson Line to Jamaica.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            were you examining the flights? When I tell expedia I want to fly from ALB to CDG the fare is 1305 and in another window I tell Orbitz I want to fly NYC to CDG it’s 895 on the lowest lowest fare. The flights are 33 hours long. The 1,000 flights involve a change someplace between NY and Paris and are almost a day long. If I tell Orbitz I want non stops from NYC the price difference is 1305 versus 1241 or 1248. It’s not worth 65 bucks to take the train. Or 65 bucks to burn gas, pay tolls, get stuck in traffic and pay high parking fees at JFK or EWR. It more or less works the same way with domestic flights. I can schlep to Logan or one of the NYC airports and get a lower fare. The lower fare gets eaten up by gas, tolls, and parking. Changing planes at Midway or Las Vegas or Cleveland or .. or… is much more pleasant that driving for three hours to save 15 bucks.
            Every time I do it I think “that was a waste of time”. I do it fairly often because there may be some discount airline promoting their new route. It almost never happens. Drive time and costs to drive usually are about the same to get on the commuter plane to a hub.

        • Alison says:

          “If you live in Albany, the hub you’d fly out of internationally is JFK.”

          Actually, probably not. Albany has no direct flights to JFK.

          The few times I’ve flown to Europe from ALB, I’ve gone through Dulles, though my itineraries were constrained by meeting up with someone(s) there to cross the Atlantic with.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Oh, fair enough. Though… you’d probably switch to JFK were there a decent rail connection from Albany, right?

          • John Hupp says:

            If only they had built JFK on the Tappan Zee or Long Island Sound instead of Jamaica Bay, it would be right in the path of intercity rail, like Newark.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            There’s international flights out of the other hubs you can get to easily from Albany. Newark, Philadelphia, Dulles and BWI, O’hare. Las Vegas and Orlando, there’s all sorts of places you can get to from Orlando and Las Vegas. You probably won’t be able to book it as one trip but you could do it. Once you eliminate the big international destinations the people who have to go to JFK from upstate New York can carpool a limo … which is what they do, it runs on a schedule.

          • Alison says:

            Possibly? It’s pretty much a hypothetical question for me now. If there were a huge price difference, then yes.

            Reasons why I (or family members for whom this might actually be an issue) might not: I’d rather go through baggage check and security at Albany, which I’m comfortable with, than in JFK, which I think of as a strange huge scary airport. (I have been there once, it was OK, but I think my family feels this way in general). The airline will be more accomodating if I miss the international leg due to a late connecting flight than due to a late train (also, flight delays are more correlated with each other than with train delays). I’d have to drag my baggage through JFK (though if it’s an international connection I might have to do it anyway?)

            (Oh, also one reason I’ve flown thru DC in the past is that I have extended family in the area who would be willing to put me up overnight if necessary. Of course this might be different for other people.)

            (I did once fly into Boston, stay there overnight, and take the bus to Albany, so I’m willing to consider this sort of thing.)

          • Alison says:

            (I should note also that the Albany airport is substantially more convenient to my family’s house than the Albany train station is . The Schenectady train station is about as convenient as the Albany airport, but the trains would presumably run less frequently from there. So I’d expect the train link would me more appealing to people who live further from ALB.)

          • Sascha Claus says:

            > »The airline will be more accomodating if I miss the international leg due to a late connecting flight than due to a late train«
            If airlines and railways offer through-ticketing, they ought to be able to be accomodating to each others delays. We have some through-ticketing examples here on the blog comments, maybe somebody has experiency with train delays.
            > »I’d have to drag my baggage through JFK«
            They could offer some kind of baggage pre-checkin at the other stations, or even full check-in if they want the full security theater there.

          • johndmuller says:

            I like the idea of running the Empire trains through to Jamaica as airport connectors. Assuming that they could replace some Jamaica-NYP trains already on the schedule and that the various equipment and labor issues could be worked out, there would be no significant impact on NYP operations (except maybe using different tracks) and there would all of a sudden be a decent way to get to JFK (at least the AirTrain) from the Hudson valley.

            On the other hand, rumor has it that the Empire Connection trains are already full of customers who want to go to Manhattan and Amtrak’s bean counters might prefer selling tickets ALB-NYP than Croton-Jamaica or Yonkers-Jamaica if they perceive a conflict.

            A possible way out of this dilemma could be to run some of the Empire trains to GCT and to use those slots in NYP to run Metro North trains from Poukeepsie to Jamaica on the same schedule so that parties from upstate could transfer to the NYP/JFK version if they wanted Jamaica or really preferred the west side to GCT. MN and Amtrak would need to swap some engines and MN and LIRR would have some red tape to deal with. This method would probably be preferable for lower Hudson valley residents wanting tao get to Jamaica or NYP as there are a lot more MN stations than the 3 Amtrak/MN ones and the issue of tickets and transfers between MN and Amtrak would be mooted. Upstate travelers who had to transfer would hopefully be sold some sort of thru ticket.

            Of course, this is all fantasy if the various railroads and their respective political supporters don’t really want to do business with each other.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            I’m in Croton. I can schedule myself to catch the infrequent train that goes out to Jamaica or I can take the next train, go to Penn Station where there are 10 trains an hour to Jamaica or go to Grand Central where there are ten trains an hour to Jamaica. Which one do I pick? Why would I go to JFK to get a JetBlue flight to Florida when I can go to White Plains and get a JetBlue flight to Florida? Or a flight to O’Hare, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte or Philadelphia, where I can change planes? If we build an HSR system I’m not going to take the train to JFK to get to DC. I’m gonna take the train to DC.

          • Alon Levy says:

            Half the flights out of JFK are not to places like Florida, but to places like London.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            But the people on the flights to and from London don’t want to go to Ardsley. They want to go to Manhattan or Akron or Manhattan or Cincinnati or Manhattan or Queens or Manhattan or Brooklyn or Mineola or Manhattan or Manhattan.

          • Alon Levy says:

            That’s the to. The from is a lot more widely distributed.

          • John Hupp says:

            How very unlike Los Angeles, where everyone is going everywhere.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Ah sucess, it’s seeped in that airports have origin customers.
            There aren’t a whole lot of people in Ardsley let alone people in Ardsley who want to go to London. There’s lots of people along the Hudson line but not a lot when you consider the whole metro area. There are more people in Ardsley who want to go to some place not Brooklyn on Long Island who will probably find it more useful to get on the next train in and change to a train to the place they are going that isn’t JFK at Penn Station or Grand Central. The MTA has this handy trip planner that will be able to tell them that the 11:43 to Grand Central means they can change to the 12:35 to Massapequa when they want to go to Valley Stream or the 12:10 to Penn Station where they can change to the12:47 to Long Beach to get to Valley Stream. Hanging around for the 12:20 to Hicksville so they can change in Jamaica isn’t going to be all that attractive. Especially if it’s 11:35 and they are already at the station.
            Running the Kodama from Richmond to Hicksville might have it’s charms. And the Kodama from Albany. For lots of reasons besides getting people to Jamaica so they can shlep to JFK. People in Albany are still gonna go to ALB and take the flight to a hub to get to Los Angeles or London. They’ll take the direct flight to Chicago, Las Vegas or Florida. People in Richmond are going to do the same thing, At best they’ll take the train to BWi and fly to Toronto or Newark and go to Paris. They ain’t gonna sit on the train to Jamaica get to Chicago.
            There isn’t a whole lot of demand for the places you can get to only from JFK. Which is why you can only get to them from JFK.

