Airport Metro Rail Miami Washington DC

Does an Airport Line Have to Reach the Airport?

» For Washington Dulles Airport, raising the unthinkable on a new rail link.

Yesterday, Robert Brown, a member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), suggested rethinking his agency’s planned Metro rail extension out to Dulles Airport, the Washington region’s prime international gateway. Instead of the bringing this $2.8 billion rail link — frequently referred to as the Silver Line — directly to the airport, Brown noted that replacing the final 1.5-mile connection with a people mover would save $70 million thanks to a more limited right-of-way and the construction of one less Metro station.

The Silver Line is an extension of the Washington Metro’s Orange Line and will eventually reach Loudoun County. The first segment of the project, to Tyson’s Corner and Wiehle  Avenue, is planned to open for service next year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea was perceived as heresy, both by local commenters and board members. Mame Reiley, one board member, saidI just don’t think that’s what we labored for… it is not rail to Dulles.” Concerns were raised that the federal government might delay the program because the board was “starting over.” And indeed the proposal appears to have been dismissed by the authority board as unacceptable.

Counter-intuitively, however, such a change in alignment could be a reasonable money-saver and may actually improve transit service for both commuters and air travelers. And though the question is immediately relevant to the Dulles Rail extension, it is equally valid to many cities, as the issue of extending rail networks out towards airports is frequently of concern for transportation planners in major metropolitan areas.

The question of how to reach Dulles by rail has been fraught with controversy since project development began. Originally, the concept was to connect the Metro line to an underground station about 550 feet from the main terminal, but after the project’s price tag had exploded past $3 billion, an effort at cost-savings was in order. The MWAA, which runs Dulles Airport in addition to the Metro extension, eventually agreed in July April 2011 to move the stop about 600 feet further away — and to elevate it above the ground. Riders wanting to get off at Dulles will have to make the more than thousand-foot walk from the station to check-in.

Mr. Brown’s likely stillborn proposal to replace the direct rail link with a people mover reflects the fact that riders are likely to see this connection as inconvenient, especially compared to that at Reagan National Airport, where customers only have to walk about 150 feet between Metro platform and the terminal entrance.

Mr. Brown would reroute the Metro line away from the airport (the existing plan is shown in orange below and would be about 4 miles from Route 28 to Route 606), so that it runs directly along the Dulles Greenway (in blue, about 2.5 miles from Route 28 to Route 606). A people mover (also in blue, about 1.5 miles) would connect the Route 28 station to the front of the terminal. Though customers would have to transfer, they would now get a more direct journey, since it would be far easier to fit in front of the terminal the tracks and station for the people mover than it would have been for the Metro line (and in fact this explains why that latter possibility was never brought up).

This would save a total of $70 million, according to planner estimates, because it would replace about 1.5 miles of very expensive Metro infrastructure (readied for eight-car trains) with much lighter automatic people mover infrastructure, designed for one- or two-car trains.

We know this would save some money. How would this change affect customers?

Riders commuting in to Tyson’s Corner, Arlington, or Washington from outer suburban destinations on the end of the rail line west of Dulles would save time: At the 35 mph average speed expected for Silver Line trains,* it will take about 6.9 minutes to get from Route 28 to Route 606 using the current plan. The more direct route proposed by Mr. Brown would reduce that journey to 4.3 minutes. That’s almost half an hour in saved travel time per week per commuter.

Even better, those using the Silver Line to get to and from the airport might actually save time travelling too!** Though these customers would have to transfer between Dulles Metro and the people mover, if that connection were timed and across the platform (as is quite possible when two automated systems are linked and built at the same time), the time lost would be only two or three minutes. Meanwhile, once they actually get off at the terminal, the experience of riders taking the people mover would be much superior: Rather than walking 1,150 feet to the terminal — which would take them about 4.8 minutes on average — they would walk something more like 150 feet, which would take them only 0.6 minutes.*** See this back of the envelope comparison:

 Arrive at Rt 28 StationTimed Transfer to People MoverTime to Dulles Airport StationWalk to TerminalTotal Travel Time
Existing Proposal0 Min--2.5 Min4.8 Min (or about 3 Min by moving walkway)5.5-7.3 Min
People Mover Proposal0 Min3 Min2.5 Min0.6 Min6.1 Min

Though the use of the people mover raises questions about operating another rail system, it could be maintained with similar vehicles as those already servicing Dulles on the Aerotrain, which connects checked-in passengers to the terminals.

If these benefits are not convincing enough in themselves, it should be noted that the Washington region would not be alone if it chose to make its airport rail link stop somewhat short of the terminal itself. In Phoenix, the new light rail system was built in coordination with airport officials, who are currently constructing an automated train between the rail station and the terminals. The San Francisco Bay Area is building an airport connector to the Oakland Airport that will link a BART station some miles away to the terminals. And Miami’s new AirportLink Metro Rail project will not actually stop at the airport, but instead at a new central station (pictured at the top of this article), where transfers to a people mover will be offered.

