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Arriving into Hong Kong Airport the obvious route into the city centre was to use the Airport Express rail service. Operated as part of the MTR railway network, it is a limited stop service terminating at the geographically ambiguously-named Hong Kong station, in the central area.

Getting onto the Airport Express

After a long flight I was very tired and obviously wasn’t tuned into the Hong Kong transport system: the first difficulty I faced was buying a ticket: all the publicity advises visitors to load up an Octopus Card which can be used as a Pay-As-You-Go system; however, you cannot buy one of these cards with a credit card – it is cash only.

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FINLAND: Helsinki’s new Ring Rail Line officially began operating on 1st of July 2015 connecting the capital’s main airport with Helsinki and the city of Vantaa.

Construction of the €774 million Ring Rail Line began in 2009. The costs were shared among the Finnish Transport Agency, the City of Vantaa, and Finavia. The project also received support from the EU.

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The project involved building 18 kilometres of new track, 8 kilometres of which is in a tunnel. Five new stations - Vehkala, Kivistö, Aviapolis, Airport and Leinelä – connected two existing railway lines creating a loop between the Helsinki city and the Airport.

RingRailLine Map

Several new areas for housing, work, and recreation will be built along the Ring Rail Line.

New Clarion Hotel being built at Aviapolis Station on Ring Rail Line

New Clarion Hotel is being built at Aviapolis station on Ring Rail Line. 

The trains run at 10 min intervals to both directions stopping at all stations along the route. Aviapolis station marks the mid-point of the line with 30min journey times to Helsinki Central Station from both directions.

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Ring Rail Line stations have a convenient route map with journey times displayed for passenger convenience. 

There is a short (350 metres to Terminal 1 and 700 metres to Terminal 2.) walk to reach airport terminals from the station. 

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Ring Rail Line 1

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Currently the escalators at the airport station are still under construction and passengers need to use lifts to go down to reach the trains.

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Signage at Ring Rail Line airport station, informing passengers about the construction work.

Tickets can be purchased at airport just before going down to the railway station, but also are available on each of the stations and on board of trains.

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Tickets for Ring Rail Line can be purchased from both VR and HRT (Helsinki Region Transport, operator of the line) ticket machines, but it might not be clear for international traveller. This ticket station at airport could be improved with simple signage "Tickets to Helsinki" or some Ring Rail Line branding. 

Trains operating on the Ring Rail Line are the new Sm5 low-floor trains, or Flirts that also run on other rail lines in Helsinki.

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Train display at Helsinki Central Station shows little plane icons to indicate the which trains run to the airport. 

 

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Dedicated Lyon airport rail link Rhônexpress is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year, having carried over 5 million passengers over the time.

This was a perfect opportunity to test the service!

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Arriving passengers are met with the Rhônexpress information posters at the baggage reclaim and wayfinding signs directing them to one of the world’s most iconic railways stations designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

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The station was easy to find with signs directing you every step of the way and the information screen with countdown to the next train was useful.

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Terminal 1 is linked with the railway station via a footbridge and with the help of travellators it takes only few minutes to travel between the two. 

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Opened in 1994 the railway station bears Calatrava’s signature “wings” and leaves a lasting impression.

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“The dramatic form of the central hall's superstructure was derived from one of Calatrava's sculptures: a balanced shape resembling a bird at the point of flight.”

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Rhonexpress tickets can be bought from ticket machines at the station, online, via operator’s app or from the staff on board with a one euro surcharge for each transaction. Since there were people lingering around the ticket machines and I completely forgot about the app option, I've opted for the on-board purchase, which was easy enough. 

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Trains operate every 15 minutes with the journey time of about 30 minutes.

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Each train has dedicated luggage racks, posters with information about onward travel and free wifi (you will need to register your name and email for the first time log-in). One of the most impressive things were the huge windows, allowing you to take in all the views. 

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The city terminus Gare Part-Dieu is one of Lyon’s main railway stations, located on the SNCF operated Paris-Lyon-Marseille line and linked to metro, tram and trolleybus network.

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The city centre and old town is located about 30-40min by foot.

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Route: London-Marseille-Avignon

Journey time – 1:30hr flight + about 30min wait at the airport + 1:30hr train journey – total about 2:30-3 hours of travelling.

On the last week of summer an opportunity arose to visit France’s famous wine region – Provence with its papal town Avignon.

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easyJet offers direct flights from Gatwick Airport to Marselle’s Provence Airport and a quick look around the airport’s website showed direct rail connection to Avignon centre with reasonable travel times.

Although Eurostar offers London-Avignon route, the journey involves changing at Paris with total of about 6:40-7:20hr of travelling, so I have chosen to go the flight route.

After landing at Marseille Airport there are plenty signs of possible rail connections, most notably at the baggage reclaim where you have time to study the rail network connecting the airport.

