It's only a fantasy for now, but one day—maybe, not so long from now—passengers arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport will have multiple transit options to reach destinations in Toronto, the Greater Toronto Area and Southern Ontario.

In this fantasy future, they could still board a Union Pearson Express train to get Downtown, like they do today. But they could also board light rail trains to travel along Eglinton or Finch Avenues to reach central and northern parts of Toronto. Or they could climb onto one of GO's Regional Express Rail (RER) trains to travel to Brampton, Georgetown, Acton or Guelph. For those heading further west, a high-speed rail line would link the airport to Kitchener, London and Windsor.

Today, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) moved this fantasy a few steps closer to reality.

A wide view of the transit hub and passenger processing centre, looking south, image GTAA

The agency that owns and operates the airport has unveiled its plans to build a multi-modal transit hub at Pearson over the next ten years. The regional transit centre would connect the airport area to key employment and residential areas throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe. It would also house the airport's passenger processing centre, including security screening.

The GTAA argues that the proposed transit centre will help address the low number of transit trips in the area—less than 10 per cent of commuters take transit to and from the area. The centre will potentially connect a number of transit lines that are already in development or have been proposed by various levels of government, including the Crosstown West LRT line; the Finch West LRT, the Mississauga Transitway, GO's RER on the Kitchener line, and the Province of Ontario’s proposed high-speed rail line.

The GTTA would develop lands south of the transit hub. Note the GO and UPX trains on either side of Highway 409, image GTAA

To build the new hub, it appears that the agency will move the parking garages for Terminals 1 and 3, as well as the circuitous network of roadways linking the terminals to Airport Road and Highways 409 and 427. It would also add more gates to board and deplane aircraft, while likely removing the airport 'LINK' train between the terminals in favour of bridges.

The GTAA would demolish a parking structure and add more gates to the airport under the plan, image, GTAA

At this stage, however, most of the transit plans are speculative, as only a connection to the Crosstown line has been officially announced. Supplied by the GTAA, the rendering shows the LRT continuing north of the airport transit centre, possibly an extension of the Finch West line. A GO train crosses Highway 409 to reach the new transit hub, though GO's Kitchener line is currently well to the north of this location, suggesting a new stub or looping alignment. The Province's high-speed rail line to southwestern Ontario could presumably follow the same route.

An LRT train heads north from the new hub -- presumably along the Finch West line, image GTAA

When Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed extending the Crosstown LRT to the airport area last year, he suggested that the City of Mississauga and the GTAA help fund that line. However, the GTAA has been silent on whether it will contribute to building this line and the other transit connections that its proposed multi-modal transit hub would serve. In a news release, the agency says it "has held preliminary discussions with all levels of government to raise awareness about the opportunity for the regional transit centre at Toronto Pearson. It anticipates continued planning discussions throughout 2017 both for the centre, as well as for the individual transit lines that will connect into the centre."

According to the NEPTIS Research Foundation, the area around Toronto Pearson is the second largest employment zone in Canada after Downtown Toronto, as UrbanToronto has previously reported. Over 300,000 people work in an employment zone that includes parts of Brampton, Mississauga, and Toronto. NEPTIS reports that the concentration of jobs in financial services in workplaces near the airport is greater than the total jobs in North York. However, due to the lack of transit in the area, NEPTIS found that the area generates more than 1 million car trips each day—more daily trips than to and from Downtown Toronto.

Comparing Pearson to other worldwide airports in transit connectivity, image, GTAA

Although the Union Pearson Express train has improved connectivity to Downtown Toronto, many Toronto passengers still require at least one connection and over 1.5 hours of travel time to access Pearson. Meanwhile, passengers around the GTA and elsewhere in Southern Toronto have no choice but to transfer at Union Station— even though GO or VIA Rail services already pass by the airport.


We will keep you updated as the plans take shape, and more information becomes available. In the meantime, a closer look at the changes to the airport itself is offered here. Make sure to also check out our dataBase to learn more. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a message on this page, or add your voice to the ongoing conversation in our Forum. 

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