Although it is still going strong and its service record is virtually impeccable, plans are well underway to replace or re-life the below-ground subway system (formerly known as the inter-terminal train) at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH).
The below-ground subway train provides passengers and airport staff free, efficient transportation between terminals and the Marriott Hotel while outside security. The subway departs every three minutes from the subway stations in Terminals A, B, C, D/E and the Airport Marriott. The train operates in a circuit and total round-trip time is approximately 18 minutes.
The system was built by WED Transportation Systems in 1981. WED Transportation Systems is a division of what is now known as Walt Disney Imagineering. It has been very fitting that a leg on the journey that daily celebrates “the magic of flight” includes the work of a Disney organization.
The unique subway train is the only WEDway people mover built by the Walt Disney Company outside of a Disney property. It uses a lot of the mechanical technology employed by the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, an attraction in the Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. The design permits the trains to make tight corners that are necessary along portions of the basement route. On-train station announcements and audible warning messages are provided by a trackside audio system through openings in the tops of the vehicle car bodies.
IAH conducted studies of potential new systems to replace or re-life the subway train. The existing subway is well beyond design service life and many components of the system are obsolete and no longer commercially available.
Eren Selcen, managing engineer at IAH, said, “The system was built and commissioned in the early ‘80s and is extremely reliable, but it is no longer supported by the original manufacturer. It still works very well and is very popular, but we must look to the future, and getting spare parts is difficult.”
Selcen gave kudos to the IAH operations and maintenance staff who have reverse-engineered some of the systems to keep the trains running smoothly and make potential repairs eminently more doable.
Ridership averages 2.9 million annually (about 240,000 passengers each month). The subway train is a tremendous help in getting individuals to their destinations efficiently. Passengers are very well-served by the two autonomous people transportation systems at IAH – the subway and the above-ground skyway – both efficient ways to move people both landside and behind security for connecting flights.
The trains can run at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and Selcen said that their corner-hugging capabilities and linkage to Disney are still draws for people after all these years. He recalls riding with his daughter while dangling the “carrot” that Mickey Mouse might be riding as well.
“But she is older now,” he said, “and she stopped falling for that.”
Requests for information have gone out to qualified companies to submit proposals to replace or re-life the system.
“We realize,” Selcen said, “that this is a niche market with a limited number of companies with the capability to do this work.”