  2. Justin N says:

    So I want a Harbor Sub connection in the worst way, perhaps as an extension of the San Bernardino Metrolink line or perhaps as an independent line in its own right (although I’d be concerned about LAUS terminal capacity), but the Crenshaw Line is going to use five miles of the ROW, making it unsuitable for mainline rail– or, at least, Metrolink equipment. So sadly, I think LAX is getting light rail.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Nothing should use Metrolink equipment, including Metrolink; when I talk about commuter lines, you should think in terms of trains like this. Still can’t share tracks with your average LRV, but it’s important to stress that I’m not talking about overweight diesel loco-hauled trains here.

      As for the Harbor Sub west of Crenshaw: yeah, it’s a problem. Large chunks of that are wide enough for a (completely unnecessary) four-track structure. The rest require takings, but only of parking lots or industrial buildings.

      • nei says:

        what makes them better than say a M8?

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          By the time Los Angeles gets anything the M12s will look a lot more like what Alon linked to. Though why Los Angeles would go with something so narrow is a bit of a mystery. why they would want something with third rail shoes too. You’d probably want something more like Arrow VIIIis or Silverliner VIIs, whatever the MBTA and MARC are buying in 2050.

          • nei says:

            Denver’s airport rail line is using Silverliner V. Appears to be a line mainly for the airport and a handful of park and rides, but at least the equipment and frequency isn’t too bad.

          • kmno4 says:

            @Nei, the frequency of the RTD East Line to DIA will be supurb – 15 minute headways all day, better than SEPTA’s 30 min. headways on the Airport Line. I believe the other commuter rail lines will also have at least 30 min. headways.

        • Alon Levy says:

          They’re a lot lighter, for one. Per unit of length they weigh about a third less than M8s, despite having bigger transformers because of the lower AC frequency. The M8s can’t run on any lower frequency than 60 Hz, because fitting them with 25 Hz transformers would make them too heavy; the German nominal frequency is 16.7 Hz. The difference in weight translates to a large difference in acceleration at medium speed, when acceleration is limited by the power-to-weight ratio, which is about 20 kW/t for the Class 430 and 12 for the M8 and Silverliner V.

          • John Hupp says:

            I like my FRA-compliant Surfliner California Cars! That way if the train plows through a parking lot or jumps the rails, you won’t even splash the cocktail you bought in the bar car. Do those toy EMUs have bar cars? Bar cars are very important for business travelers going to or from the airport! In all likelihood they would be awfully profitable HMS Host concessions, perhaps even offsetting the operating deficit of the train itself.

          • John Hupp says:

            On a more serious note, having a single-seat commuter rail bypass from Van Nuys Amtrak/Metrolink to Santa Ana Amtrak/Metrolink following the 405 and a single-seat through-running commuter rail from San Bernardino to the West Side would be more useful to a lot more people than any sort of airport shuttle.

            Following that logic, the obvious thing to do would be to convert the Metrolink San Bernardino Line—by far the busiest and most densely built—to Breda A650 or compatible EMUs and run them through the Purple Line subway.

            The north-south bypass line would have to be electrified to run in a tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass, but interlining it with existing Metrolink and Surfliner service north of Van Nuys or south of Santa Ana could prove more complicated due to the right-of-way extending much, much further (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) and being shared with freight. In that case, it might be tenable to force commuters to transfer from existing diesel locomotive service to a fancy German EMU service.

          • Alon Levy says:

            If you’re building a bypass in a densely-populated urban area, it’s almost always correct to use it mainly for local and regional service. The Interconnexion Est is to the east of the built-up area of Paris, and a similar bypass of Chicago serving O’Hare would only go through suburbs, so that it should be used for regional and intercity service (they can share, the line’s not going to be busy enough to have a capacity problem). If you need to modify it to be compatible with a low-speed diesel intercity train, then just don’t bother. Note that in my Harbor Sub proposal, there are intermediate stops, and HSR trains fit between or overtake local trains; it’s supposed to be a multipurpose line, not just an intercity line.

          • John Hupp says:

            I think running the HSR to LAX is kind of a lost cause because the Harbor Subdivision ROW is very narrow, and they’re building a light rail line through it. What I’m suggesting is a commuter rail line in a part of the city currently poorly served by commuter rail, that just incidentally happens to stop by the airport because the airport is in the way.

            Anyway, the CAHSR will be in the east San Fernando Valley, versus Sepulveda, which is really far west. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive or even really in direct competition. Again, my point is that inter-agency turf wars where rights-of-way cross from Los Angeles County into San Bernardino County and Orange County reinforce the difficulty of commuting to or from West LA or South Bay without driving. This would be off-topic, except for the fact that LAX is smack dab in the middle between West LA and the South Bay, as well. This differs from JFK being waaaay out of the way for the LIRR going through Jamaica.

          • John Hupp says:

            Though for that matter, the Pacific Electric Corridor lines up with the eastern end of the Green Line, not the Harbor Subdivision in Long Beach (which lines up with a different Pacific Electric right-of-way that merges into the Coast Highway in Seal Beach), so the north and south branches I’m describing would be perpendicular to each other. Furthermore, it means we’ll most likely be stuck with Seimens P2000s or something similar along the route.

            There are a lot of rail lines that lead to or go past LAX. The problem is that most of them are or will be dedicated to poorly grade-separated light rail that isn’t nearly fast enough to scale well for the entire length of their rights-of-way.

          • John Hupp says:

            Though if the Green Line can share space with the CAHSR (they’re both high-platform pantograph-powered EMUs; what difference could there possibly be?), then by all means!

          • Alon Levy says:

            Loading gauge, voltage, platform height… It’s nontrivial to rebuild LA’s light-rail-technologically, heavy-rail-in-terms-of-grade-separations lines to be mainline-compatible.

          • John Hupp says:

            I mean, share space with the Crenshaw Line.

          • John Hupp says:

            Looking at the map, I see that routing a train from Downtown LA to LAX through Century City would be rather circuitous, but I still think it would be useful for some of the Metrolink lines to be compatible with and interline with some of the LACMTA rapid transit lines. Though I realize that’s kind of like asking for the LIRR to go to EWR or the NJT to go to Jamaica.

          • John Hupp says:

            I was being facetious. You should seriously have a nice sit-down with Metro about their long-term plans for regional connectivity, because there is a great Orange Curtain of rolling stock incompatibility going up around LA County. All the good rights-of-way west of the 5 are being eaten up by dinky toy trains with at-grade crossings. It’s like a gigantic FU to commuters from all the surrounding counties. The NIMBYs in Cheviot Hills will be pleased. Before you know it they’ll be building miniature hovertrain or monorail lines just to take up space (not pointing any fingers, LAWA…).