Riders in these regions will not suffer; they may lose a few minutes transferring between trains, but if the connection is short and timed, that pain can be minimized. Avoiding the airport, paradoxically enough, could both save money and improve the situation for riders.

Update: I should say that the underground passage way from the elevated station as currently planned will include moving walkways (it already exists), so the time difference between getting from the elevated station to the terminals and getting from the people mover station to the terminals will not be as large as I suggested above. The time difference still should be in the range of two to three minutes longer, however, making the travel time about equal overall.

* 35 mph: PlanItMetro projects it will take about 22 minutes to travel the 12.8 miles between Dulles Airport and Tysons 7 Station.

** The only customers would would lose out with this change would be those traveling to and from Dulles from outer-suburban locations.

*** Assuming that people with bags travel at about 4 feet/second, a bit slower than the average walking speed of an elderly person.

Image above: Miami Central Station rendering, from Miami Intermodal Center

77 replies on “Does an Airport Line Have to Reach the Airport?”

A similar setup exists at Minneapolis-St Paul Int’l. The Hiawatha LRT line was unable to go right to the Lindbergh Terminal at the airport, so they built it on the outer periphery of the terminal grounds and built an automated people-mover between the LRT station and the terminal.

If the walk to the Dulles Metro station is going to be anything like the walk to the Seattle Central Link light rail station at the airport, which involves a l-o-n-g and sometimes poorly marked walk through a parking garage, then a people mover right to the front door might be a better idea.

For that matter, it might have been a better idea at SFO to simply extend the SFO AirTrain to Millbrae rather than building the elaborate BART wye. The wye has proved to be something of an unsolvable problem for BART scheduling, resulting in South Bay passengers having to change trains to take what should be a quick trip to Caltrain for much of the day.

No problem. The one thing I’d note is that the text indicates the selection of the underground station location. The MWAA board has since changed their mind and gone with the above-ground option, but the graphics are still illustrative.

Your comment about the SFO BART connection is dead on.

Bringing BART into the airport was incredibly expensive and much less useful than limiting bart to Millbrae and extending the airtrain to Millbrae.

Extending the SFO Airtrain to Millbrae would have been a cheaper, faster and more useful connection. Anyone except those on international flights have to get on the Airtrain to avoid long walks to their terminals, so bringing BART into SFO has not eliminated the airtrain transfer for most travelers.

Also, by extending the airtrain to Millbrae, Caltrain riders and more bus riders would have easy access to SFO.

Lastly, BARTs wye connection to SFO has been a failure and lead to inefficient train routing and fewer connections between BART and Millbrae. BART and SFO should seriously consider abandoning the SFO BART station and rebuild the SFO Millbrae BART line as an extension to the Airtrain System.

Many airports have made the same mistake, Chicago O’hare is another example where the metro should connect with platform transfers to the airport people mover, rather than requiring a long walk from the metro station to all terminals and to the people mover.

“Chicago O’hare is another example where the metro should connect with platform transfers to the airport people mover, rather than requiring a long walk from the metro station to all terminals and to the people mover.”

(1) That’s the “fault” of the airport/people-mover planners rather than the transit planners, as the O’Hare Blue Line* L terminal opened in 1984 while the people-mover didn’t open until 1993.

(2) The L terminal is underneath the main parking garage, while the people-mover is elevated. Presumably it would have added tremendously to the cost of the people-mover to burrow into the garage to “meet” the L terminal.

*Wasn’t called the Blue Line back then.

I don’t buy the argument that building one less station, but also including an entirely new landside people mover system would actually save any money at all. I haven’t seen any cost estimates on that people mover part to back up the stated $70m savings.

Dulles’ recently completed AeroTrain (planeside people mover) system cost $1.4 billion. That includes tunneling under active taxiways and so on, but it’s still a substantial cost. I’d imagine most of this would be above ground, but if they’re going to claim to get passengers closer to the terminal than the planned Metro station would, they’d likely have to tunnel and therefore would encounter similar costs. Even if not, I’m not convinced it would be a huge improvement in the passenger experience that some proponents have claimed.

To borrow Jarrett Walker’s directive to ‘be on the way,’ this effort seems like a specific attempt to get out of the way.

Yeah, this “savings” number could bear a bit more explanation. It must be something like “save $300 million on less Metro construction” and “spend $230 million on a people mover,” with net savings of $70 million. Even if so, it may not be such a simple calculation. I don’t know how far into engineering design each of the two options is, but a $70 million savings could easily evaporate between 5% design and 100% design. And then the risk of introducing a second vehicle technology, needing design, testing, and maintenance. I’d be quite wary of taking that $70 million to the bank without having a very, very good handle on the cost and schedule risks.

