PHX Sky Train

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Builders are making progress on tracks and other infrastructure for the PHX Sky Train, an automated train that will shuttle passengers around Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Deputy Aviation Director Deborah Ostreicher discusses the project.

Ted Simons: You may have noticed new construction at Phoenix Sky Harbor. It's the ground work for a new mode of transportation, a sky train that will shuttle passengers to and from their flights. Earlier I spoke with deputy aviation director Deborah Ostreicher about the sky train. Good to see you here. Thanks for joining us.

Deborah Ostreicher: Good evening.

Ted Simons: This sky train, where does this exactly run?

Deborah Ostreicher: It's really exciting. Because it runs -- it starts at 44th street, where metro light rail is, and it takes to you the east economy parking area, where we have thousands of parking spaces. And straight into terminal four. That's going to be done in 2013.

Ted Simons: OK. Straight into terminal four, what about other terminals?

Deborah Ostreicher: Eventually, yes. By 2020 it will to all of the terminals, but the first phase goes into Terminal 4. That's where 80% of the traffic is.

Ted Simons: How often do these trains run?

Deborah Ostreicher: Every three to five minutes, 24 hours a day.

Ted Simons: Nonstop, OK. We see the light rail, we see sometimes two trains together, sometimes three trains together. What will we see?

Deborah Ostreicher: That's exactly the way it will be with the Phoenix sky train. Depending on the traffic and the time of day, and how it progresses two or three trains. We're going to start with a three-car train.

Ted Simons: And how many total trains will there be?

Deborah Ostreicher: 18 total train cars that can be assembled in two or three car configurations.

Ted Simons: And how many passengers per car?

Deborah Ostreicher: About 50 or 60.

Ted Simons: Really?

Deborah Ostreicher: Yeah.

Ted Simons: And how many does that equal per day do you think as far as folks using this thing?

Deborah Ostreicher: We're thinking about 13,000 passengers per day. And remember, this is replacing all of those buses that you see going back and forth to the parking facility.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about that. Some folks, whenever any kind of rail situation comes up, people will say, why not use buses? They're already there, let's use buses instead, it's a lot cheaper. How come?

Deborah Ostreicher: First of all, those roadways, we've all been there on a Sunday night, or a Monday the roadways at the airport, where you can't get in and out because it's so crowded. Those days that are just a couple of days a week now are just growing and growing. The more traffic there is, the more cars there are, and buses. The more people who are needing to park and get through the airport, the more buses we need. We can't sustain that looking toward the future. So getting those buses off the roadway is step one, but all of the cars that are going back and forth that can now connect through metro light rail, that's step two.

Ted Simons: OK. So let's say that we are coming from Tempe, we're coming from Christown -- somewhere, we're on the light rail, we're heading down to 44th street, we're heading for the sky train. How do we use it?

Deborah Ostreicher: This is the greatest. The ability to connect through light rail. Because not only will this connect you between terminals and parking, but you can take light rail to the airport. You get on light rail, you get off at the 44th street station, and when you get off light rail, you just go up the escalator or the elevator, cross over Washington, and you're in the 44th street Phoenix sky train station.

Ted Simons: The platform is what, some 34 -- how tall is that?

Deborah Ostreicher: It's different heights throughout the entire track system. In some cases over 100 feet into the air. But the reason for that is because at one point this track goes over an active taxiway. It's the only kind project in the world that does this. It will have a 747 be able to go underneath. So that's why it ends up being so high.

Ted Simons: The platform itself, you've got to get off the train and get up that escalator a pretty healthy distance.

Deborah Ostreicher: You do. You go up the escalator, through a movie sidewalk, over the -- over Washington, air conditioned, and there's escalator or elevator, wheelchair accessible and everything, and you'll get into that 44th street station and every three to five minutes a Phoenix sky train will come and pick you up.

Ted Simons: Is the platform itself the waiting area, is that air conditioned as well?

Deborah Ostreicher: The waiting area is not air conditioned. It is going to have fans and you'll only be there three to five minutes, so we're comfortable with that. But the walkway, because you'll be on that walkway and be able to take your time there, that will be.

