An airport rail link is a service providing passenger rail transport from an airport to a nearby city; by mainline- or commuter trains, rapid transit, people mover or light rail. Direct links operate straight to the airport terminal, while other systems require an intermediate use of people mover or shuttle bus.
While popular solutions in Europe and Japan for decades, only recently have other Asia, North American and Oceanian links been constructed. Advantages for the rider include faster travel time, easy interconnection with other public transport and high comfort, while authorities have gained less highway and parking congestion, pollution reductions and possibilities for extra profits; some systems have turned out not providing sufficient revenue for support the investments. Onwards connection benefit airports by reaching out to greater areas.
For airports built within or close to the city limits, extending mass transit
systems like rapid transit or light rail to airport terminals allows full integration with other public transport in the city, and seamless transport to all parts of town. Travel time is a drawback as the services make many intermediate stops before reaching the city center. A common solutions involves building a separate people mover from a mass transit station to the airport terminal, often using automated systems, allowing faster travel time and fare discrimination, for instance Orlyval
. Other systems prompt for a separate rapid transit line from major mass transit terminal, such as AirTrain JFK
Dedicated railway lines to airports have become popular since the 1980s, with airport terminals for airport express, intercity and commuter trains, allowing one-seat travel to the check-in halls. This solution requires the building of new track; a cheaper option being establishing a new station of an existing line connected to the airport by people mover or shuttle bus.
Integration with intercity services has produced alliances where airlines sell connecting service by rail. Central Europe has seen integration of high-speed rail into airports, with TGV and ICE services domestically and internationally operated directed from Charles de Gaulle International Airport and Frankfurt Airport. Because of this many airport stations have received IATA codes.
Other airports have instead chosen to focus on an airport express train dedicated to high-speed transport from the airport to the city centre; a solution often opted for where the airport is located outside the urban area and mass transit system, but where a direct downtown service is required, such as Flytoget serving Oslo Airport, Gardermoen. Other airports are served by both express trains and rapid transit, such as London Heathrow Airport.
Where the train station is not located at the airport, a shuttle system is required on the last part of the journey; either using a (often automated) people mover or a bus. While the former allows low operating costs and higher perceived quality, the latter does not require specialized infrastructure to be built; often becoming the preferred choice at smaller or low-cost airports. Because shuttles remove the one-seat advantage of a rail link, market shares are dominantly lower with these types of system, often requiring passengers intermediate waiting time while transferring and waiting for a new mode of transport.
Some airports have a system where the rail link only serves one terminal or concourse; passengers must instead use an airport circulator to reach the necessary terminal. Circulators typically also serve parking lots, and sometimes airport hotels.
One-seat ride via main-line train
-type service directly from a city centre to the airport, without needing to change trains and sometimes without intermediate stops;
- Amsterdam Schiphol Airport via the Thalys and Dutch Railways
- Athens Eleftherios Venizelos Airport via the Proastiakos suburban railway service
- Berlin-Schönefeld International Airport via regional and InterCity rail.
- Birmingham International Airport via Virgin Trains.
- Brussels Airport via National Railway Company of Belgium
- Cologne Bonn Airport via ICE high-speed, regional and local trains.
- Copenhagen Airport via Kystbanen and InterCity services; direct trains to many cities in Denmark and Sweden.
- Douglas, Isle of Man via Isle of Man Steam Railway
- Düsseldorf International Airport via ICE high-speed, InterCity, regional and local trains.
- Frankfurt International Airport via ICE high-speed, InterCity, regional and local trains.
- Friedrichshafen Airport near Lake Constance by regional train.
- Geneva-Cointrin Airport via Swiss Federal Railways
- Glasgow, Prestwick International Airport via the Ayrshire Coast Line
- Krakow Airport to/from city center via local trains
- Leipzig/Halle Airport via local and InterCity trains.
- Lyon airport via TGV
- Manchester Airport (TransPennine Express, Northern Rail operated as per a normal train service)
- Málaga Airport via Cercanías Málaga service.