          • Alon Levy says:

            Hey, I was livid at the Gold Line Eastside extension at the time (and still am) – it should’ve been a Red Line extension and it should’ve run under Whittier rather than on 1st and 3rd.

          • Eric says:

            Given that the Gold Line is where it is, why not convert the El Monte busway to a Red Line extension? It’s not like there are any other good ROWs to extended it on. And while freeway ROW are non-optimal, 1/3 of this route is outside the freeway footprint and adjacent to major destinations (university+hospital).

            As for LAX – I would connect the southbound arm of the Green Line to the Crenshaw Line, and the eastbound arm of the Green Line to the future Sepulveda line, with a transfer at the future LAX people mover station. This would provide convenient access to LAX in four different directions, reaching much of the metro area. It would also make the south arm of the Green Line much more useful.

          • John Hupp says:

            I’ve read elsewhere that it’s good to run train lines in roughly straight lines so they get where they’re going faster. That said, the Sepulveda Line would likely be heavy rail subway (going under the Sepulveda Pass), while the Green Line South, assuming it were eventually extended all the way to Newport Beach, would probably be at-grade light rail (street-running in Orange County). Therefore they’d probably be incompatible. Yay!

          • Alon Levy says:

            The Green Line is also a heavy rail line! It runs LRVs, and it’s probably too expensive to widen the loading gauge to permit full-width subway cars, but it is fully grade-separated!

          • John Hupp says:

            The existing Green Line, yes, but assuming it gets extended all the way along the Harbor Subdivision and intersects with the Blue Line at Willow, the Pacific Electric right-of-way continuing to the east from there (going to Seal Beach or beyond to Newport) is very much not grade-separated.

            Things would be somewhat better along the PCH, since it’s a 50-50 mix of stroad and poorly engineered parkway, but the diagonal ROW in Long Beach is more like the Gold Line ROW in South Pasadena. If they wanted to make the train run faster to better serve long distances, they could trench it, but that would be expensive.

            Either way, it would be great if a 60-something-mile-long rail line like (Valley to OC) that could average at least 40mph along its length so it could beat rush-hour traffic. This is in contrast to the Crenshaw Line, which IIRC once it leaves the Harbor Subdivision runs entirely at grade down the middle of surface streets and will probably end up being horribly slow.

          • Alon Levy says:

            About half the Crenshaw segment is at-grade, the other half is underground (link).

            There shouldn’t be any light rail lines this long. Lines this long should be completely grade-separated, and then there’s no reason to run LRVs; the small LRV loading gauge is useful only when you’re running on-street. The West Santa Ana Line has no real reason to be light rail, even if it was originally Pacific Electric. On the contrary – hooking it into the Blue Line would make the incipient capacity problems on the shared Blue/Expo segment even worse than they already have to be. If there’s a case for a second rail line to Santa Ana – perhaps the OC Line can’t run frequently enough because of freight traffic, perhaps it can but it’s going to be too crowded, perhaps it offers crucial extra service to dense neighborhoods the OC Line misses – then it should be a rapid transit line, either Metrolink or a heavy rail line like the Red Line.

          • Alon Levy says:

            The problem is that the San Bernardino Line is single-track, and the lane expansion for the busway took over the last remaining space for double-tracking it. So the question is, if the busway is railstituted, whether it should be for the Red Line or San Bernardino double-tracking. I suspect the answer has to be the latter, because the area frankly doesn’t merit the frequency of a subway. The inner parts of Whittier can be plausibly paired with Wilshire, but the I-10 corridor very much can’t; at most, it can be one of two or three branches that merge to a Wilshire trunk.

            For an even more speculative, and probably impossible, take: use the busway for a freight line to replace the Sunset Route, and then swap lines with UP, so that it gets to run in the I-10 median while passenger rail runs in what is now the Sunset Route. That area isn’t really as built-up as Whittier either, but at least around Fremont, Atlantic, and Garfield seems more developed north of the Sunset Route than around I-10.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            running things in straight lines to get there faster only works out when “there” is along a straight line. In the real world things aren’t so tidy.

          • John Hupp says:

            Warner Center? Newport Center? South Coast Plaza? There are a lot of far-flung “theres” in Southern California.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            I’m confused. You want to connect three malls together in a straight line? So that people who don’t like the Macy*s in one can take the trolley to the other one that is almost exactly the same? Without regard to other destinations that might be a bit off the straight line?

          • John Hupp says:

            There are malls at all three of those locations, but there are also clusters of office blocks. Those three peropheral CBDs are already the focus of more local transportation (mostly cars and parking) and higher-density development, so they’re obvious places to build up more intermodal transfers with local buses. I’m less familiar with Warner Center (or the Valley in general), but the area around South Coast Plaza, John Wayne Airport and UC Irvine has a high enough concentration of activity to be a regional rail destination.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            It’s nice that they are destinations. Destinations imply origins. People didn’t consult way back when, they looked around and built things where it was easiest to get to, Which very often isn’t a straight line.

          • John Hupp says:

            The problem with U-shaped or L-shaped transit lines is that there’s usually a better, more direct way to get from one end to the other than taking that line, so it’s a waste of a single-seat ride. Having a grid of relatively straight lines or a hub with relatively straight spokes and relatively circular rings usually ensures that the greatest number of people can get where they’re going with the fewest number of transfers.

            I would note that there’s a difference between a fully grade-separated line that zig-zags a bit while still retaining a primary direction (the Red Line mostly runs NW-SE) and the more dramatically U-shaped or L-shaped lines in Chicago or New York. Those primarily exist because it’s easier to through-run trains then turn them around when they hit a body of water, but even in New York’s case they’d probably be better off with more tunnels to New Jersey.

            In Los Angeles, many destinations are also departure points, though of a high likelihood to be park-and-ride. The 405 is by far the most congested freeway in Southern California, and surely some of the people stuck in traffic during rush hour would like an alternative. A regional commuter rail line roughly following the coast and the 405 would be useful to a lot more people than a cluster of L-shaped light rail lines clustered around the airport. That’s the whole part of this article, right?

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            On the New Jersey side there’s a narrow strip of land and then miles of swamp. Most people don’t travel from one end of the line to the other end of the line. They use one leg so for most people it’s the straightish line to something in the center. Works that way in Chicago too. Philadelphia. Boston. Then you run out of cities that were big enough 75 years ago to need multiple subway/el lines. Silly silly people they go and connect origins with destinations the cheap way that’s almost as good as carving straight lines.

          • John Hupp says:

            You won’t let up, will you? Trolling isn’t very flattering.

          • John Hupp says:

            Honestly in New York I get more annoyed about the impossibility of getting between boroughs other than Manhattan. In Los Angeles I get annoyed about the impossibility of getting anywhere other than Downtown or Hollywood without driving.

            Downtown LA is a lot less important to the city than Manhattan is to New York. There are like fifty thousand people living there versus three million people in Orange County. Orange County is like a whole ‘nother LA right next door. I live in Long Beach, which is a beautiful, walkable city, but if I want to get to West LA or Irvine, it’s either take the 405 and get there in 35-45 minutes or take public transit and get there in two-and-a-half hours. In rush hour it could take 75 minutes driving, but that’s still *half* the amount of time it takes using public transit.

