This week marked a major milestone on the $1.5-billion PHX Sky Train project, as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton sent Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s new automated train on its first official—albiet short—journey on Monday.   

Photo courtesy Sky Harbor
The PHX Sky Train performed its first short test run on Monday on track running between the East Economy Station and the maintenance facility.
Photo by Scott Blair
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton praised Sky Train as the key to future success at Sky Harbor Airport.

“Built during the worst economy since the Great Depression, this project has put a lot of people to work,” Stanton says, adding that 6,000 workers were employed during the first phase, and 2,000 are currently working on the second phase.

The Phoenix office of Hensel Phelps Construction built the first phase at a total project cost of $640 million. Monday’s brief two-minute demonstration test run began at the East Economy Parking train station, one of three stations built during that phase. The station cost $32 million to construct and contains 165 tons of structural steel and 3,375 cu yds of concrete.

Once the first section of track is operational in early 2013, up to 16,000 passengers a day are expected to board the trains operating every three to four minutes and travel between Terminal 4 (Sky Harbor’s busiest terminal) and the 44th Street METRO Light Rail Station, which connects to the regional light rail system.

While the East Economy Station won’t be air-conditioned, the Bombardier-manufactured trains will be. Airport officials tout the electrically powered, fully automated train system as one of the most advanced in the U.S., as well as one of the most sustainable. Stanton says the project is the first airport people mover in the U.S. to seek LEED certification.

Monday’s event kicks off several months of testing for the new train system. Technicians will initially be operating the trains in manual mode, to test the vehicle clearance on the guideway and in the stations, says Anne Kurtenbach, aviation program manager for Sky Harbor. “They will also be testing speed control, switches, power and onboard communications and control,” she adds. Vehicles will be tested individually, rather than in their final configuration in two- to three-car trains.

After a month or two in manual mode, the trains will then operate automatically while the engineers remain onboard to monitor performance. The final test will run trains in full automated mode, operated remotely from the Central Control facility.  “It is in this phase where there will be the most activity with the greatest number of trains operating on the guideway in the highest frequency,” Kurtenbach says.

Crews with Phoenix-based McCarthy-Kiewit JV are constructing the 1-mi, $240-million phase 1a, which will connect the train to Terminal 3 and provide a short walkway to Terminal 2 in early 2015. The final phase, not yet out for bid, will connect the train system to the Rental car Facility by 2020. The project is funded through airport service fees and federal grant money.