AirTrain loop on airport almost done

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The train’s two-mile loop around the...

By Betsy Scheinbart

The AirTrain is coming down the Van Wyck Expressway, temporarily closing each overpass from Jamaica to John F. Kennedy Airport during construction to be completed by 2003, a Port Authority engineer said last Thursday.

The train’s two-mile loop around the airport terminals is more than 90 percent complete and passengers will be riding it by next year, said Joseph Englot, the chief structural engineer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Englot, who has worked on many of the city’s major bridge and tunnel projects, discussed the structural composition of the AirTrain with engineers and other Queens residents at the Professional Design Center of New York at Fort Totten in Bayside.

“The AirTrain is one of the most exciting projects I have worked on in my career at the Port Authority,” Englot said. “The amazing thing about AirTrain is the progress that has already been made.”

Construction on the $1.9 billion-project began in April 1999, and the guideway along the airport is almost complete, Englot said.

The elevated tracks to the Jamaica station, which will connect the AirTrain with the Long Island Rail Road and the Manhattan Transportation Authority’s E, J and Z trains, are about 25 percent complete, Englot said.

A Howard Beach station will link riders with the MTA’s A train and a rental car station stop will eliminate the need for shuttle busses in the airport.

When finished, the train should allow passengers from Manhattan’s Penn Station to arrive at JFK in 45 minutes.

The AirTrain is a light rail system which carries a low number of passengers per train but with frequent service, with expected wait times of under four minutes.

The train uses technology similar to that of the monorails in Disney World (and which were in use at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park) and will feature 32, driverless cars.

The AirTrain may cost $5 to $10 a trip from Jamaica and Howard Beach to JFK, but the price has yet to be determined, Englot said.

The Port Authority estimates that 45,000 will use the new system each day, but most will be using the free airport loop, leaving only about 11,000 paying passengers per day.

AirTrain columns already stand 45 to 120 feet high along the two center lanes of the Van Wyck, where shoulder lanes have been converted to full-traffic lanes to keep three lanes passing in each direction.

The columns are only five feet wide at the base, so the middle lanes will be reopened after construction is concluded, and new, wider lanes will be drawn on the highway, Englot said.

The train’s guideways will run over the Van Wyck overpasses, allowing 16 feet between the two structures, but during construction, trestles will prevent trucks from passing over the highway for as long as one week per overpass, Englot said.

“The last thing we need is a truck stuck in one of the trestles,” Englot said. However, cars will be able to pass during peak travel times.

The guideways have already been constructed over the Rockaway Boulevard overpass and are moving toward Jamaica. That phase of construction should be finished over the summer, Englot said.

The AirTrain’s Jamaica station, which is under construction over the current LIRR station at Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue, will be in the middle of the rail tracks, like the other nine stations.

And as an added convenience, air travelers will be able to check their bags at the Jamaica station.

“This is something that could revitalize downtown Jamaica,” Englot said.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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