A tale of airport rail connections on two sides of the Pacific

Australia and the USA are similar in many ways. Both are large, developed countries with air travel-centric national transportation systems and automobile-oriented cities.

Rail transit connections to their respective airports are also similar – notably that they are few and far between.

Only airports in Brisbane and Sydney are connected to rail networks – defined as local metro or commuter rail systems, airtrains or national rail networks – in Australia, while 21 airports have similar connections in the USA. These numbers exclude those with bus connections to rail, for example the Skybus at Melbourne Tullamarine International in Australia or the airBART at Oakland International in the USA.

Map of US airports with rail connections

There are 21 airports in the USA with rail connections, five more are under construction. (Great Circle Mapper)

There are 21 airports in the USA with rail connections, five more are under construction. (Great Circle Mapper)

Surprisingly – or not – the rail connections in Australia touched more than 41% of enplaning passengers in the country despite being limited to just two – albeit two major – airports in 2012, according to data from Australia’s Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

Australia enplanements at airport with rail connections, 2012

(Australia Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

(Australia Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

Only 37% of enplaning passengers in the USA had similar access to rail transit in 2012, US Department of Transportation (DOT) data shows.

US enplanements at airports with rail connections, 2012



The main difference of course is that Australia’s smaller population is concentrated in a few large cities, including Brisbane and Sydney, that in turn account for the vast majority of air traffic. In the USA, population and air traffic is distributed across the country in numerous metro areas and through various airline hubs.

These numbers may change soon. New airport rail connections are under construction at Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Honolulu, Oakland and Washington Dulles airports that, based on the 2012 DOT numbers, will boost the percentage of enplaning air travellers in the USA with rail access to 47% when the respective lines open.

No airport rail connections are understood to be under construction in Australia – though if you know of one please let us know.

UPDATE: Western Australia is planning a rail link to Perth International airport that will open between 2021 and 2031.

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7 Responses to A tale of airport rail connections on two sides of the Pacific

  1. Andrew 21 August, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    There is a rail link had been planned and budget for in Perth,

    You should also note that both Brisbane & Sydney lines are in private ownership with tickets from the airport to downtown costing $15USD for only a 15 minute ride, not true mass transit

  2. Sean 21 August, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    I live in Perth, and for the last decade the infrastructure surrounding the airport has been buckling under the increased pressure placed upon it. The FIFO traffic that exploded has lead to absolute gridlock. Public transportation links (even between terminals!) for the most part have been non existent.

    Finally it is all being sorted out! With the highways reconfigured in the short future and finally a train link to the existing suburban rail networks arriving in the next 5-10 years. The frustration of living a short walk from a train station, yet still having to get a cab to/from the airport can drive a man to empty the beverage cart swiftly. But the fact that Changi Airport’s link to the MRT system only came about 10-11 years ago puts it all into perspective.

  3. Bob 21 August, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

    Gotta love Schiphol, which turned into a major trainstation with an airport ;)

  4. Damian 22 August, 2013 at 5:37 am #

    For those not familiar, FIFO is Fly-In, Fly-Out. It is a common working arrangement for workers in West Australias resources sector. Many workers will fly to their work site for a roster (from 2 – 6 weeks typically) then fly home for a week or two.

  5. michael 22 August, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I suppose the Green Line Metro that serves LAX doesn’t count because one has to use a bus to get to it? But the shuttle bus is free and the Metro station is called “Aviation station”. For most of its existence one had to take the free shuttle to reach the A-train at JFK too and I’m pretty sure you would have always said JFK was served by the city subway?

    In any case there is also this (from a 2010 NYT article; I don’t know its status): “At the same time, Los Angeles received $546 million from the federal government to build, over the next 10 years, an 8.5-mile above-ground light-rail line from the Crenshaw district to Los Angeles International Airport.”
    @Andrew 21 August, 2013 at 11:02 am
    The other gripe with the Brisbane Airtrain is that it stops service at 8pm!

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  7. BRISBANE BUSINESS 28 October, 2013 at 3:25 am #

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