In tests, flying colors for Dulles gate-to-terminal train

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dulles International Airport's new gate-to-terminal train service, the AeroTrain, has passed a final phase of testing by its manufacturer and will probably begin operating next month, the airport authority said Wednesday.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had hoped to begin using the system before the holiday travel period but was forced to delay it in late October. The authority cited "testing delays" on the part of Sumitomo Corp. of America, which shares a contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to design, build and operate the system.

In a board meeting Wednesday, James E. Bennett, the authority's chief executive, announced that train service should begin in January, although a launch date has not been set, he said.

"It's a very complex system," he said. "It's got a lot of moving parts. You've got to make sure they are operating and dependable."

Mitsubishi, which built the train cars, delivered them this summer on schedule. But Sumitomo's task of verification testing took longer than anticipated. The train had to pass a 30-day demonstration test of round-the-clock operations under real-world conditions before it could seat passengers. Any system failure caused the testing cycle to restart from day one. The train passed that final hurdle Tuesday.

"Everything came out perfect," said Jewelle Yamada, a Sumitomo spokeswoman. "I think everyone is very happy that this is finally going to be up and running."

The AeroTrain will replace the airport's 1960s-era mobile lounges, which carry passengers between the terminal and gates. The lounges are giant shuttle buses that cross the tarmac. They must yield to taxiing aircraft and other obstacles, slowing their trips. Airport officials say the train, which will run underground on 3.78 miles of track, will significantly ease passenger movement through the airport.

The project represents almost half the cost of the multiyear, $3 billion expansion of the airport that the authority has undertaken. Capital projects also include a fourth runway, parking garages, 15 new gates, concourse and terminal expansion and an additional control tower.

The AeroTrain is similar to systems at large airports in Dallas, Atlanta and New York. It is separate from the $5 billion construction project to bring Metrorail service to Dulles. The new Metro route has been dubbed the Silver Line.

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