            Given traffic levels on the 405 (much worse than the 5, the 10 or the 110 downtown) I am obviously not alone in using it. Having a nice 40mph train that roughly parallels it and goes in vaguely the right direction without swinging out of the way to go downtown would be very convenient and faster than driving at least half the time. The Blue Line is pretty darn fast for what it is, but it only goes one place, Downtown LA. Most people in Southern California are not going to or from Downtown LA.

            For what it’s worth, 75 years ago there were multiple train lines going to Orange County. Not anymore!

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            When they were designing the NY subway they sat around for 30 or 40 seconds and made the hard decision of whether or not to build out to the nice flat dry farmland to the east and north or to the swamp to the west that floods twice a day as the tide comes in, goes out, comes in and goes out. It was very difficult.

          • John Hupp says:

            And despite all that swamp, the built up area of northern New Jersey is roughly as large as any of the New York boroughs. That’s like saying, “oh, we don’t need a train to the San Fernando Valley because there are hills in the way.”

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            New Jersey was mostly farmland in 1920. As was the San Fernando Valley. It’s much easier to develop the farmland in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Which has a much shorter ride because you don’t have to cross miles of swamp to get to Manhattan.

          • John Hupp says:

            But they aren’t farmland anymore, and haven’t been for decades and decades…

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            But they weren’t building subways for 2000 in 1920 they were building subways for 1930. Then everyone decided that everybody would drive everywhere and stopped building subways. They busily abandoned train lines because everybody drove everywhere.

          • John Hupp says:

            Pity Robert Moses didn’t get to build more bridges, then.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            He was dead before the roads he built were congested.

          • Matthew says:

            No, Moses was very much alive when the roads he built became congested. One of the recurring themes of The Power Broker is the case where a newly constructed parkway or expressway fills up with traffic and becomes congested within a few months. Or even sooner. Moses kept promising that he could build his way out of the mess.

  3. This is a great post on a subject that definitely needs consideration. Another good example of the limited utility of a high-speed rail connection to a relatively minor airport is the famous TGV station at Lyon–Saint Exupéry. It doesn’t get very much ridership and the ridership it does get is likely using it more as a suburban parkway station. If you’re taking the train from Paris or Marseille, Lyon’s airport doesn’t serve any destinations those cities’ airports don’t. At best, it could be useful for someone coming from a relatively close TGV-served town like Mâcon, but that’s obviously not a huge source of demand. Even they would likely ride to CDG in many cases for its far greater array of flights.

    One of the most important things for an airport connector is consistent frequency. When it’s tied in with North American peak-oriented commuter rail, it can be a real problem. The headway between trains to Newark, for example, is huge on weekends or late evenings, even though that’s when many people want to fly. It makes turn-up-and-go service impossible.

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      You aren’t turning up and going for your flight. When you were booking it, unless you are naive, you considered the odd schedules trains run on. The schedules are odd because they are arranged to run consistently when there’s only one track available under the Hudson.

      • I don’t think most people–especially tourists–book their flight considering the airport-to-city train schedule. Even if they do, what happens in the extremely likely circumstance that their flight is late?

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          They wait for the next train just like would for a bus? Just like they do for the bus, lots of people still use the bus even though there is a train. Or the taxis. Not everybody is out to squeeze the last drop of juice from the turnips.

    • Max Wyss says:

      Satolas was a very cheap to get station, because it is more or less on the Lyon bypass (whose necessity is out of question). It is also a station for the Lyon hinterland (which does extend to places like Grenoble; essentially the hinterland for the airport). OK, Grenoble may not be the best place to look at, because they do have TGVs to/from Paris.

  4. John Hupp says:

    I think I mentioned Kuala Lumpur as an example in a previous post, to some derision, but that’s more of a Maribel or PVG (or Peotone) scenario. If you’re building a new airport way out in the boonies, really good land-side infrastructure is an important selling point. On the other hand, building a big new airport out in the boonies is usually more about facilitating sprawl than dealing with environmental or capacity issues with an existing airport. On that note, the ERL also stops in Putrajaya, which is a kind of brilliantly horrifying Irvine set-piece of a capital city. Putting airport at the end of a train line makes everything in between a lot more important. Such airport connectors are like streetcars in that they are primarily development subsidies, and should be paid for by their primary beneficiaries, the developers owning land along the path of the connector.

    [mostly sarcasm:] With LAX, obviously they just need good rail connections to El Segundo and Century City. Downtown LA is just fancy lofts and bars. Then the California HSR can make a direct connection to the main international airport at the former El Toro MCAS in Irvine. Oh, wait. Oops.

    • Max Wyss says:

      That reminds me of what they said about München “Franz Josef Strauss”… extremely well connected … by air. In the meantime, there are two S-Bahn lines, providing a connection to the city every 10 minutes; useful for passengers and employees alike.

      • Sascha Claus says:

        Munich FJ Strauß lies to the Northeast of the city (which would lend itself to a high-speed line to Prague at best) in a moor, whose lack of hills was the deciding factor when choosing the location. Better connections would be available to the (north)west of the city, on the lines to Nuremberg and/or Stuttgart.

        Berlin is located on the outer ring, which has regular regional rail. The old terminal (SXF) seems to be across the street from the station, the new one (BER) is south of the runways and needs a branch from the outer ring, which is itself somewhat of a branch from the Berlin–Dresden line. The regional connection includes a new tunnel through the terminal, paralleling a section of the ring. Long distance traffic suffers from almost the same things as Munich (!), but there are vague references to various routes that run only a few times per day and would result in even more awkward routings.

        Leipzig/Halle, by historical accident, ended up on an autobahn interchange between the namesake cities and on the Munich-Berlin high-speed line. Intercity trains passing through and regional traffic between the cities make for decent landside connections. Given the large megacities around, I assume airside it’s a little bit different.

  5. letsgola says:

    May have more to add later, but for now, I’ll note that LAX does not fit the pattern; there is no real “second airport” in LA. For 2012, total enplanements at LAX were 31.3m. BUR was 2.0m, ONT was 2.1m, and even John Wayne was only 4.4m. Meanwhile O’Hare 32.2m & Midway 9.4m; JFK 24.5m, EWR 17.1m, LGA 12.8m; Dulles 10.8m, National 9.5m. An analogy might be Boston (14.3m) and Providence (1.8m) – especially because like LAX and its auxiliary airports, Logan is much closer to the population center than the “local” airport. That means that for LAX, the local airport functions are just as important as the international, and like Boston, local transit connections will be higher value. In-state traffic may only be 13% of LAX trips, but that’s still more than all of Burbank & Ontario combined.

    The other thing with LA is the relative insignificance of Downtown LA (uh oh, I’m starting to sound like Joel Kotkin). In Chicago, NYC, Boston, or DC, it’s a safe bet that a lot of your arriving passengers are tourists or business travelers headed to the CBD. But in LA business travel and tourism is just as likely to be destined for the Westside, El Segundo, or Orange County, which weakens the benefit of a mainline rail connection. (In addition, LA Union Station isn’t a destination itself, you still have to transfer to local transit to get downtown.)

