Connections between Railway and Airports

Railway Types at Airports

There are different railway types connecting an airport with either the next city or the region around the airport. The advantage of a train service compared to other means of transportation is the high capacity of transportation coupled with the independence from road congestions as well as the reduction of air pollution compared to travels by car. The research of Givoni and Banister (2007 2) suppose to differentiate four types of rail services, even though it is possible that a combination of these can be found at big airports:

Type 1: Special High Speed trains (HST) connect the airport with the city. They are dedicated to air passengers and can be characterized by limited stops on the way to the city centre which ensure relatively short travel times (e.g Arlanda Express in Stockholm).
Type 2: The Standard Metro line connects the airport with the city through the metro system. Compared to Type 1 it offers a less tailored service for air passengers and cannot compete in travel time. However, it is usually less expensive and provides a wider geographical coverage (e.g Picadilliy Line in between London and Heathrow).
Type 3: The airport happens to be build close to the station whereby Spur Line trains more accidentally connect the airport to the airport region and the regional rail network (e.g. Manchester Rail Station).
Type 4: High Speed trains (HST) are connecting the airport to the national and international high speed train system. Generally this type can only be found at large airports where passenger volumes allow for a demand sufficient to cater a dedicated airport station (e.g. Frankfurt Airport).

Cooperation between airlines and railway services

Cooperation between airlines and railway services nowadays is limited . Train services mostly do substitute the car to access the airport but are not seriously considered for further stages of air travel. The reason can be seen in the missing benefit that airlines would gain while collaborating (Givoni and Banister, 2007 2).

Airlines only benefit, if the railway service is fully integrated in the air transportation network especially when operating a hub and spoke system (resulting in at least one interchange per journey) (refer to Hub-and-Spokes Operations for more details) and parts of the air journey are operated by train. Then the airline can offer more destinations (even if the destination does not come with an airport) and can thereby attract more passengers. The following examples describe a successful integration:
The connection between Cologne and Frankfurt airport is an example for the train substituting the aircraft: The High Speed Train connects Cologne main station and Frankfurt airport in less than 1 hour flights between the two airports have been discontinued, as a journey by plane (incl. check-in, security checks, etc.) would be more time-consuming (IATA, 2003 3). If a passenger travels e.g. from Singapore to Cologne via Frankfurt, the last leg will always be operated by train.

Through the cooperation with Swiss Federal Railway, Finnair was able to include Bern, Basel, Lausanne and Luzern as new destinations into its network even though it is only operating air services between Helsinki and Zurich Airport. The leg between Zurich and the aforementioned cities is operated by train. Train services in this case successfully complement the air service.

According to Sharp (2002 4) passengers are indifferent concerning their mode of travel , as long as it is convenient, comfortable, fast and fares are acceptable. However, cooperation between rail and flight in terms of linked timetables, integrated ticketing and one-time-check-in at the origin is not yet well established enough that passengers would intensively use it. If passengers are not satisfied, cooperations can also fail as the example of the connection between Dusseldorf and Frankfurt airport shows. The connection was operated by the Deutsche Bahn between 1982 and 1993 without a High Speed Train service and could therefore not compete against the flight which was faster (European Commission, 1996 1).

Planning railway stations at airports (Givoni and Banister, 2007 2)

As mentioned above, the convenience for passengers that change travel modes is crucial for the success of cooperation between airlines and railway services. Therefore the location of the railway station is important and needs to be planned precisely. Furthermore, not only the location at the airport is important but also the position in the rail network to create the necessary demand. The following characteristics ought to be considered when planning airport railway stations:

1. Position in the rail network:

  • Direct connection between the city and the airport
  • High frequency of service
  • Part of the HST network

2. Location at the airport:

  • Minimized distance between aircraft gate and train platform
  • Walkable connection between aircraft gate and train platform
  • Best location is situated under the airport terminal
  • Connection to the airport luggage-handling system to allow checked-though luggage
1. EUROPEAN COMMISSION (1996). White Paper - A Strategy to Revitalise the Community’s Railways.
COM(96)421final (Brussels: Commission of the European Communities).
2. GIVONI M and BANISTER D (2007). Role of the Railways in the Future of Air Transport.
Transportation Planning and Technology. Vol. 30, No. 1, February 2007.
3. IATA (2003). Air/Rail Intermodality Study. (Geneva: International Air Transport Association).
4. SHARP A (2002). Rail-air replacement: problems and opportunities. Air-Rail Transfer Seminar,
Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, 21 November.

Want to know more?

International Air Rail Organisation
Homepage of the International Air Rail Organisation
Air/Rail Intermodality Experiences from Germany
Study about the Intermodality Experiences in Germany. Published by Wolfgang Grimme, DLR
Final Report of the RAIF
Final Report of the Rail Air Intermodality facility forum (RAIF)

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