AirTrain JFK

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This article is about the intra-airport people mover presently operating at John F. Kennedy International Airport. For the former New York City Subway service between JFK and Manhattan, see JFK Express. For a similar monorail system at Newark Liberty International Airport, see AirTrain Newark. For a proposed people mover system for LaGuardia Airport in Queens, see AirTrain LaGuardia.
AirTrain JFK
JFK AirTrain.agr.jpg
Type People mover
Locale connecting JFK International Airport to various points within Queens, New York City
Stations 10
Services 3
Daily ridership 17,772 (2014 average)
Opened December 17, 2003; 13 years ago (December 17, 2003)
Owner Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Operator(s) Bombardier Transportation
Character Elevated Rail Line
Rolling stock 32 Bombardier Innovia Metro vehicles
Line length 8.1 miles (13 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Electrification Third rail 750 V DC
Operating speed 60 mph (97 km/h)
Route map
Long Island Rail Road
toward Long Island
Jamaica MTA NYC logo.svg NYCS-bull-trans-E.svg NYCS-bull-trans-J.svg NYCS-bull-trans-Z.svg
toward New York
Linden Boulevard
Rockaway Boulevard
Belt Parkway
Nassau Expressway
A train
toward 207th Street
Howard Beach NYCS-bull-trans-A.svg
toward Far Rockaway
or Rockaway Park
Lefferts Boulevard
AirTrain Storage Yards
Federal Circle
Terminal 1
Terminal 2
Terminal 8
Terminal 4
Terminal 7
Terminal 5

AirTrain JFK is a 3-line, 8.1-mile-long (13 km) people mover system and elevated railway in New York City providing a 24/7 service to John F. Kennedy International Airport. It is operated by Bombardier Transportation under contract to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of the airport. The service operates all day, year-round.


Planning and context[edit]

Two-car AirTrain seen from Terminal 4

The AirTrain's predecessor was the JFK Express, advertised as The Train to The Plane, which was a premium-fare service of the New York City Subway, connecting Midtown Manhattan to the Howard Beach–JFK Airport station. It ran from 1978 through 1990, transporting passengers to Howard Beach via subway and then to the airport via transfer to a shuttle bus.[1][2][3][4]

There had long been a desire for a rail connection to JFK Airport, which suffered from major traffic congestion on its access roads. However, efforts to build a system took time to bear fruit, and the current AirTrain JFK is much smaller than what was originally planned. The original line was to begin in Midtown Manhattan at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge and cross the East River via the side roads, formerly used by trolley cars, on the lower level. It would then use the Sunnyside Yards as a right-of-way towards LaGuardia Airport. From there, the AirTrain would connect to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR)'s former Rockaway Beach Branch, head south to Howard Beach and then go onto JFK Airport.[5] Another suggestion proposed bypassing the LIRR line and instead following the Grand Central Parkway and Van Wyck Expressway south towards Jamaica, with a station connecting to the IRT Flushing Line. The line between LaGuardia/JFK and Manhattan was canceled in May 1995, at which time the JFK Airport connection was proposed to be a 7.5-mile (12.1 km) monorail.[6]

In 1999, the Regional Plan Association considered a full-length Second Avenue Subway from Broad Street to 125th Street, along with the LIRR East Side Access, the extension of subway services along commuter rail lines in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, and an extension of New York City Subway service directly to JFK Airport via the AirTrain JFK.[7] The new set of extensions proposed by the RPA, dubbed "MetroLink", consisted of 31 new metro stations, 3 recycled commuter rail stations, and 19 new route miles of track. A subway service would have started at Grand Central – 42nd Street, went down the IND Second Avenue Line and to Brooklyn via the Montague Street Tunnel, used the LIRR Atlantic Branch from Atlantic Terminal to Jamaica Station, and then used the AirTrain JFK's trackage to JFK Airport.[7]


AirTrain viaduct over Van Wyck Expressway

Ultimately, only the portions linking Jamaica and Howard Beach to JFK Airport were approved and built. Construction of the AirTrain system began in 1998[8] and service was to begin at the end of 2002, but was delayed by the derailment of a test train on September 27, 2002, which resulted in the death of the train operator.[9] The project, as a whole, also faced criticism from southeast Queens residents who feared the project could become a "boondoggle", especially after the derailment death.[3] Residents were also concerned about the noise that an elevated structure would create, which was a main factor in the cancellation of the LaGuardia Airport connection.[6] The Port Authority responded to residents' concerns by imposing strict rules regarding disruptive or loud construction activity and implementing a streamlined damage claim process which quickly compensated homeowners who suffered damage to their homes as a result of the construction.[3]