    That’s not to say there’s no benefit to mainline rail service along the Harbor Sub. Primary beneficiaries as I see it would be trips (as you outline it) coming from Central Valley and the San Bernardino Line (if that is operated w/ Harbor Sub as a continuous route via run through tracks). However, I still think that connections to a Sepulveda Pass – Westside transit line and the Crenshaw Line are very important, and they can be made using the APM in a way that doesn’t detract from the intrinsic value of a Westside transit line and the Crenshaw Line.

    FWIW, there are existing tracks on the Harbor Sub, but they’re basically garbage. You’d be better off with a vacant ROW so you could avoid the need to demo them ;)

    • John Hupp says:

      Considering the APM and the existing and planned nearby metro Rail, I would agree that projects like the Sepulveda Line, Green Line Extension to Long Beach and Green Line Extension to Santa Ana are sufficient for better urban access to LAX.

      The main thing Union Station offers is Amtrak and intercity buses (and, less pertinent to air travelers, Metrolink). However, Union Station already has the very fast, very nice Flyaway bus, which meets or exceeds current needs with existing (freeway) infrastructure. So an express train from LAX to Downtown LA is not really a priority.

      (I know you know all this; I’m mainly elaborating for the benefit of everyone else.)

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        Build full fledged HSR across the Northeeast and MIdwest and lots of the people who are on regional flights now, take the train instead.

        It would be faster. Hour to get from your house to the curb at the East Coast airport and an hour to get from the curb to the time the door on the plane slams shut makes taking a train from the station much closer to your house look really good. Princeton NJ to Grosse Pointe MI lets say… for a lot of people the taxi ride to the HSR station to the time the train leaves is the same amount of time it takes to get to the curb at the airport terminal. They take a taxi because the ride is shorter than the one to the airport and it’s cheaper than parking at the train station.

        Until then it would suck for the people who are flying to LGA from Hartford to change planes to get to Harrisburg. Or from Albany to get to Richmond. Or from Buffalo into EWR to get to Paris or London or Beijing. Or Lisbon, TAP only flies into EWR. People don’t fly from DC to NY now. Get better train service and they won’t be flying from Hartford to NY or Philadelphia to get to DC. Or Harrisburg or Richmond or Wilmington or Trenton or from those places to Hartford or any of them to Syracuse, Montreal or Toronto. Many of them to Cleveland or Detroit.

        Scranton, Hartford and Albany are, in very round numbers the same distance from Manhattan. Compare the ridership numbers for Hartford Albany and Scranton on Amtrak. It’s real easy to find the numbers for Scranton. There’s no train so the ridership is zero. Also in very nice round numbers Hartford/Springfield is twice the size of greater greater Albany has half the ridership. Because it takes too long. Make it faster and you get those cars off the Connecticut Turnpike and the Merritt Parkway. Make it fast enough and lots of people decide to take the train instead of the plane or the car. Virginians and New Jerseyans off the Maryland Turnpike, Ohioans off the NYS Thruway or the Pennsyvania Turnpike. Rhode Islanders off the Delaware Memorial Bridge and….

      • Alan Robinson says:

        I just visited LA for the first time and took the Flyaway bus to Union Station. It’s not a terribly useful service. Frequencies are low (30 min or worse) and unreliable, and ticketing require lining up for another 15 minutes single file at the end of the trip. It certainly does not meet existing needs.

        • John Hupp says:

          Living in Downtown Los Angeles for five years, I found the Flyaway to be consistently cheaper than taking a taxi and consistently faster than taking the train. So even with its deficiencies, it fills a niche. Plus there are Flyaway buses to more far-flung CBDs like Irvine, as well, with roughly the same niche and a single-seat ride.

          For what it’s worth, the Flyaway to Union Station used to run hourly during the day, only; now I think it’s half-hourly during the day and half-hourly overnight. The service is provided by the city’s airport authority, LAWA, not the country transit authority, Metro, and I would not be surprised if LAWA continued to increase the frequency over time if ridership continues to increase.

          • letsgola says:

            FlyAway’s implementation leaves something to be desired (something critics might argue is true of much of LAWA’s transit efforts) but you could add more frequency & more routes for cheap.

    • John Hupp says:

      I’ll observe that all the secondary airports combined do add up to roughly the same proportion as the single second airport in places like Chicago. There also Van Nuys, Santa Monica, Long Beach… LA just has an unusually large number of mostly domestic airports. It’s a lot more convenient to have them evenly distributed rather than being shunted to some undesirable location. None of them merit express rail connections, but their locations nearer secondary CBDs means they’d have a higher likelihood of being along one or another Metro line at some point in the future.

      Running the California HSR along the Harbor Subdivision, or some sort of exotic and ridiculously expensive tunnel or viaduct could allow it to stop in other peripheral centers more convenient to the West Side or South Bay. Though if you’re going to Century City a few years from now, you might as well just take the Purple Line. It will be definitely faster than driving, considering you don’t have to deal with traffic or take random surface streets through West Hollywood or Cheviot Hills. If they built the Sepulveda Line as a heavy rail subway rather than light rail, with the appropriate interchanges there could conceivably be a single-seat subway ride from Union Station to LAX in the foreseeable future, regardless of what they do with the Harbor Subdivision.

      • John Hupp says:

        Assuming such an interlined train terminated at LAX and Union Station, rather than continuing onwards, it could also have baggage through-checking with a minimal dwell time penalty. The train could still stop at intermediate stations, but the baggage car would be inaccessible except at the termini.

  6. John Hupp says:

    I think the best option for short haul flight access to Manhattan would be amphibious Pan Am Clipper planes landing in the Hudson and taxiing to one of the ferry terminals. Puddle jumping, indeed!

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  8. Peter Brassard says:

    Regarding the PVD domestic airport example, the airport is walking distance by skyway bridge to the NEC. By December a local shuttle train will be operating within Rhode Island to fill in the massive voids in MBTA service from the airport. Aside from the shuttle there’s been a push (and not just from locals) to create an Amtrak stop at TF Green Station, similar to Newark and Baltimore.

    How do intercity rail stations at airports fit into this premise of international vs. domestic airport connectors? In the case of Newark, besides flight volume and number of destinations, does this kind of connector contribute to Newark fitting into both the international and domestic category or is it just due to the large population of northern NJ and adjacency to NYC? How would Baltimore vs. DC be categorized?

    • Alon Levy says:

      Generally, an intercity station is more useful at a primary/long-distance/international airport than at a secondary one. That, I think, is why Amtrak resists the push to stop at T. F. Green: there’s not enough ridership in it. A huge fraction of the air traffic at T. F. Green is to Philly, Baltimore, and DC; if you have to take a train for an hour just to get to the airport, you might as well take the train the whole way.

      My sister didn’t use the train station, even – she took a taxi. If I’d flown out of the airport, I almost certainly would have, too. From the East Side to the airport is a bit more than 10 minutes by taxi, plus maybe 5-10 minutes of waiting time from when I’d call a cab to when it would come. By train, it’s 20 minutes to walk to the train station and another 16 by train, and the frequency is terrible, so I might need to wait an extra hour at the airport based on MBTA schedules.

