Andrew Sharp spent 14 years as director-general of the International Air Rail Organisation (IARO), a world-wide group of organisations across the air and rail industry
The IARO has a specific interest in rail links to airports. Andrew Sharp retired in 2012 and is now the organisation’s policy adviser.
What do you do in your role at the International Air Rail Organisation?
I produce our weekly newsletter, IARO Express, which contains five stories about the airport rail industry world-wide. It is published every Thursday. I try to write up one item from the UK, one from the rest of Europe, one from North America and two from elsewhere in the world, although it isn’t always possible.
I also keep our database of rail links to airports up to date. 245 airports have one or more types of rail link, and more are opening! My list of actual and planned links exceeds 1,100.
How did you first get involved in the industry?
I have always worked in the rail industry. Privatisation of British Rail ended my job with them: I was working with Heathrow Airport on the Heathrow Express at the time and the first managing director of Heathrow Express suggested I form an organization to bring together people world-wide interested in rail links to airports.
I ran the organization for nearly 20 years as director general, stepping down to become Policy Adviser in 2012.
What do you define as successful air-rail cooperation?
Where the railway meets the needs of the airport (in terms of service to passengers and employees), and where both work together to mutual benefit.
Which areas of Asia Pacific are of greatest interest to the IARO?
At the moment, China, Malaysia and Indonesia. I was very impressed by the new link to Medan airport in northern Sumatra and look forward to seeing it again when the route upgrade is completed.
What do you think about projects like the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore high-speed train and the impact it will have on air travel in Malaysia and Singapore?
I regret that it will not serve KLIA, although I understand the reasons. I think it will considerably reduce air traffic on the route, to the benefit of the environment and passengers.
Developing countries like Cambodia and Myanmar are rehabilitating their rail networks, at what stage do you think these countries need to consider a dual strategy for air and rail?
Air and rail should each do what they do best – air covering long distances, crossing bodies of water or mountains, and rail carrying people and goods over distances of 600 – 1,000 kilometres.
This economic imperative should be considered when upgrading transport links, in the interests of efficiency. On a 600-kilometre flight, half of the fuel loaded is used for take-off and landing: this is not efficient.
The Hong Kong Airport Express is one of the most popular air-rail links in the world in terms of passengers carried, what makes it so successful?
MTR does everything well and the Airport Express is no different. From the design of the airport interface (no changes of level for arriving or departing passengers) to the downtown check-in service at Central and Kowloon, it’s all done well. And the Octopus Card is just the icing on the cake.
It has carried 200 million passengers since it started in 1998: its nearest competitors are Heathrow Express and Airport Express Oslo, which have both carried 100 million.
Does Hong Kong do things differently to Heathrow, which also has a very successful airport express?
The airport express at Heathrow is owned by the airport: this has advantages in terms of cooperation. The one in Hong Kong is owned by the transit authority, which has other advantages in terms of cooperation!
Which other cities in Asia Pacific do you think are capable of achieving similar success?
Any city with a reasonable volume of air traffic and an airport 20-60 kilometres from the city it serves – as long as there is the will and the imagination to make it work.
Asia has a few records in different areas, the Shanghai Pudong airport express is the fastest in the world at 225 kph and the Narita Express is the longest in the world at 66 kilometres. The Bangkok Airport Link which connects the Bangkok’s largest airport with the city’s MRT and Skytrain lines is the cheapest in the world at just $0.08 per kilometre.
With high-speed rail dominating the agenda for railways in the coming decades, what strategies can airlines and air-rail networks adopt?
It’s interesting to see the growth in high-speed rail stations at airports, especially in China. In a few places, this has led to successful air-rail code-shares – to mutual advantage. The ‘trunk haul’ – for example, New York to Paris – is done by air: the short connecting journey (Paris to Lille) is done by high-speed train.
This benefits the environment as long haul flights have fewer emissions as well as impacting airlines’ bottom line as the profit margin from long haul flights is larger. This has also resulted in low-cost carriers flying further instead of only trying to compete with the new high-speed rail networks that will lure away passengers making short and medium journeys.
What are the benefits of joining the IARO?
Membership is open to companies, organisations and academic institutions with an interest in air-rail activities from all over the world.
It gives access to a unique network with information and ideas about what works – and, just as important, what doesn’t!