I think you misunderstand “Be on the way!”. It’s a land use mantra that pertains to transit not the other way around. Put another way: Don’t do a transit slalom to serve some location. If you build a new airport, obviously a train station needs to be placed directly under the terminal. But if an existing airport is out of the way for transit, then let it go and build a good connection to transit like a people mover. In this case it has the benefit of keeping a straight line for a high-capacity rapid corridor.
Unless this is somehow unimportant – but then, why build the silver line anyway?

but then, why build the silver line anyway?

Well, yes. Apart from Reston Town Center, all the other stations on Phase 2 of the Silver Line are park and ride stations. There’s very little within walking distance of these stations (at Route 28, a shopping center and the Center for Innovative Technology) and almost no transit connectivity. This is not what one ordinarily connects with a heavy rail system running multiple tph over an 18 hour operational day.

The justification for continuing the Silver Line past Reston is to connect to the airport. For many of us, that’s an inadequate justification.

But remove it and there’s no justification at all.

No, there are plans for high density development north of the Herndon station. In time, there will be high density development around the Rt. 28 station and medium-high density around the 2 stations west of Dulles.

I expect the Silver Line will be a partially separate system in a sense in that many trips will be taken between Tysons and the stations to the west and not into DC. Will be a high turnover at Tysons which will lessen the passenger load on the Silver line into DC.

“Unless this is somehow unimportant – but then, why build the silver line anyway?” To serve Dulles. The stations Dulles is “on the way” to are exurban park-and-rides, much less important to the project than the airport.

The line should go straight to Dulles and terminate there. If the Loudounites don’t want to chip in for the additional costs of the new Metro line, that’s fine. I don’t see why we should be providing Metro service to the far-flung exurbs.

Without knowing Dulles very well, I can think of a couple more examples that may be relevant. At SeaTac, there’s a similar walk, but since you have to take an internal people mover if you arrive at one of the satellite terminals, I suspect that’s less of a barrier than if you had to take *three* trains to reach your destination. (One part that is problematic is that the walk is outside — covered, but exposed.) At SFO, on the other hand, BART spent a bundle to go all the way into the airport, but most passengers end up having to take the people mover anyway (to reach the domestic terminals), so not that many people would have been impacted (and only modestly so) if they had just extended the people mover off-site. When BART runs Millbrae trains through SFO (evenings and weekends), it also costs those passengers several minutes.

The BART extension actually makes things worse, because anyone who wants to travel south on Caltrain must transfer TWICE – from the people mover, to BART, to Caltrain.

In the future, this flaw will affect all HSR riders, not just Caltrain riders.

This is a fundamental issue which makes people movers valuable in many places where onward travel is two-directional or involve multiple modes of transit. Newark and Miami, for example, have successfully taken this issue into account. Baltimore has not, and would be much better served by a people mover to BWI rail station than by the current once-per-half-hour light rail.

BWI does have a shuttle bus between the rail station and the airport. It runs relatively frequently as well (every 10 minutes or so, IIRC).

I trust the American people to walk down a tunnel for a thousand feet. You put a man on the moon, after all, even if it was a while ago. You can do it.

Not meaning to be mean, but let’s get it in perspective. I understand that for the elderly it’d be a bit of a schlepp.

Your headline is misleading: Does an Airport Line Have to Reach the Airport? Because the proposal here is that the Airport Line should bypass the airport. It’s not that there’s enough money to get heavy rail near the airport, but not quite reach it, so we look for a cheaper, people-moverish alternative to cover the last mile. Rather it’s that the commute for persons living further out than the airport can be made shorter by degrading the experience of those traveling to the airport.

It’s clear that the financial aspect is trivial. The proponent claimed that it would save only $70M (2.5% of the Phase 2 budget). If one wanted to save serious money, then one would terminate the line at the airport.

From the Bay Area perspective, this proposal sounds pretty similar to the BART Oakland Airport Connector, which ended up costing $500 million for an above-ground people-mover. Building a Dulles people-mover would add lots of cost risk and redesign to maybe (but probably not) save $70 million.

This situation is different than the BART wye, because no one is proposing to divide the line into a full triangle. The BART design was clearly a mistake that could have been solved either by just extending the people-mover (which most passengers need to take anyway) or through-running trains at the airport (which would save the delay caused by needing to turn them around to get to Millbrae).

