THE CENTENARY of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight on December 17 2003 was a significant date for aviation in North America. Opening of AirTrain JFK on the same day finally saw New York’s JFK International Airport linked to the region’s rail network.

As project sponsor, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey used the occasion to underscore how a leap in transport provision, innovation and vision can lead to great things. The automated mini-metro promises a significant reduction in traffic congestion around the airport. Last year, New York City played host to an estimated 35·3 million visitors, many of whom travelled via JFK or LaGuardia airports.

The 13 km network has three main elements. The 2·5 km Central Terminal Area loop has six stations serving the eight main airline terminals. A station at Federal Circle serves the car rental agencies and another serves long-term and staff car parks at Lefferts Boulevard. Two long branches run to Jamaica and Howard Beach, providing links to the regional rail networks and giving rapid access to much of New York City and Long Island.

AirTrain connects at Jamaica with Long Island Rail Road, NYCT subway lines E, J and Z and local bus routes. The Howard Beach branch replaces a bus shuttle connecting with subway Line A. Using the LIRR connection at Jamaica, the journey time from Penn Station in mid-town Manhattan to the airport is just 35min. By subway the journey from the city centre to the airport is 65min, compared to 2h or more by car or taxi.

Turnkey DBOM

AirTrain JFK was built for the Port Authority by the ARTC Consortium under a turnkey design-build-operate-maintain contract. ARTC is formed of Bombardier Transportation and a civil engineering joint venture led by Skanska USA including Perini and Tudor Saliba.

Construction of AirTrain JFK was financed by the Port Authority, without any state or federal contributions. The package included both capital funds from the authority, and the revenue from a $3 Passenger Facility Charge imposed on all departing passengers using the various New York City airports. The project created over 4150 construction jobs, boosting the local economy by $580m in wages and $980m in construction-related sales.

Bombardier was responsible for design, supply and installation of the electrical and mechanical systems, including a fleet of 32 linear-motored vehicles, automatic train control, communications, power supply and fare collection systems, plus platform doors for the 10 stations. In addition, Bombardier’s Service Delivery Team is operating and maintaining AirTrain JFK for up to 15 years.

Unlike some airport peoplemovers, AirTrain JFK uses steel wheel-steel rail technology, derived from the SkyTrain ART light metro routes in Vancouver, Toronto and Kuala Lumpur. The driverless trains are managed by a moving-block train control system, and main line operations are complemented by an automated stabling depot, which minimises the need for manual driving.

The Bombardier-built ART MkII cars have steerable bogies to suit the tight curves, steep grades and precise stopping requirements. They are powered from a 750V DC third rail, which is fed from seven substations to ensure a degree of redundancy. The power supply is monitored and controlled using SCADA.

Designed for bi-directional operation, the cars are 18m long and 3m wide - similar dimensions to those used on Division B of NYCT’s subway network. They can operate singly, or in multiple up to a four-car train. Maximum speed is 100 km/h.

The streamlined vehicles meet the latest standards for passenger comfort and ride quality, with 26 seats and fixed luggage racks. There is also plenty of floor space for standing passengers or luggage trolleys. Two pairs of wide doors on each side facilitate boarding and egress by passengers with luggage. Maximum capacity per car is 205 passengers, or 97 with luggage.

AirTrain’s elevated stations are all fully enclosed and air-conditioned, with 73m long platforms flanked by automatic platform screen doors. Wide escalators and large glass enclosed elevators speed throughput, and the stations at JFK are linked to the airline terminals by moving walkways.

By the end of the first month, daily ridership was averaging 15000 to 20000 people, well on the way to the anticipated 30000, which would make AirTrain JFK the second-busiest airport access link in the USA.

CAPTION: TOP: A two-car train passes the control tower at JFK’s Terminal 4

BELOW: Elevated stations at JFKInternational are linked to the airport terminals by bridges with moving walkways