      BWI is a mostly domestic airport. It actually has more traffic than Dulles (and Haneda has twice the traffic of Narita), but the traffic is fairly short-distance, though somewhat less so than National’s. Newark is really intermediate – it is an international hub, but only half as big at that as JFK; it is partly the airport for North and Central Jersey, but partly also a primary airport for New York. I’ve used the air-rail link there to get to New Haven once, and I have extended family members who do so routinely, connecting to Tel Aviv there. The problem with using it more regularly is that it’s two and a half hours from New Haven, and the frequency to the airport station is never very good since the station only serves the airport rather than a node like Jamaica (or a bigger airport like LAX).

      Re your other comment, I have the same preference for JFK because of the AirTrain. Conversely, when I moved to Vancouver, I had so much luggage on me that I knew I was going to take a taxi no matter what, so I chose a departure from LaGuardia. (JFK has direct flights and LaGuardia doesn’t, but the only direct one-way flights I saw were very expensive.)

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        National and LaGuardia have restrictions on their destinations.
        why would I schlep to Jamaica, take a long trolley car ride and then hike across an enormous terminal when I can walk about as far from the airport parking to the terminal as the train station parking to the train station? And instead of hiking across a terminal at JFK hike halfway across a terminal in Newark or Philadelphia or Dulles or Cleveland or Las Vegas or…. to change planes?

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          …now if could catch a train in Wilton, at the enormous park-n-ride under I-87/Northway, that had decent frequencies and was faster than stuff war torn third world countries can manage…. I still wouldn’t schlep to Jamaica.

        • Alon Levy says:

          To avoid the extra takeoff and landing.

          Also, the speeds through the Adirondacks are indeed lower than in the third world, but the speeds south of Albany aren’t, unless you’re counting middle-income countries with good train investments like China, or maybe the faster trains in Egypt.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Fast train to Jamaica implies that I don’t have to get on an airplane at all to get lots of places. Flying to Newark to change planes to get to DC goes away. The nonstops that they charge an arm and leg for ALB-DCA probably go away.

            In 2060 when there’s 90 minute service to Jamaica… 90 minutes is a layover in a hub airport. I don’t have to deal with getting from the LIRR level to Airtrain, I don’t have an Airtrain ride and don’t have to schlep across a terminal that is bigger than Albany that’s filled with clueless hipsters and asshole Wall Street types. 90 minute service to Jamaica implies 90 minute service to Philadelphia and two, two fifteen to DC. I don’t have to fly to Philadelphia, Baltimore or DC any more. Here’s hoping Richmond and Harrisburg get equal improvement. I don’t fly to Montreal, not that there are any flights to Montreal now because between airport security and custom and immigration driving is faster, Toronto, Boston and probably most of Ohio,. If they get their acts together, Detroit. I’ll be dead in 2060.

            The conventional wisdom seems to be shifting from 500miles/800 kilometer and three hours to 750/1200 and four and half. That means Detroit-Boston, Detroit-NY, Detroit-Philadelphia and Detroit-DC are in HSR range. Half the places I want to go over a year I go to the train station to get there because it’s faster than driving or flying. Atlanta-New York is just beyond that higher range. Philadelphia isn’t. People starting out in Trenton or New Rochelle, the Nozomi to Atlanta will look good to many of them. It might look good to someone in Hudson or Rhinecliff. Meridan. Conventional speed Scranton-Philadelphia gets rebuild it might look good to someone in Scranton. All sorts of short haul flights disappear which makes JFK less attractive. ( Or LGA or EWR or PHL or BWI or IAD )

    • Alex B. says:

      BWI has very little international service. There is one trans Atlantic flight, a BA flight to Heathrow that the state of Maryland subsidizes with a revenue guarantee. Other BWI international destinations are mostly seasonal or vacation-heavy routes in the Caribbean. DCA has none (except for preclearance destinations). Almost all of the international traffic has clustered at Dulles, particularly for Star Alliance carriers.

      Dulles actually has fewer domestic origin/destination traffic than the other two; it does have a fair amount of connecting traffic (with the United hub) and lots of originating international traffic.

      The MARC/Amtrak connection at BWI works fairly well, but I don’t think it is a major factor in connecting for international flights. With Southwest dominating at BWI and acquiring AirTran, they will soon have international flights. There have been rumors about WN looking into transatlantic flights, and BWI would make a logical location for them to start… But again, that has more to do with the airline networks than the connecting transit networks.

  9. Peter Brassard says:

    I live on the west side of Manhattan, as well as in RI. I used to always try to use LaGuardia or Newark for domestic flights out of New York. Since they built the Airtrain from Jamaica to Kennedy, I now always try to fly from JFK instead of LGA or EWR for short haul domestic flights. At least for me, it doesn’t matter if it’s an international or domestic hub. Not having to get into a car or bus or traffic and having a train option is the priority.

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  11. JJJJ says:

    Airport connectors play an important role – frequency and stop distance. The Newark Airtrain for example, runs 24/7 at intervals of 5 minutes or less, because its how you get between terminals, parking, and also the main rail. You dont want mainline rail to do that.

    LAX is a nightmare to transfer between terminals, so again a main goal of an airport system would be intra-airport transfers. The connection to metrorail would be a secondary bonus.

    If the green line was to be brought into the airport, it would serve the loop at 12-20 minute frequencies – not good enough when youre rushing for the international flight. The cars also arent designed for those with luggage.

    Thats why they cost more, because they provide more service.

    • Alon Levy says:

      No, but bringing the Green Line to Terminal 0 would be useful. Airports can be built to avoid landside people movers – see, for example, Zurich. (LAX has way more traffic than Zurich, but Newark doesn’t have much more traffic than Zurich.)

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        If the people mover is on the secure side you can’t use it to get to the parking lots or the car rentals or the kiss-n-ride or,,,

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        Just for my amusement Wikipedia says there are flights, unclear if they are non-stops, to Dulles, Philadephia, Newark, JFK and Boston to and from Zurich. For even more amusement Wikipedia says that one can fly from Rochester to Dulles, Philadelphia, Newark, JFK and Boston. They are gonna lose the trade to and from those places but not the trade to change planes and fly to someplace that doesn’t make sense to take the train. If for any other reason the snorkel would have to be too long for the train to Europe. If you wanna get to Jamaica Estates or Franklin Square a train from Syracuse that in a one seat ride to Jamaica, Mineola and HIcksville might be attractive. Less so to get to JFK. Especially if USAirways has the low low fare to Los Angeles or London. Flying to Philadelphia would be a much better choice.

        • John Hupp says:

          You don’t need a snorkel if you use Rem Koolhaas’ floating swimming pool from Delirious New York:

        • Alon Levy says:

          Zurich’s traffic is about ten times higher than Rochester’s.