I’m skeptical of things like this but this plan seems like a winner. I do however understand Jim’s point that it makes the Silver Line seem like an exurban commute train rather than an airport connection. Here at MSP, at least for Terminal 1, we have a decent walk to a people mover to the terminal, and airside there’s also people movers which bring people along the length of the terminal. It’s not bad. It seems better than SFO where they build that horrid wye for BART despite having to connect to the landside airtrain for most of the terminals anyway. Don’t get me started on Caltrain to Millbrae > Bart 1 to SB > Bart 2 to SFO > Airtrain to my terminal. They should retrofit Airtrain to at least take the wye to Millbrae, even if they want to stub a Bart line at SFO. Anyways I drove past the Silver Line on Monday and it seems like construction is awfully far along for revisions.

As someone who uses Dulles Airport, this is a lousy idea. First, any projected $70 million savings based on a people mover system that has not even been studied, compared to a Metro system in later stages of engineering design, will disappear as the new people mover costs go up.

Second, while it would have be preferred that the DC Metro station be located in front of the terminal building, the extra distance to the aboveground station is a bit less than the walk from the parking garage north of the planned station location. The 1100′ walking distance is almost NOTHING compared to the hike one may make in the airport going from the terminal entrance to baggage check-in to the security inspection to the underground train and then from the train to the boarding gate if the gate is at the ends of the concourse. Dulles is NOT a compact airport.

The people mover only makes sense if is going to be extended, say, run to an office & hotel complex and to the Udvar-Hazy Center as well.

This reminds me of the Dallas green line light rail. One proposal included going under Dallas Love Field. Now there is a proposal to build a mover from the Love Field station to Dallas Love Field.

There’s at least a little of all of the above, but I think incompetence might be an even bigger factor. Nobody really knows why though. Plenty of European countries have strong unions, strong environmental laws, and significant corruption, but still manage to get things done at much more reasonable costs.

European railways receive large government subsidies, whereas American local governments subsidize highways almost exclusively.

Another reason some of the airport stations cited (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and Zurich) are not only major regional rail and bus hubs, but also contain large shopping malls containing supermarkets and other stores that can operate up to 24×7. Half of the trains between Basel and Zurich stop at Zurich Airport, which is also a handy place to stop for milk and magazines on nights and weekends.

BART, CalTrain, and the AirTrain people mover could have all met in San Bruno, where CalTrain tracks reaches within a couple city blocks of Tanforan Shopping Center and the bus hub under it.

One good idea someone might look at would be to terminate the extension at Dulles but as a branch splitting at Rioute 28 station with the remainder of the extension built as a more direct branch as shown in that one map. I’ve always liked the idea of an airport rail transit station being a through stion, rather than a terminus but this entire extension as shown appears to be taking the route on what seems to be to be somewhat of a convoluted couse.

Let’s see. If we compare costs it would be more costly than the people-mover option, because of the larger structures necessary. On the other hand it should be cheaper than the through option, if we assume that larger portion of the route would be at grade (the distances are almost the same).

With regards to service (assuming no short-turning train for any of the options) if compared with the people-mover option it would have same speed, less frequency to Ashburn and less frequency, but direct access to Dulles. Compared to the through-option it would have faster speed, less frequency to Ashburn and less frequency, same speed to Dulles.

Also it would have the worst Ashburn-Dulles connection.

In my opinion it is a pretty bad option.

This is retarded. Instead, I suggest a tried-and-true idea from many airports I’ve visited in Europe–have the train stop directly at the terminal.

The train may stop directly at the terminal, but it still involves a lot of walking. For example, let’s look at Heathrow, whose local rail access mode share is higher than those of Frankfurt and Paris. The Underground stops at the terminals, but terminals 1-3 are served by a single station, with long moving walkways, and sometimes a short walk outdoors at the terminal’s main entrance.

The Gatwick line is really the London/Victoria-Brighton line and just happened to go past (and stop at) a horsetrack that was later popular with those men that went up in the air in their flying machines.

Zurich, Geneva, Heathrow, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Oslo, the new Berlin Airport and even South Bend, Indiana all have purpose-built rail lines right the airport terminal.

Like Zurich? I exited Customs, bought my ticket, took the escalator to the mezzanine (and saw the shops), took the next escalator to the platform, and got on the train. In all I didn’t walk a short NYC block from inside the terminal to inside the train.

Solutions used in Europe also vary depending on the availability of rights of way and the layout of the airport. Paris Orly and Birmingham have people-movers connecting to stations on a through-line, much like that proposed above. Rome and Barcelona have airport stations significant walks from all of their terminals, like the official Dulles silver line plan. London Heathrow and Madrid have very direct transit access to some terminals but require long walks to reach others. Paris CDG, London Gatwick and Frankfurt have direct access to some terminals and pre-checkin peoplemovers to reach others. Amsterdam and the soon-to-open Berlin Brandenburg International are compact enough for a single central rail station to be reasonably close to all checkin areas.