The $1.9 billion AirTrain system was financed in part by a federal Passenger Facility Charge (collected as a $4.50 fee on virtually all outbound flight segments), which could only be used for airport-related improvements. The use of this funding required FAA approval. Several airlines challenged the use of the PFC funds for this project and hired a consultant to organize opposition. They also appealed the funding decision in court along with a small number of Ozone Park residents. The airlines subsequently withdrew from the lawsuit following negotiations with the Port Authority while the residents continued the legal battle, but lost in court. The Port Authority also contributed $100 million toward the renovation of the Jamaica LIRR station, with the State of New York paying for the rest of the $387 million project. The purpose of this renovation was, in part, to facilitate AirTrain connections. The state also spent $75 million to renovate the Howard Beach station, which brought it into ADA compliance and facilitated passengers' transfers to and from the AirTrain.[3]

The proposed Lower Manhattan–Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project would use the LIRR's Atlantic Branch to Downtown Brooklyn and a new tunnel to Lower Manhattan. This would provide faster service to JFK via a one-seat ride and LIRR service to Lower Manhattan via a transfer at Jamaica (i.e. the same plan proposed by the RPA in 1999). Under this proposal, baggage could be checked in Manhattan and transferred directly to planes at the airport.

Opening and effects[edit]

Terminal 5 station interior

The system finally opened on December 17, 2003.[10] AirTrain JFK and the rest of the airport, like other Port Authority properties, did not receive subsidies from the state or city for its operating costs, which became one of the reasons cited for its relatively high fare.[3]

As a result of the AirTrain JFK, Jamaica saw a boom in commerce, with a 15-screen movie theater opening in the area within a year of the AirTrain's debut.[11] In 2004, a 40-block swath of Jamaica, centered around the AirTrain station, was proposed to be rezoned as a commercial area. The mixed-use "airport village" would consist of 5,000,000 square feet (460,000 m2) of space, and by the time the rezoning was proposed, a 400,000-square-foot (37,000 m2), 13-floor structure in the area was already being proposed by a developer.[11] The purpose was for Jamaica to be re-envisioned as a "regional center," according to the RPA, since during the average weekday, 100,000 LIRR riders and 53,000 subway riders used stations in the core Jamaica. A proposal called for a 250-room hotel above the AirTrain terminal, but this was canceled after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.[11]

The Port Authority itself estimated that the AirTrain JFK would get 12.4 million passengers a year.[11]

On January 4, 2017, the office of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan to renovate the entire airport at a cost of $7–10 billion.[12][13] As part of the project, the AirTrain JFK would either see lengthened trainsets or a direct track connection to the rest of New York City's transportation system. There would also be a rebuilding the Jamaica station so that there is a direct connection to the Long Island Rail Road and New York City Subway.[14] There is no proposed start date for the overhaul.[13]

Routes and stations[edit]

AirTrain connects the airport terminals and parking areas with LIRR and subway lines in Queens. The system consists of three overlapping routes:

Before separating for their final destinations, the Howard Beach and Jamaica routes stop at Federal Circle for car rental companies and shuttle buses to hotels and the airport's cargo areas. Both routes make a counterclockwise loop through the airport and stop at each terminal.

  • The All Terminals loop is an airport terminal circulator serving the six terminal stations (Terminal 1, Terminals 2/3, Terminal 4, Terminal 5, Terminal 7, and Terminal 8), but operates in the opposite direction, making a clockwise loop. Connections to the Q3, Q10 and B15 local buses are available at Terminal 5.[16]

Station guide[edit]

AirTrain system map

All AirTrain JFK stations are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), being wheelchair- and disability-accessible.

Station Lines Connections
Howard Beach[17]
  • Howard Beach Route
Lefferts Boulevard[17]
  • Howard Beach Route
Federal Circle[17]
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 1[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 2[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 4[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 5[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 7[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 8[17]
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route

With the exception of Terminal 4, all AirTrain stations are outside the terminal buildings, sit on the other side of the terminal roadway from each building, and are connected to their respective stations through elevated walkways over the roadway. The Terminal 4 station was built inside the terminal because the terminal opened after AirTrain JFK opened.