          But also, look at Frankfurt. Frankfurt does have a landside people mover between its two terminals, but the bigger terminal (where the train stations are) has almost as much passenger capacity as all of LAX combined, and moreover the terminals are grouped by airline alliance, so connecting passengers don’t really have a reason to switch terminals.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            People who arrive at the airport by plane and depart a few hours later, by plane – they are there to change planes – are blissfully unconcerned where the train station is, the bus stops, the hotel shuttles, the car rentals and the taxis. All things they won’t be using as the walk across the concourse to change planes.

            People in Kew Gardens or Forest Hills are unconcerned about whether or not there is a train from Buffalo that has a one seat ride to Jamaica. It won’t be stopping in Forest Hills or Kew Gardens and if they are spending 1,000 bucks to fly to Europe the 20 dollar cab fare isn’t an impediment. Or the people in Port Jefferson. Or Massepegua Park. Or Bayside. Or Midwood or Bensonhurst. Someone on 14th and 7th, if they want to take a train, walk over to 8th to catch the E train, just like the people in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens who don’t want to spring for a cab. They don’t care if there is a train that passes through Penn Station from Buffalo that is going to Hickville that stops in Jamaica.

            People in Harrisburg and Richmond and Utica and Hartford are gonna look at the airfares and the train fares and make a decision about whether or not it faster and cheaper to fly to Chicago or Charlotte or Atlanta or even Newark or LaGuardia and change planes to get to Honolulu or Hamburg versus schlepping to Jamaica taking a long trolley car ride and then braving the terminals at JFK. People in Rhinecliff and Meridan may look at it a bit differently but there arent a whole lot of people where schlepping to JFK is faster and easier than changing planes at a hub other than JFK.

            Kodama to HIcksville will be useful for a lot of other reasons than hauling people to the Airtrain station in Jamaica. If masochists want to do that they are more than welcome to but it’s not the main reason a Kodama should be in Jamaica.

          • John Hupp says:

            But nobody flies out of Rochester. It’s much, much cheaper to take the direct Greyhound shuttle from downtown Rochester to the Buffalo Airport, where you will also have a much larger selection of destinations. Future upgrades to the Empire Service will probably continue to shift domestic flights in and out of Western New York to Buffalo. People wouldn’t go to JFK unless they’re flying to Europe. (Asia they can fly from Buffalo to LAX or SFO; South America they can fly to Miami…)

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Wikipedia says 2.5 million people use Rochester annually and 5 million use Buffalo. Buffalo’s metro is only ten percent bigger. Buffalo is a bit more of a destination than Rochester. There’s the Falls, Buffalo is popular with Canadian companies that are based in Southern Ontario as the place for their US offices and Rochester doesn’t have a metro area of almost 400,000 across the bridge.
            Apparently, after fooling around with Greyhound’s trip planner for a few minutes, there are 6 departures from Rochester to the Buffalo airport. Only four of them direct. And two return trips. Six, fifty passenger buses a day is 300 people, 365 days a year is 109,500 people each way annually.

          • John Hupp says:

            And here I thought the comment section was all about extrapolating anecdotal evidence!

          • John Hupp says:

            Last time I was in Rochester we had tickets on the Lake Shore Limited, but because of Hurricane Irene all the trains were cancelled. The flights from Buffalo to Chicago were literally half as expensive (last minute) than they flights from Rochester, and the Greyhound bus was incredibly convenient.

            For what it’s worth, Buffalo Airport has an Amtrak Station, whereas Rochester does not. Not that that does you any good when all the trains are cancelled due to a hurricane.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Most people aren’t as masochistic as you. In 2073, when the next hurricane that shuts down metro New York for extended periods, the Minneapolis-Boston trains will still be coming through every half hour during the day and Amtrak will change your reservation. Probably to the Toronto-DC train that is being truncated to Albany.

          • John Hupp says:

            It wasn’t all that bad. We got to Chicago a lot faster. The only reason we had planned to take Amtrak was for a first-class land cruise. I think we actually saved money by flying.

      • JJJJ says:

        Its a little bit too late to build LAX to avoid the need for an internal train.

        • Alon Levy says:

          They’re sort of trying to retrofit Terminal 0, which could avoid an internal landside train (an airside train is probably unavoidable).

          • John Hupp says:

            Many of the code-share international flights at LAX fly in and out of the airline terminals. Tom Bradley is basically just the non-code-share prestige airlines. I think if you’re flying United, American, or Delta, there is a high likelihood you would not be making an inter-terminal transfer. For the current level of inter-terminal transfers, they already have air-side trams that just drive on the tarmac.

            I think the main purpose of any LAX people mover would be to connect the airport to remote parking and the Metro Rail. And perhaps maybe the hotels, but don’t get your hopes up. Also, doesn’t Terminal 0 not actually exist, yet?

            I remember way, way back the LAX masterplan involved moving the concourses to the middle of the roadway loop, replacing the parking garages, which would be moved out near a future train station. In the course of several decades this would give the airlines a lot more room for CIQ and security stuff outside of Tom Bradley (which is tiny). I don’t know what ever became of that idea…

          • @John Hupp: The flights really aren’t grouped that well at LAX. With the AA-US merger, the new AA doesn’t have enough room in T4 for all its flights, and has to bus people around to T3 for US flights (not as close as it sounds since Bradley is in the way). Furthermore a lot of the “prestige” airlines using Bradley are in fact major members of the various alliances (Asiana, ANA, Cathay, EVA, JAL, Korean, LAN, Qantas, Singapore, Thai and others), making airside transfers between the other terminals and Bradley desirable — getting from most of the US to e.g. Seoul, Taipei, or Sydney will often involve an interterminal transfer at LAX, and would more often if such transfers weren’t so inconvenient.

            (Delta uses both T5 and T6, and United T6, T7 and T8, but those are already connected airside, and an airside train probably wouldn’t shorten walks very much.)

          • John Hupp says:

            I’d still be interested to see what the statistics are for inter-terminal transfers. I mean, they’ve managed for 50 years without an air-side people mover, so the volume can’t be *that* high. For what it’s worth, some of the adjacent terminals do have underground tunnels with moving walkways (Jackie Brown!), or in the case of United a sort of rooftop catwalk.

            I don’t know which terminal this is, but there a lot of these haphazardly connecting different parts of LAX:

          • John Hupp says:

            And rereading your comment, I told you something you already knew… but still worth the YouTube link!

          • John Hupp says:

            You can see about halfway through the video that it’s Terminal 5.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            50 years ago the whole airport was one of today’s terminals. Alon used to have numbers of total take off and landing versus origin and destination – it’s on the Department of Transportation site somewhere.
            In it’s heydey Dallas-Fort Worth, 70 percent of the passengers using the airport were there to change planes.

          • Alon Levy says:

            My numbers only go back to 2000, sadly.

  12. In competitive markets it’s common for airlines to charge more for direct flights than for flights involving a connection (so A->B->C is cheaper than B->C). This means that taking a train A->B to catch a B->C flight is often unattractive with respect to money even if it is attractive with respect to time. Of course this isn’t always the case (especially when A is a very uncompetitive minor airport) but it’s a further impediment to demand for such rail service.