There’s no single solution that makes the most sense in every situation, especially not when retrofitting transit into an already-existing airport

Amsterdam-Schiphol had a rail line (The Amsterdam-Haarlem line) that was, I think, slightly rerouted.

Berlin-Schonefeld (SXF), which is being enlarged and renamed Berlin-Brandenberg/Willy Brandt (BER) had a rail line (the Berlin-Dresden line) that stopped near the old SXF terminal, which now has a new branch being built under the new BER terminals.

That is not the case of AMS airport at all. They built a new Amsterdam-Leiden railway line to serve the airport, in phases. The old line to Haarlem is still in use in its original, unmodified alignment. It passes nowhere closer than 7km from the Schiphol terminals.

This is a bad idea. The people mover likely would have cost overruns making it more expensive than just building the subway into Dulles. The only advantage would be slightly speeding up the commute from areas west of Dulles, but since it is near the west end of the line this isn’t very important.

The main problem with this subway extension is the virtually non-existent bus service in many areas of Northern Virginia. Bus service connecting this subway line to nearby residential and office park areas needs to be dramatically expanded from non-existent or rush hour only to decent all day 7 day a week service. Park and ride traffic and Dulles to DC traffic will not sustain ridership on this extension.

To add to the list of airports with this setup. JFK is connected by a people mover to not one but two through-running stations (LIRR & the E, J, & Z subways at Jamaica as well as the A train at Howard Beach). Also, Newark airport has its own Airtrain that links the NJTransit commuter rail and Amtrak through-station to the airport.

In terms of long walks, I remember the walk from Chicago’s Midway airport to the Orange line taking forever. Google maps shows the distance between the terminal and the station as being 1,500 feet, passing through a parking garage and car rental area.

The really sorry thing is, as far as I know, all of that is new. In other words they build the terminal and the L stop more or less at the same time and decided to put the L station at the far side of the parking lot instead of in the terminal right at the baggage carousels.

The ‘L’ was never supposed to terminate at Midway—the intention has always been to go south to Ford City, and were it not for budget issues it would have been built out all in one phase. From the CTA’s standpoint, providing good access to the airport was always a secondary concern to having an easy ROW south.

The Midway ‘L’ station was opened in 1993. The new Midway Airport terminal was designed around 2000. The blame for any inadequacies with the Airport’s connection to the train lies not with CTA but with the Airport. Nevertheless, it’s not that inconvenient and not that bad overall considering it’s not just an airport station but also an end-of-the line terminal with a lot of bus transfer traffic and park-and-ride.

And I’m near-certain more people use Midway station as a transfer point on their morning commutes than as a means to access the airport, too. The CTA’s also lucked out with that site—although it’s technically over-capacity, the spaciousness of the transfer area means that the terminal’s able to process more buses than designed without much trouble. I doubt they would have had the same flexibility had the terminal been placed closer to the Midway terminals.

The CTA chose to put the rail yard west of the train station, and the terminal then had to start on the western edge of the rail yard. Absolutely shocking planning. The train station is out in proverbial Siberia and then passengers take a skywalk over the rail yard and then into the parking ramp.

If you look at Midway station and its environs on Google Maps, you will see that:

(1) the rail-yard is due *north* of the station, albeit west of the through CTA tracks.

(2) just east of the CTA tracks are freight railway tracks, of which the “excess” right-of-way is intended to carry the CTA line south to Ford City as mentioned in Beta Magellan’s post. Following the railway south on Google Maps shows a clear ROW (parking or undeveloped) just west of the tracks almost all the way south to Ford City.

(3) just east of the freight tracks is a residential neighborhood, with a blocks-long row of houses and apartment buildings literally just across the fence from the rail line.

You seem to be suggesting that the CTA yards could have been built further east to allow the station to be closer to the airport terminal. The above shows that there are good practical reasons why that was not done.


What America is good at these days: whining a lot and snatching failure from the jaws of success.

What America is really, really, really bad at these days: Actually getting shit done.

I don’t hate the idea of the people mover, it just has to be done elegantly, which the examples show varied success with. Part of it depends on the design of the airport. It works well at JFK and Newark because security is handled at each individual terminal, so you take one train, then go through security, and you’re done. Dulles’ design doesn’t support this because security is all handled at the terminal, and then you take a people mover to the gates, so the passenger experience becomes metro->people mover #1->security->people mover #2->gate. Since the first people mover is already inside security (i think?), it seems like you couldn’t link in the one from the silver line very easily without redesigning the entire security situation.
On the other hand, the current elevated metro stop plans leave you with awkward level changes – down to the walkway, up to the ticket hall, then back down to security, and done once more to the people mover to the gates. I’m not sure what people would find more annoying, two people movers or an extra escalator ride.