- Lübeck Airport via local trains
- Milan Malpensa International Airport via Malpensa Express
- Oslo Airport, Gardermoen via the Airport Express Train
- Palermo Airport via local trains
- Pisa Galileo Galilei International Airport: connections to Pisa's central station and Florence
- Rome Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport via Leonardo Express
- Southampton Airport by South West Trains and CrossCountry
- Stockholm Arlanda via Arlanda Express and InterCity trains
- Vienna International Airport via City Airport Train (CAT)
- Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport and new Modlin Airport being build for no-frills airlines via Szybka Kolej Miejska (Warsaw) (to be open in 2010)
- Trondheim Airport, Norway, via Nordlandsbanen.
- Zürich-Kloten International Airport via Swiss Federal Railways
One-seat ride via local public transport
Many cities also provide a link to their airports through their rapid transit
or light rail
systems, which, unlike express trains, often make numerous stops on the way to the airport. At some airports, such as O'Hare in Chicago or Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, the rapid transit train only visits one terminal or concourse
; passengers must transfer to an airport circulator
to reach other terminals or concourses.
Rail to airport people mover
A hybrid solution adopted in some cities is a direct rail connection to an airport train station instead of to the airport itself. At the airport train station, the passenger switches to a people mover
or other train that goes to the airport terminals. The same system can also serve passengers moving between different terminals and traveling between the terminals and car rental lots or parking areas.
Rail to bus to airport
Another common arrangement requires the passenger to take a train (or metro) to a railway station (usually) near the airport and then switch to a bus
that goes to the airport terminals.
In the 1980s, New York City Transit had a service called the JFK Express (advertised as the Train To The Plane) that was unpopular and eventually cancelled. It was essentially a premium-fare subway ride to a bus that went to JFK Airport. Afterwards the bus continued to run, serving Howard Beach station until the opening of AirTrain JFK in 2003.
Other cities are considering "train to the plane" services.
- Alexandria, Egypt
- Dublin Airport in Dublin, Ireland is one of the main destinations of the (in planning) Dublin Metro.
- Diosdado Macapagal International Airport via Airport Railway (planned)
- Edinburgh Airport will be served by the Edinburgh tram network in 2011 which will link into a new airport railway station on the existing Edinburgh to Aberdeen railway line.
- Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) to Glasgow, is to be operating in 2010
- In Johannesburg, South Africa, the Gautrain system (under construction) will link Johannesburg International Airport to the cities of Johannesburg and to Pretoria and well as Sandton.
- Prague proposed in 2008
- Denver has included such service in a massive regional rail plan that was unveiled in 2004. Plans are also in the works to connect the Washington Metro to Dulles.
- From time to time, New York City has proposed extending the subway N/W (Astoria) line to create a connection to LaGuardia Airport.
- Las Vegas has an ongoing discussion about extending the monorail into McCarran International Airport. Also in the Vegas area, the planned Ivanpah Airport is sited on the right of way for the proposed maglev demonstration project.
- T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island will soon have a MBTA Commuter Rail station that connects to the Terminal, allowing travelers to head up to Providence and Boston.
- None of Canada's major airports currently have railway links today, however there is one currently under construction. Vancouver's TransLink is building the Canada Line, an automated rapid transit line connecting the southern suburb of Richmond with downtown Vancouver. A branch line of the new metro will terminate at Vancouver International Airport; it is scheduled to be in service prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
- In Calgary, plans are being developed to extend the C-Train to Calgary International Airport in the northeast of the city, and in Edmonton, an extension of the LRT is proposed to connect Edmonton International Airport with downtown.
- In Toronto, there are plans for a mainline train called Blue22, running from its downtown Union Station to Toronto Pearson International Airport, though this has plan is controversial.
- Also, in Ottawa, there have been plans to extend the O-Train to the Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport,
- and in Montreal, there are discussions of a direct rail link between Gare Centrale and Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
- For Gothenburg, Sweden there are plans for a new high-speed railway Gothenburg-Stockholm. One of the first parts would be Gothenburg-Borås with an underground station below the Gothenburg-Landvetter Airport. This station is planned to be finished around 2020-2025.