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Marseille airport rail station is located few kilometres away and is connected by a free shuttle bus.

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I’ve landed at the low cost m2 terminal and, according to wayfinding signs, the rail shuttle bus stop is located outside Halle1, which is about 500 metres away.

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The walk was marked by wayfinding signs and the bus stop was easy to spot from distance.

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As I was only travelling with a carry-on the walk was ok, but I can see a bit of a struggle for passengers with more luggage.

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At the bus stop passengers can find the live train arrival/departure board, train timetables and information about the shuttle bus.

One of the most surprising things was that the rail ticket office and ticket machines were located not at the bus stop but another 500m away. 

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The information at the bus stop “strongly recommended” to buy tickets before boarding the bus, but there was no clear and immediate information when the next bus is arriving.

Since my train was about half an hour away, I managed to buy the tickets before boarding the shuttle bus, but some of my fellow passengers left to buy the tickets and missed the bus.

Just after reading ALL of the small print I was able to find that the buses operate according to the rail schedule.

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The bus was spacious enough for passengers with luggage and took about 5 min to get to the railway station.

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The station itself is quite minimal with only two shelters providing some shade. There is a ticket office and ticket machine at the railway station but no live train information on the platform.

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The train is quite spacious for people with luggage or bicycles with plenty of options for seating.

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On the way back you must call for the shuttle bus to collect you from the rail station to the airport, the airport’s website states that there is a call button at the bus stop. I didn’t do any of those things, perhaps my fellow passengers did.

In conclusion it was quite a convenient and timely way to get to Avignon but the airport should absolutely improve the rail shuttle bus experience at the airport installing a ticket machine at the bus stop and actually providing accurate information when the next bus is coming.

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By Liam Henderson

Arriving at Toronto Pearson Airport, you can’t miss the anticipation of the new airport rail service, UP Express. There is a lot of signage at the airport promoting the predictable journey time and high frequency.

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Though the service doesn’t open until the 6th June, I joined the Global AirRail Alliance for a preview of the passenger experience that awaits.

Offering a 15 minute headway from 05:30 to 01:00 the service will take 25 minutes, calling at two intermediate stations. The journey time is roughly similar to an uncongested road journey; however the reliable journey time is one of the service’s main benefits.

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Union Station’s UP platform is separate from the main concourse area allowing for a differentiated passenger experience. The modern, bright station design certainly adds a sense of calm to the journey. Entering the station, there is a very simple layout with one coffee stand and one small shop. For someone in a rush, the design guides you quickly through to board a train.
If you have spare time, facilities have been thoughtfully placed to allow a passenger to check in for their flight or withdraw foreign currency.

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Platform edge doors maintain the station temperature and protect from extreme weather. When these open, level access is provided through to the rather narrow train doors. When the system is operational, these narrow doors may prove to be a pinch-point for passengers trying to board: There is no stand back space inside the vestibule area so passengers who are slow to move down into the train will block the door area. Further, there is no option to stand in this area for the journey.

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On board, very large luggage racks are provided throughout the train – though I’ve observed in previous posts that not everybody chooses to use allocated racks. Passengers wanting to keep their luggage close can use overhead bins. Unlike many European rail systems, these overhead bins are enclosed: though this makes the train look neat and tidy, I suspect many passengers will entirely forget their luggage as they rush off the train to the airport. Be sure to check that you have everything with you.

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Once you have funnelled through to take a seat, the facilities provided become obvious: the generous legroom means that you can sit easily with a small bag at your feet.

In a highly unrepresentative test of the Wi-Fi, I was able to achieve a download speed of 3.2 Mbps and an upload speed of 620Kbps (in the station, I was impressed to download at 9.7 Mbps).
Apart from the tip-up seats in the wheelchair area, all seats are arranged in an airline style: though not the target market, this would result in a family being split between different rows as no booth/table seats are available.

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Many news articles have concentrated on premium one-way fare but the service has a clear premium offer that is reflected by the relatively high fare. So long as the reliability lives up to the premium price this seems to make for a clear product compared to the alternative taxi cost of approximately $60.

The UP Express is definitely planned to reflect an InterCity rail or airline journey – in a seat: I wonder how this will play out when the service is operational. If, like me, you prefer to stand on a short train ride so that you can alight first, the lack of stand back space by the doors will mean that you’ll be standing in the way at intermediate stations. I understand the focus on providing a premium on board environment but not all customers will want to sit down and the uniform train layout doesn’t really offer this flexibility.

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Having segregated the premium market, the separate UP Express platform area at Union Station manages to isolate the airport passenger and provide a genuinely high-quality environment and service. With the high walk-up fare, the service needs to be exceptional – my experience suggests that service experience has been well thought through. With a current public transport mode share of only 5% there is definitely a market for extracting specific passengers off the highway – in the context of a quickly growing city this shift to public transport is essential.

Next month will see if the service takes off!