I personally lobbied for Skytrain to Vancouver YVR, and in my letters said: “please, not to some transit centre at the eastern toe of the island, but as close to the check-in counters as possible…”
The Chair of the airport board responded in detail to my letter; within months the airport newsletter picked up some of the points of our discussion; five years later one of the best systems on the continent was in operation. The airport operator paid for the line (last 3 stops)from user fees.
The only reason to stop close – but not “right there” – would be to serve heavy staff sites, car lots etc. Even then, running on to the terminal at YVR offers a freq a/p circulator.
Perhaps it’s worth writing to support these things.

We can save $3 billion by not building Phase 2 of the Silver Line (from Reston Wiehle to Loudoun via IAD).

Now that’s a savings!

It is worth noting that the 3.8-mile AeroTrain on the airport property cost $1.5 billion and only has four underground stations. Wouldn’t it make the most sense to connect that system to the Metro trains platform, where ever it ends up being built?

The AeroTrain is an airside system. That is, it’s behind the security cordon. This proposed people mover would have to be a landside system, outside of the security cordon.

I suppose it would be possible to use the same system and have two separate routes that never intersect, forcing passengers to disembark and go through security, but the existing system cannot simply be extended.

Moreover, the new system is rubber tired and completely underground. I don’t know that it’s designed to run outdoors, which would mean this proposed connection would be entirely underground, which makes the idea that this people mover idea would somehow save money a complete farce. It doesn’t pass the smell test as it is.

It would be extremely short-sighted NOT to build straight in to the airport. Saving $70M is not the point – this is a service which will be there for 50-100 years. Amortized out over that length of time, we are talking a million bucks a year – chump change. Build it correctly from the start or pay substantially more (as we will eventually have to do in Seattle) to make it right.


Why are you getting your support for the 4 feet per second being “a bit slower than the average walking speed of an elderly person.”?

The 2009 MUTCD now uses 3.5 feet per second as the standard for pedestrian crossings, and in some cases as low as 3 feet per second.

San Francisco, a city with some experience in pedestrian matters, uses 2.5 feet per second!
See page 106 (9 of 60)

Those figures reflect the mean or median walking speed of people carrying no more than a shopping bag or two, rather than those of people dragging 50-lb roller cases.

Regarding Oakland Airport, we should remember that at the time BART was planned built, air travel was still an activity reserved for the well-to-do, and the largest aircraft in service were those 707s we see depicted in the just-canceled ABC-TV show “Pan Am”; and we know that the well-to-do never have and never will “do” transit.

The exception to that rule were INTRA-state flights where prices were not regulated by the Federal CAB and this allowed PSA and AirCal (which started up after BART was planned) to offer attractive fares on their 90-seat Lockheed Electra (propeller) airplanes. Here’s a pre-deregulation timetable that shows how relatively few of these intra-California-only “cheap” flights there were at the time:

Oakland Airport was a very small player in the Bay Area air travel picture (certainly as compared to SFO) and the people who did fly could usually well afford a taxi, even from downtown S.F. Or you could fly to both SFO and SJC:
(OAK’s one advantage has always been a lack of fog compared to SFO, but when BART was being planned, this was to be soon remedied by the same technology that would give us colonies on the moon, no?)

Heck, air travel was a small player. While BART was being planned and built, the California Freeway system was also being opened in leaps and bounds (and cars were very cheap as was gas), Greyhound and Trailways were competing to see who could offer more innovative service, and the railroads of California, while on the decline and looking for a way out (that later became Amtrak) still offered multiple-daily services aboard not-that-old-yet equipment. BTW, BART planners felt so strongly that railroading in the USA was on its way out, that they elected to go with a 1676mm gauge tracks instead of the standard 1435mm (4ft8.5in).

The BART stop was built to serve the new Indoor Arena and the new Multi-purpose stadium (of which Oakland Coliseum is the last in the USA to function as home to Baseball and American Football, BTW). I can’t recall when the upscale AirBART shuttle bus was added to connect BART-Coliseum to the Airport, but it, IIRC, it coincided with the arrival of Southwest at OAK in 1989; before that one used the still-extant AC Transit route from the airport to BART, a route that itself used to continue to downtown Oakland via MacArthur.

The situation at Oakland is not relevant to Dulles because the Dulles Line is new and purpose-built to serve the airport; it has been promoted on the basis that it would offer a single-seat ride from city center to check-in desk. Oakland Airport just happens to be lucky that a)Minnesota got an NFL franchise in 1961 and
b)that there was this new stadium nearby that hosted the Raiders, Minnesota’s replacement in the upstart American Football League (the Athletics did not move from Kansas City until 1968) when BART was being planned.