    • John Hupp says:

      This problem can be mitigated with mode-neutral code-sharing between airlines and rail companies. IIRC Amtrak and Continental did this to some extent back in the day (particularly through Newark). United may still do this, but I haven’t checked recently.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        I looked a few months ago, They still do and still price it at first class fares.

      • Yeah, mode-neutral codesharing with the same fares basically never happens, and there are major obstacles to it. Keep in mind that the airline needs absolute proof that you took the train A->B, otherwise its cheap A->B->C fares will cannibalise its expensive B->C nonstop fares; this is difficult to come by given the train’s likely intermediate stops and lack of ID checks. Trying to treat trains the same as planes more generally has other problems, for example through checked luggage (a matter of course on any codeshare flight connection) is difficult and incompatible with reasonable train dwells.

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          for many many people in the Northeast and Midwest the point of having the train is to get from A to C without going anywhere near an airport.

    • Alon Levy says:

      True, but usually the major international airport is surrounded by a wide radius of airports with uncompetitive fares. In the US it’s because the three largest cities’ main international airports are hubs for at least two airlines, so on the thick international markets the nonstop fares aren’t particularly expensive. For example, checking right now for 7/17-21, nonstops from Newark and JFK to London start at $1,060, whereas flights from DC start at $1,386 (and that’s for a United flight via Newark) and nonstops start from $1,631, flights from Albany start at $1,612, flights from Rochester start at $1,300, flights from Philly start at $1,138 (Air Canada via Toronto) and nonstops start from $1,883, and nonstops from Boston (which also has ample competition) start at $1,153. The only place that’s cheaper than New York to fly to London from is Toronto, at $1,035, and that’s a major international city whose inhabitants have no reason ever to connect at any American hub.

      With LAX, its effective radius as an international gateway misses San Diego (too awkward to serve by rail) and San Francisco (SFO has adequate international traffic), although it is cheaper than San Diego; it’s useful mainly for the Central Valley.

      • Adirondacker12800 says:

        Most people don’t fly to London on the spur of the moment, pick dates in September and it’s 1065 from New York, 1066 from Dulles, 1131 from BWI, 1206 from Philadelphia and 1046 from Boston.

      • It happens that the Empire Corridor and Central Valley have a number of small uncompetitive cities that could be served by rail connections to JFK and LAX (or SFO) respectively, but the fact that these are small also means that there’s not so much benefit to serving them, and other cases like DC/Boston to JFK/EWR, San Diego to LAX, Minneapolis to ORD, or Portland to SEA are not so worth serving with convenient mainline-rail-to-air connections for the reasons noted. At any rate this is now a question about the specific population patterns of the regions in question, rather than a general abstract claim about international airports.

        • Alon Levy says:

          With ORD, it’s Minneapolis is actually the least useful city to connect – MSP is far from Chicago, and is a major airport by its own right. More useful are connections to Milwaukee, Madison, Indianapolis, South Bend or Fort Wayne, and maybe St. Louis and Cincinnati. The nearest cities aren’t very big, but combine a few of them and you get a substantial fraction of Chicagoland’s population.

          The point of the abstract claim is that it gives us a good framework to study specific routes. This is in contrast with ideas that look better at first glance than at second glance, like rerouting the NEC to connect to PHL or having trains stop at T. F. Green

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            The people mover for PHL stops at 30th Street. It has a SEPTA logo on the side of it and is shaped like a Silverliner but the people mover for PHL terminates at 30th Street. Why does someone in Meridan CT or Silver Spring MD want to go to PHL?

          • Eric says:

            It’s a pretty horrible people mover that only runs once every half hour.
            Other than that fact, you’re on target.

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            So we spend 20 30 billion dollars so I can get off the HSR train at the airport and wait a half hour for the people mover to get to the terminal I want?

    • Adirondacker12800 says:

      Unless you are traveling with your steamer trunks trains don’t need checked baggage.

      • I don’t fly with checked bags, but judging by where other passengers go after clearing immigration, most people on international flights (where it’s still usually free) seem to. And quite a few people are essentially travelling with steamer trunks — e.g. back when my family lived in Tanzania we’d always max out our checked baggage allowances when flying back from trips to the US in order to bring back things that were not feasible/economical to obtain in Tanzania otherwise, and I’ve often had the impression that most people on flights to the developing world are doing similarly.

        • Adirondacker12800 says:

          So? Why should people in the US be subsidizing Tanzanians who don’t want to pay the cab fare from their hotel?

          • We were US-citizen expatriates in Tanzania, but a more common case is immigrants from the developing world to the US (who of course pay US taxes) visiting their countries of origin. Anyway the through checked baggage question isn’t about subsidy, the airline is profitable and the intercity rail operator should be. It’s about whether a sufficiently seamless service can be offered to air-rail through-ticketed passengers for it to be worth the airline’s time to set up and market codesharing, rather than a worst-of-both-worlds kludge that would end up costing the airline customers if they marketed it widely. If not, airlines will continue to avoid air-rail codeshares like the plague

          • Adirondacker12800 says:

            Why should there be subsidized freight for anyone? There are courier companies that will gladly pick up your steamer trunks and deliver them to an airport.

  13. On Sunday I was at MAD which is a weird case, the Metro serves all the terminals (and an urban station in between them) but the RER-style Cercanias trains only serve Terminal 4, which is used by the Oneworld airlines including Iberia (and thus most of what domestic traffic MAD has). Since the Cercanias goes straight to Charmartin and Atocha mainline stations, Terminal 4 is thus presumably a lot more convenient if you’re connecting by train from another part of the country. Also the Cercanias trains are cheaper than the Metro for some reason, as well as faster (though only half-hourly). I suspect this is more about implicitly subsidising Iberia than about optimising the most likely passenger trips, though extending the Cercanias to T123 would also have been more difficult to construct.

  14. ZL says:

    I happened to take AirTrain at JFK yesterday (I’ve done it a number of times before) and it really isn’t particularly impressive. LIRR from Penn Station is fine and has semi-adequate frequency, but would have been substantially more inconvenient if I wasn’t staying a couple blocks from the station. From Jamaica, you have to go up and over to the massive AirTrain building (what on earth is that whole thing for? there are two tracks!) and then up again to a massively confusing fare payment scheme that requires customer service agents stationed on both sides of the fare gates to help passengers. Hope you still have a MetroCard, because otherwise you’ll be paying an extra dollar fee. As a sidenote, LIRR ticket machines should have a giant “JFK” button: press it and get charged the appropriate peak/off-peak LIRR fare to Jamaica + $5 for AirTrain and get all your payment done at once.

    Then you pay $5 for a couple mile ride and discover that you have to wait 10 minutes for a train, an unacceptable service frequency when you’re nearly at the airport already. Worse yet, trains run every 15 minutes after 8pm. The train itself is quite slow as it frequently has to slow for sharp curves and to climb inclines as it weaves through thickets of existing JFK infrastructure.

    In addition, they could make the service substantially more speedy if the reverse-loop all terminals train were timed with Howard Beach and Jamaica Station trains. Going to Terminals 7 or 8? Cross the platform at Terminal 1 to the waiting train and avoid the long loop around the whole airport.

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