Final Phase of People Mover Complete at Houston Intercont'l

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

As last summer ended, a new chapter in passenger convenience began at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston. With the third and final phase of its elevated rail system complete, the airport's TermaLink automated people mover (APM) now links all terminals.

Phase 3 of the APM project extended the secure-side system from Terminal B to A and added two new trains. It

Facts & Figures

Project: APM Extension

Location: George Bush (Houston) Intercontinental Airport

Cost: $134 million

Funding: Houston Airport System

Project Manager: Continental Airlines

Design: Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum; Rey De La Reza, Architects, Inc.; Walter P Moore; EHRA; Shah Smith

Construction Management: PBS&J

Utilities, Foundation & Superstructure Contractor: W.W. Webber

Station & Corridor Contractor: Manhattan Construction Company

Trains: Bombardier Innovia APM 100

Benefits: Connected all terminals on the secure side; eliminated passenger buses on tarmac

Of Note: Project ended $3 million under budget & 3 months early

also included construction of a new two-story station for Terminal A and a secure corridor between the north and south concourses in Terminal A. Behind the scenes, crews added new automatic train control equipment in Station A and a new power distribution substation between Stations A and B.

Before Phase 3 was complete, customers connecting between Terminals A and B had to board a bus on the tarmac if they wanted to stay on the secure side or use another mode of transportation, such as the airport's underground inter-terminal train, on the non-secure side. Now, they can ride a train on the secure side and arrive in less than two minutes. In addition, all passengers, including international travelers, can now more easily connect with Terminal A on the airport's sterile side.

"The automated people mover train provides a service that is critical to the timely and efficient movement of tens of thousands of travelers through IAH and significantly contributes to our mandate to provide top-notch customer service," says Houston Airport System (HAS) director Mario Diaz.

HAS funded the $134 million APM extension and granted project management authority for Phase 3 to Continental Airlines, which delivered the project $3 million under budget and three months ahead of schedule. Continental accounts for nearly 90% of the airport's daily traffic and flies into 100+ gates at all four IAH terminals, notes Dave Brandenburg, the airline's director of corporate real estate.

The recent TermaLink expansion is part of a $1.2 billion renovation partnership announced in 2008 between the airport and Continental encompassing the renovation of Terminal B and improvements in a variety of other areas. With Phase 3 complete, the APM system is now 2.33 miles long and typically operates with five trains during normal operating hours - much larger than the shorter two-train system that premiered in 1999.

Since the new leg of the APM system was put into use, Continental no longer offers busing, which saves significant costs, notes Brandenburg.

The Loop is Complete

According to train manufacturer Bombardier, each car is about 42 feet long, 9.5 feet wide and 11 feet tall, with a normal capacity of 100 passengers. Loaded, each car weighs about 50,500 pounds. With each two-car train traveling at an average speed of 15 mph (33 mph at a maximum), system capacity is 5,000 passengers per hour per direction. The time between stations is 90 seconds, and it takes six minutes to ride the entire system from Station A to Station D/E.

The secure-side elevated rail system at Houston Intercontinental now connects all of the airport's terminals, with a travel time of about 90 seconds between stations.

During normal operating hours (5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.), the system operates with five trains, and three trains remain on standby.

Bombardier project director David Haines describes the system as a pinched loop dual guideway configuration. Trains are dispersed throughout the system, with a maximum of six two-car trains on the system at once. Under normal operating conditions, two trains travel between Stations A and B: one on the north guideway; one on the south guideway. Each car includes two DC electric motors and 600 volts of alternating current phase power from the system's three traction power substations.

The first terminals connected by the system were B and C. When Continental expanded to Terminal C in 1998, the airline chose elevated rail to get its customers from C to B, Brandenburg explains. The first phase, which opened in 1999, was financed and built by Continental. Liking what it saw, HAS funded and managed Phase 2, which extended the system to the airport's international complex. Continental, having no leasehold interest in the complex at the time, was a supporting entity in Phase 2.