Do just want to add that BART’s line from Oakland to Fremont is/was basically determined by the existing Southern Pacific(?) railroad right-of-way above which most of that line is built.

As a federal worker who has to fly to DC for work sometimes, I think this is just stupid. As others have pointed out, the price for this change hasn’t been thought out. It also ignores the cost of employees and maintenance on a unique-to-Metro system that has a good chance of being independently have service reduced to save costs, assuming they actually build it in the first place. If they are really serious about saving money, terminate the line at Dulles. Have a huge Park & Ride lot at Hwy 28. (There is more than enough space.) The Metro could probably then be built closer as there would be no need for a looped track. And the numbers of Loudon County users who would take the train wouldn’t change that much anyway.

Ending the line at Dulles is a good idea. But you’d want to leave the ROW open for future extension, as future growth in the area is likely. That means building on the current ROW.

While I believe that transit lines should come as close to the airports they serve as possible, I agree with Steve K (the post above me) on this one.

I posted a similar post on GGW just a couple minutes ago, but as someone who worked on the DCMP Phase II design (which includes the airport alignment) I can say that the cost estimates for the people mover system, or at least the ones I’ve seen on the few articles that float such an idea, are nowhere near what it would cost to build an APM system servicing the terminal with a walking time that Yonah envisions above. This is for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that if the APM line follows one of the studied metro alignments (the ones that bring it in proximity to the terminal or basically every alignment besides the North Garage Alignment) it would face the same engineering challenges. Some of these challenges include maintenance of traffic and landside operations during construction (which is no small task for a major US airport), passing historic review (by not obstructing the historic view-shed of the Saarinen terminal) if it is not an underground alignment, not obstruct future development on the airport’s land such as the future east parking garage which is on the airport master plan, and last but certainly not least, underpinning the foundation of the terminal. These are pretty tough challenges and as the design parameters for the APM system would undoubtedly be different than WMATA parameters, an entirely different preliminary design process would be required adding time and cost.

The second reason is that just as the APM line would require more engineering studies, the metro line in the median of the Dulles Greenway would as well. One of the major hurdles for that segment would be finding property for a new traction power substation or TPSS.

The third reason sit that MWAA would have to assume operational costs for the APM in addition to the upfront capital costs. This surely discourages any MWAA board member for voting for this proposal. Assuming, as a cost saving measure, that the vehicles used for this APM system would be similar to those currently in use on in airside operations, a tie-in to the current system would be ideal so that the cars could be serviced in the same service facility. This doesn’t have to be a tunnel or anything, but if it isn’t than that poses another logistical challenge as the facility is closer to the south central portion of the property.

As a disclaimer I don’t know how the estimate was made but I just figured I would let folks who weren’t as familiar with the project know about some of the specific engineering challenges. I actually think this may have been an effective proposal earlier in the project however at this point in the design process, I don’t believe it would be cost effective. If you have any other questions or need clarification PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask. I don’t expect the above to make complete sense.

Dan, I would love to hear more about the initial decision on the location of the airport station (under or above ground). The underground option seemed like it used far more tunneling than should be necessary. Were any other alternatives considered internally?

I would think that an open cut station could’ve been built with only moderate disruption for day to day airport operations and relatively slight alterations to the airport’s roadway network while not fundamentally altering the historic viewsheds. Such an alignment could stay in the DAAH median until Aviation Dr, dip into a cut to allow the parking bowl exit to go overhead, then position the platform in essentially the same location as the tunnel option, but just above the extant underground walkways. That walkway would then access the station mezzanine, with rail passengers exiting down. The cut wouldn’t be too deep, but just deep enough to provide some ped walkways across the station cut to access the terminal from the parking lot. The outbound direction would continue as per the underground alignment.

Also, great point about the timing of this proposal. Now is not the time to re-think things at a conceptual level.


As a part of the Airport Alignment Alternatives Analysis, an in depth engineering analysis of the Airport segment, 5 Alternatives to what is referred to as the Main Baseline Tunnel (MBT) were studied. The main baseline tunnel was the original tunnel alignment considered in the first wave of preliminary engineering. As cost went up and mitigation efforts began, the MBT alignment was trimmed and trimmed. Eventually an alternatives analysis was performed.

The first alternative outlined in the analysis (Alt 1) is an arrivals level aerial alignment. This alignment would have placed the station immediately in front of the terminal where the current arrivals ramp for passenger vehicles is. The pros: relatively short walking time, not underground (so initial cost wouldn’t be as much as an underground station in the same spot), no landside facilities would be lost. The cons: Disruption of landside ops and Maintenance of Traffic (MOT; it should be noted that this alt would probably be the worst out of all the alternatives in this regard), possible obstruction of historic view-shed of the terminal.