Ted Simons: Talk about the history of this, and the reason that light rail itself does not go through Sky Harbor?

Deborah Ostreicher: I'm so glad you asked that. We do get a lot of people acquiring about that. The reason is this -- if you are commuting on light rail from the east valley to the west valley, you're generally in for maybe an average 20, 30, 40-minute ride where you want to sit down, be comfortable, read your book and just go on that ride. Whereas if you're on the Phoenix sky train, have you your luggage with you, you're on it for three to five minutes, it's pretty much standing room only, though there will be some places to sit. But they're very different designs. A very open train car, not a lot of places to sit down, because it's just for that really quick trip. And if you're commuting, you don't want to make seven extra stops through the airport going to every terminal and parking area if you're commuting from work from the east side to the west side.

Ted Simons: OK. I remember talking about this a long time ago, because the idea was, you just -- once you get to that airport, things bog down, and folks who want to go around or through the airport get bogged down with it. Got that. I was interested to find out that these will not be manned trains. These run manned. How are they operated? Where are they operated?

Deborah Ostreicher: These are driverless trains. And they are on the guideway that the community is now seeing going up at the airport. There's a control room that has people in it who will be watching these every minute of every day, and that's how they're operated by remote control.

Ted Simons: OK. And where was this again, this --

Deborah Ostreicher: You can actually see the station now. Everybody is thinking that it's the light rail station right there to the east of the airport, but there's actually another building you can see now, just a little farther west, a reddish color, that is the Phoenix sky train maintenance facility.

Ted Simons: And I'm not sure if you mentioned this, but is there going to be check-in at the platform when you go up the escalator, before do you up the escalator, can you check in your bags there?

Deborah Ostreicher: We are working on that in the 44th street station. What you see now with the big ellipticals taking shape, we're working on bag check and getting your boarding pass at that location. I don't have details on that yet.

Ted Simons: OK. What is the expense for all this? What are we looking at, at as far as money is concerned?

Deborah Ostreicher: Let me start by saying no local tax dollars are paying for this this, is all paid for by user fees. But the first stage of the train will be just around $650 million.

Ted Simons: And from there?

Deborah Ostreicher: The entire package, through 2020 is just around $1.5 billion.

Ted Simons: So first stage goes to terminal four. What's the second stage?

Deborah Ostreicher: That takes you from terminal four to the other terminals, three and two and all the way out to the rental car center. And this is a hot issue with our local community, who aren't renting cars here, but are driving behind a lot of the rental car buses these go back and forth to the rental car center every day. So all of those buses will come off the roadways.

Ted Simons: Give us a timetable for phase one. When can we start to see things happening? Obviously things are happening, drive down Washington you can tell. But when are we going to get to ride a train?

Deborah Ostreicher: It's going to be great, because you're going to see it just like did you with the testing of light rail, you'll see it driving around for some periods of time before you will actually get to go on the train. In 2012 you'll start to see that train driving around on the tracks. But in early 2013, it will be open to the public, it will be free, and you'll be able to take right it into the airport.

Ted Simons: So I'm trying to get this construction done by early next year? And then, what, testing for another year and 2013 early 2013 that's when it all starts?

Deborah Ostreicher: Right. Early 2013 it will be open to the public. Right now we're working on that guideway you see, the train cars will be delivered this summer, so the train cars will go into that maintenance facility and begin to get ready to go out on those tracks and get tested next year.

Ted Simons: I didn't ask this, but is this a loop? Is it the kind of thing where the train turns around, like a cable car or does it loop --

Deborah Ostreicher: kind of.

Ted Simons: Does go back one way and back the other way?

Deborah Ostreicher: It's different on different parts. But essentially it's not a full loop, it doesn't go around in a curve, but it pulls forward, switches, and comes back.

Ted Simons: Interesting. All right. So we're looking forward to seeing them early next year, riding them early 2013.

Deborah Ostreicher: That's right. And then in 2020, all the way out to the rental car center.

Ted Simons: All right. Can't wait. Deborah, thanks so much for joining us.

Deborah Ostreicher: Thanks, Ted.

Deborah Ostreicher:Deputy Aviation Director;

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