What's thought to be the biggest airport people-mover system in the world is to open Saturday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
Replacing a 3-decade-old train, the $880-million SkyLink stretches nearly five miles, with cars that can run 35 mph, twice as fast as the ones on the old system.
Besides giving the airport bragging rights, the shuttle is designed to solve the No. 1 complaint of DFW customers, said Chief Executive Jeffrey P. Fegan: connecting between the four terminals.
"We had a fairly slow, low-capacity system," Fegan said in a phone interview last week. And it ran only in one direction.
Starting Saturday, people-mover cars will be scheduled to arrive every two minutes and travel in two directions. The average trip time is expected to be five minutes. Five thousand people an hour will be able to travel in each direction, the designers say.
At DFW, which claims to be the world's third busiest airport based on the number of takeoffs and landings, connecting is critical. About two-thirds of its 57 million annual passengers are on their way elsewhere.
SkyLink uses cars and software from Montreal-based Bombardier Transportation, which was also involved in two projects that developed well-publicized problems: the Las Vegas monorail, which was shut several times by mechanical mishaps, and Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express service in the Northeast, recently sidelined by cracks in brake discs.
But Fegan indicated he wasn't worried. "Bombardier has been a great partner on this project," he said. "So far, things work real well."
Summer will bring more changes to DFW, including a new international terminal that incorporates a 300-room Grand Hyatt hotel; both are scheduled to open in July. A 700-room Hyatt, recently renovated, is also on airport property.
The new Terminal D, with 28 gates and 2 million square feet, will centralize international operations that have been scattered among three terminals. It's designed to handle 15 million passengers a year, three times the current traffic.
"We're really building for the future," Fegan said. In the last year, he added, the airport's international traffic has grown 15%. The new shuttle will link to Terminal D.
All these efforts are part of $2.8 billion in projects, underway since 2000, which have included extending runways, rebuilding the central utility plant and other roadway and facilities improvements.