Construction Complexities

As the project manager for Phase 3, Continental hired PBS&J to keep the project under budget and on time. PBS&J's role as construction manager also included value engineering, coordinating with airport operations and on-site inspections.

Because part of the project was on the secure side, numerous security measures had to be put in place, PBS&J Construction Group manager Dominick Trupia, P.E., adds. Working adjacent to the aircraft parking apron between Terminals A and B, in close proximity to active gates and aircraft, also necessitated a tidier-than-usual jobsite - down to small details like immediately disposing the ties that keep rebar together during shipping. "We had to constantly clean everything up," recalls Trupia.

The TermaLink extension project also included the construction of a secure passenger walkway linking the north and south concourses of Terminal A to the new APM station.

Due to the project's complexity, the project was divided into multiple sections. Foundation work and the superstructure for the guideway (including superstructure columns, bridge beams and bridge deck) were constructed by W. W. Webber, LLC. Webber also handled utilities relocation.

Bombardier, on board since Phase 1, provided the APM system and equipment. Its scope of supply included the running surface/guide beam supply and installation, automatic train control equipment, power distribution system equipment for the new substation and the platform station doors for Station A, chronicles Haines. Bombardier was also responsible for installation and testing of its equipment as well as the integrated testing of the system.

The Terminal A station and secure corridor were built by Manhattan Construction.

Without contractual ties between the companies, it was PBS&J's job to coordinate efforts of the various contractors, notes Trupia. He cites achieving the proper station elevation as a case in point: Webber placed the concrete station slab and bridge slab that the train rides on. Bombardier placed concrete on the bridge deck for the train tires. Then Manhattan placed terrazzo flooring on the APM station slab that Webber had placed.

"We had many different contractors working with a number of different survey points, and they needed to come together within the same tolerance," he explains. Bombardier's tolerance requirement for the train was a mere 1/8 of an inch, he adds.

"We spent a lot of time just on the slab edge of the station trying to make sure the elevation was correct," he recalls. "When you get off a train, you take for granted that it's a flat transition walking off the train onto the station slab, onto the terrazzo. But it was extremely difficult and critical to make those two meet."

Although the project was finished early, James Matthews, project manager for Manhattan Construction, notes that sequencing based on project design and the inclusion of long-lead items like escalators made maintaining the schedule difficult.

An engineered structural scaffold around outside air handling units helped crews meet intermediate deadlines. The airport APM project was the first time vertical transportation subcontractor KONE installed an escalator in this manner, notes Matthews.

Because the escalators run over the top of the elevator machine room, it could not be completed until the escalators were set. High ceilings in the main lobby made the area inaccessible without extensive scaffolding, he relates. "That's why the lobby ceiling had to be completed prior to the installation of the escalators," he explains. Outside air handling units provided conditioned air to prevent mold and other damage from moisture, but the mechanical room that these units are located in is below the escalators, which posed challenges during staging and erection.

Another significant Phase 3 challenge was building the train station about 45 feet above North Terminal Road, the main incoming artery to all terminals for public traffic. Construction took place between the active access roadway that loops all terminals and parking structures and is accessible from either direction entering the airport. Traffic had to keep moving while building took place above, Trupia notes.

Such logistic challenges put the early completion in a whole new light for team members and airport officials.

Point of Pride

In retrospect, Trupia says he's proud that his team was able to come together on the airport project and make it a success. Airport operations were never significantly impacted nor was the airport ever shut down during the project, Brandenburg stresses.

Haines says cooperation among the contractors and Continental/PBS&J was a key factor in being able to complete the project early.

"Bombardier's experience in projects involving expansion or retrofit of existing APM projects, particularly in an airport situation, also contributed to our success on the Houston Phase 3 project," he adds.

Assessments from outside the project team have been similarly glowing.

Airport vendors appreciate being able to travel between all the terminals more quickly and easily. Most importantly: "Customers love it," reports Brandenburg.

Passenger Transport

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