AirTrain JFK

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AirTrain JFK
AirTrain JFK text logo.svg
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 approximately 17,773 paid
approximately 27,000 within airport (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 "E" train "J" train "Z" train
toward New York
Linden Boulevard
Rockaway Boulevard
Belt Parkway
Nassau Expressway
A train
toward 207th Street
Howard Beach "A" train
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.

A railroad link to JFK Airport had been proposed since 1968 as part of the Program for Action. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, various plans surfaced to try to build such a link. In 1995, the current people-mover system started construction. The system opened on December 17, 2003, with connections to the New York City Subway and Long Island Rail Road.


Planning and context[edit]

Two-car AirTrain seen from Terminal 4

There have been proposals for a railroad link between Manhattan and JFK Airport since 1968, when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) proposed an ambitious subway and railroad expansion under the Program for Action.[1] The Program for Action contained a plan to extend the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) to the airport.[2] This plan would have been implemented under Phase 2 of expansion. It would have entailed extending the LIRR through the under-construction 63rd Street Tunnel's lower level before turning southward in Manhattan and ending at a new "Metropolitan Transportation Center" below Third Avenue and 48th Street.[1]

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.[3] It ran from 1978 through 1990,[2] transporting passengers to Howard Beach via subway and then to the airport via transfer to a shuttle bus.[4][5] For many years, shuttle buses were also used to transport passengers even between the different terminals of the airport, within JFK's Central Terminal Area.[6]

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 LIRR's former Rockaway Beach Branch, head south to Howard Beach and then go onto JFK Airport.[7] 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.[8] Eventually, the Port Authority decided on a "light rail" system, with the qualities of a people mover, to replace the shuttle buses.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]


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 May 1998.[12][13] The fact that the Jamaica branch had to be built in the middle of the Van Wyck Expressway, combined with the varying length and curves of the track spans, caused complications during construction. One lane in each direction was closed during the off-peak hours, causing congestion on the Van Wyck.[13] Some homeowners in the vicinity opposed the project believed that the concrete supports would lower the prices of their houses.[13] 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.[8] According to a 2012 study, the vast majority of residents' complaints were due to "nuisance violations."[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

Service was to begin at the end of 2002.[12] However, on September 27, 2002, a train operator died during a test run,[16] which delayed the system's opening "indefinitely."[17] An investigation found that the train had been speeding at the time.[18] After the death, Southeast Queens residents feared the project could become a "boondoggle."[14]

Opening and effects[edit]

Terminal 5 station interior

The system finally opened on December 17, 2003.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21] 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.[21] 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.[21] The Port Authority itself estimated that the AirTrain JFK would get 12.4 million passengers a year.[21]

Between September 2003 and April 2004, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation conducted a feasibility study on the 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.[22] The study examined several alternatives.[23] The project was halted in 2008 before an environmental impact statement could be created.[24]

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.[25][26] 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.[27] There is no proposed start date for the overhaul.[26]

Routes and stations[edit]


AirTrain system map

AirTrain connects the airport terminals and parking areas with LIRR and subway lines in Queens. The system consists of three overlapping routes:[28][29][30]

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.[30]

  • 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.[28][29][30]

As planned, counterclockwise trains, to and from Jamaica and Howard Beach, would have run every 2 minutes during peak hours, for a frequency of 30 trains per hour (tph). Each branch would have been served by a train every four minutes, or 15 tph.[33] However, as of 2014, actual frequencies were much lower, with each branch being served by one train every 7 to 12 minutes during peak hours, or 5 to 8.5 tph. During middays, trains come every 10 to 15 minutes, with 4 to 6 tph on each branch; during nights, trains come every 15 to 20 minutes, with 3 to 4 tph on each branch; and during weekends, trains come every 16 minutes, with 4 tph on each branch.[34] Trains make the journey between the terminals and either Jamaica or Howard Beach in about eight minutes.[35]

Station guide[edit]

All AirTrain JFK stations are fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), being wheelchair- and disability-accessible. Each platform is 240 feet (73 m) long and can fit up to four cars.[36] All of the stations have island platform layouts except Federal Circle, which has a split platform layout.[30] The Jamaica and Howard Beach stations are designed as "gateway stations" where, upon entering, passengers transferring from the subway and LIRR are made to feel like they are in the airport.[37]

