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Take a Look at Toronto's New Express Rail, Inspired by the Golden Age of Transport

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Photo by Rick Radell
Photo by Rick Radell

How do you design a new rail system from scratch? In the case of the Union Pearson Express, a new $456 million express service connecting downtown Toronto's Union Station with Toronto Pearson International Airport, you look out the window. According to strategist Wahn Yoon of Winkreative, a firm owned by Tyler Brûlé's of Monocle fame, the foundation for service design and overall look of the system, which runs a 25 kilometer (15 mile) route in 25 minutes, was giving first-time visitors a sense of the province's natural surroundings.

"We wanted people to have a sense of place, " he says. "Often visitors only see one side of Toronto, a sea of glass and steel. It was our colleagues from London and Switzerland who reminded us that there are a lot of colors in the province, warm autumnal colors, … even when Lake Ontario is frozen over, there's a specific shade of white."

Part of the $50 billion Big Move infrastructure project set to reshape transportation in Toronto, the new UP Express line also harkens back to the golden age of rail and air transport, when there was a greater sense of romance and people would put on suits for a ride on the rails. The four stations, which exude a minimalist aesthetic, and the trains, imported from Japan, all drew inspiration from classic 20th century design, as well as international benchmarks from stations in Switzerland, Japan and Scandinavia. Even the uniforms, from Canadian label Klaxon Howl, offer an elevating sense of comfort and aesthetic precision.

"Canada was created by railroads that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific," says Yoon. "It's really about the origin of a national identity through the national rail system. One of the reasons we put so much emphasis on detail and depth is to give the repeat traveler a sense of surprise and delight, so they'll notice things on repeat visits they didn't see the first time around."

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