As gateways to cities, airports are obviously keen to make a good impression. As is the International Air Rail Organisation (IARO), which held a conference in Paris on 11 April to discuss the expected benefits of the CDG Express.
A new-build, automatic metro link between Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport and the French capital, CDG Express is expected to open in 2024, in time for the Summer Olympics.
There are many driving forces behind this dedicated service, according to IARO board member Paul Le Blond. “Relieving the saturated RER B commuter line, currently carrying both commuters and airport passengers; encouraging a modal shift away from the car, towards trains; boosting the economy; and making the French capital a bona fide tourist destination.”
He added that today, 2/3 of people travelling to and from Paris-Charles de Gaulle are doing so by car. But with the opening of the new express link, this share is expected to shift to 2/3 by train.
Alexandre Missoffe, managing director at Greater Paris Investment Agency (Paris Ile-de-France Capitale Economique) insisted on the importance of express airport access for research hubs and businesses – those already located in Ile-de-France (Paris and its region) or considering doing so. “First impressions count,” he said.
Although nobody at the conference went into details, it was generally understood that RER B isn’t giving a good impression.
“We need to show that Paris is modern, business friendly and has good transport links if businesses are going to invest in Grand Paris,” added Mr Missoffe.
Grand Paris, is the project to develop the Greater Paris region and make the French capital a ‘world city’. Part of the plan, the Grand Paris Express is the new-build, 200km automatic metro that will encircle the capital, doubling the size of the current system operated by RATP.
“Orly airport [south of Paris] was built on the roads for the roads,” said Guillaume Suave, engineering and planning director, Groupe ADP. “By 2024-2027 it will connect with two Grand Paris lines – the 14 and 18. Line 14 will put the airport just 14 minutes from the city.”
Cars and taxis aside, travelling to and from Orly by public transport (RER, bus, coach, tramway) currently takes between 30 minutes to one hour 20 minutes, depending, of course, on the state of traffic.
“Doing what it says on the box”
Heathrow is one of five airports serving London. Heathrow Express, the airport-city link opened in 1998, is now carrying 80 million passengers a year.
The airport was already linked to London Underground (since 1978), so why the need for an express service as well?
“Having a heavy rail link means the market can be better segmented,” said Fraser Brown, CEO, Heathrow Express and president, IARO. “As transport professionals, we make it phenomenally difficult for people to understand transport systems,” he added. “While locals can more or less work out how to use them, it’s far more difficult for visitors.”
- Heathrow airport has three underground stations connected to the London Underground network at the western branch of the Piccadilly Line
In Mr Brown’s eyes, Heathrow Express is all about “simplicity”, “point-to-point – the Underground service is cheaper but stops at stations along the route”, and “design with the customer in mind.”
“Basically, the service does what it says on the box,” he summed up. “It has carried over 105 million passengers in the past two decades. Also, think about the congestion and emissions this has avoided.
He debunked the belief that city-aiport express links are a rich person’s railway, a folly, pointing out how the rise of low-cost airlines has resulted in business travellers using them to fly, then taking Heathrow Express to get into/out of London.
“We are spending more time now on segmenting our business and leisure customers,” he expanded. “We need ‘bums on seats’. Rail must make use of yield management like airline companies and hotels. It’s a sensible economic fact to price travel higher from 7 to 10am and from 4 to 7pm because this is where the utility of the product is highest.”
Competition or coping with capacity?
When CDG Express opens, Mr Brown anticipates some competition and migration vis-a-vis RER B, but is confident the two services will ultimately compliment each other.
Heathrow Express will also experience this jostling with the opening of Crossrail – the new high frequency, high capacity railway for London and the South East, due to open from 2018/19. But here too Mr Brown is equally unfazed.
“When Crossrail opens there will be a stopping service to the airport. This means more choice for consumers. Also, it’s important to bear in mind that upwards of 78 million passengers travel through Heathrow every year and this figure is growing 3% annually. The extra capacity in the transport system is really important to cope with these rising numbers.”
Yet while CAT runs directly to and from city central Wien Mitte station, the S7 is linked to the outerlying Floridsdorf main station and makes stops along its route. Nevertheless, CAT says it is upping its game, mainly by offering its riders extra services.
First impressions and attracting business
Julien Bert, managing director of Rhônexpress, Lyon’s existing city-airport shuttle, gave an overview of the tram-train service that has been up and running since 2010.
“Today, the sector that has developed the most lies east of the city between the centre and the airport. Rhônexpress not only serves the airport but also the surrounding area where new hubs have grown up, including an important business park.”
“Nissan’s European design centre is located a five-minute walk from the Heathrow Express platform,” pointed out Mr Brown. “This is a good example of a multinational company taking transport links into account when choosing its location.”
In addition to service frequency, reliability, and comfort, Mr Bert flagged up the importance of treating every passenger as an individual. “On-board staff to handle stress and answer questions is the number one criterion.”
The Oslo Airport Express (or Flytoget) launched in 1999 and today carries 60% business travellers, 40% leisure, and growing. “We are competing with cars and taxis,” said CEO Philipp Engedal. “We are the number one rail service in terms of customer service. First impressions really do count.”
Olympic Games bring two things – temporary arrangements and legacy – and CDG Express will be a legacy,” said Mr Le Blond.
“Having such a service in place for the Games is important, but so too is the legacy – you will get more people coming into the city afterwards,” added Mr Brown. “After the 2012 Games in London, we saw year-on-year increase in both business and leisure passengers using Heathrow Express.
Questions from the floor led to discussion over the feasibility of in-town check-in for luggage and the ingredients for a successful (experience for passengers, profitable for operators) city-airport link.
“In-town check-in can work, but it’s very difficult to make it work – both for customers and economically,” said Andrew Sharp from IARO. “We have done a report; I advise you [CDG Express people] consult it before going too far.”
“I’ve used in-town check-in in Hong Kong,” said Christophe Ducloux, managing director, Visit Paris Region (Comité Régional du Tourisme Paris Ile-de-France). “It’s a life saver and game changer.” He believes it will be complicated to introduce this value-added service to Paris, due to issues such as traffic congestion and the type of vehicle to be used, but that it must be taken into serious consideration – “if Paris really wants to be Europe’s ‘world city’.”
How to run a good express service? “Well the clue’s in the title; it needs to be fast,” said Mr Brown. “Other factors are point-to-point journeys and frequent services that are easy to access and understand, regardless of language.”
The Oslo Airport Express, Stockholm’s Arlanda Express, and Vienna’s CAT are generally agreed to be good examples, with Hong Kong’s Airport Express considered one of the best, if not the best in the world.
“Happier visitors spend more time and money in their destination cities, plus they take home good impressions and come back for more,” said Mr Brown. “Its all about creating a virtuous circle.”