Station[38] Lines[38] Connections[34] Notes
Howard Beach
  • Howard Beach Route
Lefferts Boulevard
  • Howard Beach Route
Federal Circle
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 1
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 2
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Originally named Terminals 2 and 3.[39]
Terminal 4
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 5
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Originally named Terminals 5 and 6.[39]
Terminal 7
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Terminal 8
  • All Terminals Loop
  • Howard Beach Route
  • Jamaica Station Route
Originally named Terminals 8 and 9.[39]

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 actual Terminal 4 opened in 2013, after the AirTrain JFK opened.[40]

System specifications[edit]

The total route length of the system is 8.1 miles (13.0 km), with the terminal-area loop being 1.8 miles (2.9 km).[9] The system consists of 6.3 miles (10.1 km) of single-track guideways and 3.2 miles (5.1 km) of double-track guideways.[41] The tracks are set at a gauge of 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm).[36] This enables possible future conversion to LIRR or subway use, or a possible connection to LIRR or subway tracks for a one-trip ride into Manhattan.[42][43][35] However, the current rolling stock are not qualified to use either LIRR or subway tracks due to the AirTrain rolling stock's inadequate structural strength and differing method of propulsion. In particular, the linear induction motor system that propels the AirTrain vehicles cannot be used on LIRR and subway tracks because these are manually propelled by electric motors.[43] If a one-seat ride is ever implemented, a hybrid-use vehicle would be needed to operate on both subway/LIRR and AirTrain tracks.[43][35]

The system is mostly elevated. The elevated portions were built with precast single and dual guideways; the underground sections using cut-and-cover, and the at-grade sections using concrete ties and ballast trackbeds. The single guideways are 19 feet 3 inches (5.87 m) wide and the double guideways are 31 feet 0 inches (9.45 m) wide. Columns support the precast concrete elevated sections at intervals of no more than 40 feet (12 m).[36] The system has seven electrical substations to ensure that in the case of power outages at one substation, trains could still operate.[31] The elevated structures were designed for resistance to minor seismic events, utilizing seismic isolation bearings and soundproof barriers to protect from small earthquakes as well as prevent noise pollution.[44] The tracks are also continuously welded across all joints except at the terminals, and the elevated guideways are also continuously joined.[45] Double crossovers are used at Jamaica and Howard Beach to terminate trains. There are also crossover switches north and south of Federal Circle, counterclockwise from Terminal 8, and clockwise from Terminal 1.[46]


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, with an additional $1 fee charged for new MetroCards.[47]

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 AirTrain JFK 10-Trip MetroCard costs $25 and is good for ten trips on the AirTrain only until midnight six months after first use.[48] This card is only accepted on AirTrain JFK; one trip is deducted for each use.[47] Initially when the AirTrain JFK system first opened, the fare was only payable with pay-per-ride MetroCard.[19]


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.[49] 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.[50]

Rolling stock[edit]

The Bombardier Innovia Metro rolling stock used on AirTrain JFK

AirTrain JFK uses Bombardier Innovia Metro rolling stock and technology, identical to the SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and the Kelana Jaya Line in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.[31] The computerized trains are fully automated, using a communications-based train control system with moving block signals to dynamically determine the positions of the trains. The cars do not have any conductors or motormen, making AirTrain JFK a wholly driverless system, a rare case in the New York metropolitan area (although AirTrain Newark is also driverless).[31] The CBTC system uses Thales Group's SelTrac technology.[51]

The 32 individual (non-articulated) Mark II vehicles operating on the line draw power from a 750V DC top-running third rail. A linear induction motor pushes magnetically against an aluminum strip in the center of the track. The vehicles also have steerable trucks that can navigate sharp curves and steep grades, as well as align precisely with the platform screen doors at the stations.[52][31] The cars can operate at up to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).[46] Each individual car is 57 feet 9 inches (17.60 m) long by 10 feet 2 inches (3.10 m) wide,[36] with similar dimensions to rolling stock used on the B Division of the New York City Subway. Trains can be operated to run in either direction, and they can run in consists of between one and four cars.[31] Each car has 26 seats and can carry 97 passengers with luggage or 205 without luggage,[36] though the cars' operating capacity is only 75 to 78 passengers because most passengers are expected to carry luggage.[52] There are two doors per side per car, and each pair of doors is about 10 feet 5 inches (3.18 m) wide.[36] The trains can operate on trackage with a minimum railway curve radius of 230 feet (70 m).[46][36]