AirTrain JFK is free within the terminal area, for transfers to/from the Q3, Q10, and B15 and to the hotel and car rental shuttle buses at Federal Circle. Entering or leaving the system at the Jamaica or Howard Beach stations requires that a $5 fare be paid using a MetroCard (the cost of a new card if the traveler does not already have one is an additional $1.)[18]

The fare must be paid by MetroCard, which can be purchased from vending machines at Jamaica and Howard Beach with cash, credit card, or ATM card. One reduced fee option is the "30-Day AirTrain JFK MetroCard", which is $40 for unlimited rides, only on AirTrain JFK. The JFK-AirTrain 10-Trip MetroCard costs $25 and is good for ten JFK Air-Train trips until midnight six months after first use[19] This card is only accepted on AirTrain JFK; one trip is deducted for each use.[18] Initially, the fare was only payable with pay-per-ride MetroCard,[10] but AirTrain JFK MetroCards were added later.


AirTrain JFK carried 6,487,118 paid passengers in 2014, with another 10 million using the service for free on-airport travel. This is a 247% increase over 2004, the first full year of operation, when 2,623,791 riders paid. The 2014 paid ridership is 12% of the 53.2 million passengers that used JFK that year.[20] The $5 fare is much cheaper than the $45 one must pay for a taxi between Manhattan and JFK, which may be a factor in the increased ridership.[21]

Rolling stock[edit]

The Bombardier Innovia Metro rolling stock used on AirTrain JFK

AirTrain JFK uses Bombardier Innovia Metro rolling stock and Advanced Rapid Transit (formerly Intermediate Capacity Transit System) technology. This system is identical to those used in the SkyTrain metro system in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and the Kelana Jaya Line in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The 32 individual (non-articulated) Mark II vehicles operating on the line draw power from a third rail and a linear induction motor pushes magnetically against an aluminum strip in the center of the track. The computerized trains are fully automated and operate without conductors or motormen.

The recorded announcements on AirTrain JFK are by New York City traffic reporter Bernie Wagenblast.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "New "JFK Express" Service Begun in Howard Beach" (PDF). New York Leader Observer. September 28, 1978. Retrieved July 22, 2016. 
  2. ^ Grynbaum, Michael M. (November 25, 2009). "If You Took the Train to the Plane, Sing the Jingle". Retrieved July 3, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Gosling, Geoffrey D.; Freeman, Dennis (May 2012). "CASE STUDY REPORT: JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AIRTRAIN" (PDF). Mineta Transportation Institute. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  4. ^ "Project Profile; USA; New York Airtrain" (PDF). UCL Bartlett School of Planning. September 6, 2011. Retrieved July 23, 2016. 
  5. ^ Sims, Calvin (March 18, 1990). "M.T.A. Proposes Rail Line to Link Major Airports". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Herszenhorn, David M. (August 20, 1995). "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: HOWARD BEACH; Rethinking Plans For Those Trains To the Planes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  7. ^ Chan, Sewell (January 12, 2005). "Train to J.F.K. Scores With Fliers, but Not With Airport Workers". The New York Times. Retrieved July 22, 2016. 
  8. ^ Tarek, Shams (October 4, 2002). "Following AirTrain Accident, A Community Mourns". Southeast Queens Press. Retrieved August 6, 2007. 
  9. ^ a b Stellin, Susan (December 14, 2003). "TRAVEL ADVISORY; A Train to the Plane, At Long Last". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 21, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d Holusha, John (February 29, 2004). "Commercial Property; Jamaica Seeks to Build on AirTrain". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  11. ^ Vincent, Barone (January 4, 2017). "Cuomo unveils plan to breathe new life into JFK airport". am New York. Retrieved January 6, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Kirby, Jen (January 5, 2017). "New York City's Second-Worst Airport Might Also Get an Upgrade". Daily Intelligencer. Retrieved January 6, 2017. 
  13. ^ "A Vision Plan for John F. Kennedy International Airport" (PDF). Airport Advisory Panel; Government of New York. January 4, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  14. ^ a b "AirTrain JFK opens for service". Railway Gazette International. March 1, 2004. Retrieved July 23, 2016. 
  15. ^ a b c "JFK Airport AirTrain". Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j
  17. ^ a b "Cost and Tickets - AirTrain - Ground Transportation - John F. Kennedy International Airport - Port Authority of New York & New Jersey". Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  18. ^ "MTA/New York City Transit - Fares and MetroCard". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  19. ^ Governor Cuomo Announces AirTrain JFK Reaches Record High Ridership in 2014, February 12, 2015
  20. ^ Levere, Jane L. (August 10, 2009). "Trains and Vans May Beat Taxis to the Airport". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 21, 2016. 
  21. ^ "The World's Biggest Forum for Telematics Industry Leaders". Retrieved March 16, 2011. 

External links[edit]

Route map: Bing / Google

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