The second alternative outlined in the analysis (alt 2) is a tunnel alignment underneath the terminal. This would have placed the station under the right center of the terminal. This right-center location was necessary so that the alignment moving outbound from the station would be able to reach the surface and not encounter existing foundations and structures. The pros: Short walking time (probably the shortest of all the alignments), underground station (arguably more comfortable for passengers b/c of climate control), minimal disruption to MOT. The cons: Loss of landside ops space, (because of the location of this station directly underneath the terminal, all ancillary facilities would need to be located at ground level because of the additional cost of tunneling beneath the terminal), construction difficulty (you are underpinning a massive terminal building here… the technical challenges of this endeavor would inevitably present some problems during construction in addition to adding total time to construction), cost (this would have been by far the most expensive although I cannot give you a hard estimate because I can’t remember the numbers).

The third alignment outlined in the analysis is MBT alternative 4A which has a modified tunnel alignment mined with TBM with a cut and cover station underneath the pedestrian tunnel node coming from the north parking garage. This is the commonly known tunnel alignment which was being considered before the MWAA board decided to run with the aerial alignment. Pros: relatively short walking distance (to both sides of the terminal), passenger comfort, no disruption to view-shed. Cons: Cost is more than an aerial structure (less than other tunnels), there would be disruption to parking operations in the parking bowl in front of the terminal during construction of the station.

The fourth alignment (alt 4b) is the exact same alignment except done by cut and cover method the entire way. The only additional pros or cons to this are both cons. The estimated cost was a little higher than alt 4A and the disruption of traffic during construction would obviously be worse.

The fifth alignment (alt 5) is the commonly known North Garage Aerial Alignment.
As you probably know if butts up to the south face of the North Garage and is aerial for the entire length of the alignment. This is the preferred alternative for the MWAA board at the moment. Pros: least expensive option (thats all i can think of hahahah). Cons: obstructs historic view, longest walk time of any of the alternatives, not climate controlled (although there will be a canopy covering the platform).

I have a brief PowerPoint I put together with some great graphics if you would like me to email it to you I definitely can.

Hopefully that should clarify some topics.

You forgot to mention the two of the busiest airports of North America… Newark Liberty and JFK New York.

Both these airports do NOT have commuter/heavy/light rail system directly coming to the airport but instead there is a monorail/people-mover from the main station. For JFK, there is Howard Beach (NYC Subway) as well as Jamaica (Long Island Railroad and NYC Subway) and for Newark Liberty, there is Airport train station (NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak).

And things are working just fine for us!

In both of those cases, the rail lines pre-date the airport. The airport had to come to the rail line.

Dulles is the opposite case, the airport pre-dates the rail line. There’s no reason for the rail line not to come to the airport.

A couple of comments:

1) While not a airport, a similar setup exists with access to the Hong Kong Disneyland: It’s located on the south side of Lantau Island, and the MTR (what the metro is called) runs on the north side of the island, on its way to the airport. Solution? In this case, a short two-stop line (using MTR equipment) between the main subway and the Disneyland entrance. No branching, etc. Of course, visitors to Disneyland generally do lots of walking during their visit, so transferring from one train to another is No Big Deal.

2) Quite a few airport lines have been mentioned, where the train TERMINATES at the airport–in this case, it’s often easier to get transit right at the terminal entrance. The Canada Line at YVR is one example, the MAX Red Line at PDX is another. This article concerns a line which serves the airport but not as a terminal stations–given that airport terminals are often surrounded on multiple sides by infrastructure such as concourses, tarmacs, hangars, or runways, getting a line that serves two directions onto airport property can be difficult.

3) One potential solution, though possibly difficult due to operational practices, would be for there to be a single branch into the airport, connected to the mainline via a wye, and have all trains enter the airport, serve the stop, and then reverse direction and continue. I think this was tried in the SFO/Millbrae case (going to Millbrae required a diversion into SFO). The two issues are a) somewhat extensive out-of-direction travel; and b) the amount of time it takes to reverse a train–many agencies require operators to go through elaborate checklists when they switch cabs to reverse course, and thus doing this in the middle of a run is problematic.

If a people mover already exists or there are multiple terminals at the airport, extending the people mover to the regional rail makes sense. Once people are already on a people mover, they’ll tend to stay there… transfers tend to turn people away, they’re confusing and take time. I’d also like to submit the Newark Airport People Mover.. a connection to the regional rail made sense, but the short distance to downtown Newark, a link to Newark Penn Station using the people mover would make even more sense. With just one transfer, people can come from most NJTransit lines, plus the PATH, Newark Subway, and numerous bus routes, with one transfer to the airport. Anyone proposing extending PATH to the current people-mover station should consider this alternative.

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