The recorded announcements on AirTrain JFK are by New York City traffic reporter Bernie Wagenblast.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Full text of "Metropolitan transportation, a program for action. Report to Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York."". Internet Archive. November 7, 1967. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b UCL Bartlett 2011, p. 32.
  3. ^ Grynbaum, Michael M. (November 25, 2009). "If You Took the Train to the Plane, Sing the Jingle". Retrieved July 3, 2016. 
  4. ^ "New "JFK Express" Service Begun in Howard Beach" (PDF). New York Leader Observer. September 28, 1978. Retrieved July 22, 2016. 
  5. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 1.
  6. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 1–2.
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ a b Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 2.
  10. ^ Regional Plan Association 1999, p. 2, 12.
  11. ^ Regional Plan Association 1999, p. 17–19.
  12. ^ a b 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. 
  13. ^ a b c d UCL Bartlett 2011, p. 22.
  14. ^ a b Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 4–5.
  15. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 4.
  16. ^ Tarek, Shams (October 4, 2002). "Following AirTrain Accident, A Community Mourns". Southeast Queens Press. Retrieved August 6, 2007. 
  17. ^ Shen, Maxine (September 28, 2002). "AIRPORT TRAIN HORROR :DRIVER KILLED IN TEST RUN". New York Post. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  18. ^ Kennedy, Randy (October 18, 2002). "Inquiry Shows Speed of Test Run Caused Derailment of AirTrain". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 25, 2017. 
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 9.
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 7.
  23. ^ "Lower Manhattan Development Corporation". Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Lower Manhattan-Jamaica/JFK Transportation Project, Summary Report, Prepared for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and PANYNJ". Scribd. Parsons/SYSTRA Engineering, Inc. December 2008. Retrieved February 5, 2017. 
  25. ^ Barone, Vincent (January 4, 2017). "Cuomo unveils plan to breathe new life into JFK airport". am New York. Retrieved January 6, 2017. 
  26. ^ 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. 
  27. ^ "A Vision Plan for John F. Kennedy International Airport" (PDF). Airport Advisory Panel; Government of New York. January 4, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  28. ^ a b c d "To & From JFK". Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  29. ^ a b c d "JFK Airport AirTrain". Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 2–3.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g "AirTrain JFK opens for service". Railway Gazette International. March 1, 2004. Retrieved July 23, 2016. 
  32. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 3.
  33. ^ Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 2.
  34. ^ a b Port Authority 2014, p. 1, 2.
  35. ^ a b c Arema 1999, p. 1.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g Bombardier Transportation 2004, p. 2.
  37. ^ Arema 1999, p. 2–3.
  38. ^ a b Port Authority 2014, p. 2.
  39. ^ a b c Bombardier Transportation 2004, p. 1.
  40. ^ "Delta opens new JFK Terminal 4 hub". Queens Chronicle. Retrieved May 31, 2013. 
  41. ^ Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 1.
  42. ^ Gosling & Freeman 2012, p. 3–4.
  43. ^ a b c Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 12–13.
  44. ^ Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 10.
  45. ^ Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 5.
  46. ^ a b c Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 3.
  47. ^ a b "Cost and Tickets - AirTrain - Ground Transportation - John F. Kennedy International Airport - Port Authority of New York & New Jersey". Retrieved May 19, 2014. 
  48. ^ "MTA/New York City Transit - Fares and MetroCard". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  49. ^ Governor Cuomo Announces AirTrain JFK Reaches Record High Ridership in 2014, February 12, 2015
  50. ^ 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. 
  51. ^ "SelTrac™ CBTC Signalling Projects" (PDF). Thales Group. p. 2. Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  52. ^ a b Englot & Bakas 2002, p. 4.
  53. ^ "The World's Biggest Forum for Telematics Industry Leaders". Retrieved March 16, 2011. 


External links[edit]

Route map: Google

KML is from Wikidata
Google Maps Street View
Jamaica Station
Howard Beach
Lefferts Blvd
Federal Circle
Terminal 1
Terminal 2
Terminal 4
Terminal 7
Terminal 8