Planes and Trains

Passenger jet and commuter train

Airports* connections with rail systems is the subject of a study being co-conducted by UNC faculty member Timothy Vowles.

A study of airports and public rail system connections being co-conducted by a University of Northern Colorado geographer could establish a model for future connections, including one proposed for Denver International Airport.

Timothy Vowles, a faculty member in UNC's Geography program, and Andrew Goetz, a professor of Geography at the University of Denver, are finishing their study's first stage '' an evaluation of the intermodal linkages at 49 U.S. airports.

They rank the airports on a scale of 1-5, taking into account whether the airport is a point on a national, regional or local rail system, has direct or indirect access to one of those systems or has no access to a rail system.

They also factored in whether there's an on-airport rail station or a shuttle to an off-airport station, the type and length of shuttle service between the airport and rail station, whether the rail service provides arriving travelers with access to lodging and other amenities, and how easily it can be accessed by residents and airport employees.

No airports earned the study's highest ranking, although Newark's and Baltimore's were close, Vowles said. DIA received the lowest ranking because no rail line yet serves the airport.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to provide insight into best practices for other airports to pursue when creating or improving their air-rail connections in the future.

"We hope to have information that will help airports and ground transportation systems in planning their transportation infrastructures," Vowles said. "Because we'll also be talking to users of the linkages, our research also could help airlines market the rail connections at airports."

Whether their study will be done in time to help in planning a proposed $1.3 billion rail system between downtown Denver and DIA depends on when the project obtains financing and goes into the final design stage, and on Vowles and Goetz obtaining funding for the next stage of their study: interviewing users of the intermodal linkages.

They received a $10,000 grant from the National Center for Intermodal Transportation for the first stage and will evaluate its final results before looking at funding opportunities to finish the study.]

- Gary Dutmers

Select Cities' Airport-Rail Connections Rankings
Category 1: None
Category 2: Newark, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Chicago, Minneapolis, New York (JFK)
Category 3: Phoenix, Dallas/Fort Worth, Oakland, Miami
Category 4: Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Diego, New York (LaGuardia)
Category 5: Denver, Houston, Detroit, Las Vegas