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Engineer operating the Union Pearson Express train as it approaches Terminal 1 at Pearson Airport on Monday.Patrick Dell/The Globe and Mail

Expect the transit fans to outnumber the tourists as Toronto's airport link finally starts rolling, decades after the idea was first floated.

The Union Pearson Express is scheduled to start operation at 5:30 Saturday morning. It will run every 15 minutes, with a ceremony at 11 o'clock quick enough not to interrupt service.

Although it has taken a generation to come to fruition, the train represents a rare moment of tangible transit success in a city that is crying out for more transportation options. A sizable crowd is expected for the first run.

"People are really starting to actually see the infrastructure that's been promised being built," said Anne Marie Aikins, spokeswoman for the regional transit agency Metrolinx.

"We haven't actually opened a brand new service, a new line, with new infrastructure, since May 23, 1967. This is a big deal, and I can sense in Toronto that people know it's a big deal. It's really exciting."

The train will run 19½ hours a day between Union Station in downtown Toronto and the airport, with stops at Bloor West and Weston. The full trip will take 25 minutes and the train is projected to take 1.2 million cars off the road in its first year of operation.

But critics point out that the service will not serve the masses.

Cheri DiNovo, the New Democrat representing a provincial riding alongside the train's route, calls it a missed opportunity and "a boondoggle." She criticized the use of diesel locomotives, the cost and the limited stops along the route.

"Anybody who's a business traveller, or you have more than one person travelling, is going to take a cab because they'll go point to point and it'll be cheaper," she said. She called it a positive development to have the infrastructure and said advocates would keep pushing to expand access.

"Why shouldn't this be a relief line? Why couldn't we climb onto a train that has stops all along the route to go down to Union Station to go to work every day? Why couldn't we provide that?"

Metrolinx said it was their intention all along to provide what they describe as a premium service. And they justify the ticket cost by pointing to other cities' express trains, which tend to have higher prices than regular transit.

The regular UPX fare is $27.50, with a number of lower-priced options for people who have a Presto fare card, work at the airport or get on at one of the two stops along the route.

"We believe it's a fair price for the kind of service we are offering," said Ms. Aikins, adding that she gets asked about the price more often by the media than by members of the public.