Hartsfield-Jackson Prepares to Debut People Mover & Rental Car Center

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Building an automated people mover (APM) is a huge task for an airport; constructing a new rental car center is no small feat, either. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world's busiest airport, is undertaking both projects at once, at an anticipated cost of $628 million.

Facts & Figures

Project: Rental Car Center & Automated People Mover

Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

Budget: $648 million; expected to finish $20 million under budget

Rental Car Center

Parking Decks: 4 stories each; 2.8 million total sq. ft.; 8,700 parking spaces

Customer Service Center: 137,000 sq. ft.

Vehicle Care Area: Maintenance facilities; 58 fuel pumps; 19 wash bays

Prime Joint Venture Member: Walter P. Moore

Design Joint Venture Lead: PGAL

Contractor: Austin-PRAD (joint venture between Austin Commercial and PRAD Group)

Automated People Mover

Name: ATL SkyTrain

Consultant: Hartsfield Transportation Group, a joint venture of Jordan Jones & Goulding, Edwards and Kelcey & US Infrastructure

Systems Subconsultant: Lea+Elliott

Engineering & Construction: Archer Western Contractors/Capital Contracting Company Joint Venture

APM Design: Heath and Lineback Engineers

Station Design: Gresham, Smith and Partners/Duckett Design Group Joint Venture

Systems Suppliers: Sumitomo Corporation of America; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

Train Size: 12 cars total, typically operating in pairs

Individual Car Capacity: 50 passengers with baggage

Track: 1.5 miles of elevated guideway with two tracks

Train Storage/Maintenance Facility: 1.3 acres

Transit Time: 2 1/2 minutes from terminal to Rental Car Center, with an intermediate stop at Georgia International Convention Center

Service: 24/7

Key Benefits: Eliminating traffic congestion and vehicle emissions from 125 shuttle buses; streamlining customer process by housing rental transaction & vehicle pickup in one location.

Sounds masochistic, but there's inherent logic at work: Without the APM, there would be no way to reach the new rental car facility; without the new rental car facility, the APM would be a "train to nowhere."

So officials at Hartsfield-Jackson armed themselves to attack the two-headed monster in one blow. Balram Bheodari, deputy assistant general manager for the airport's Operations, Maintenance and Security Division, commissioned an activation team in June 2008 to develop a roadmap toward full public operation within 18 months.

By September, the group had identified over 600 major tasks that needed to be completed. As Bheodari and his team tick items such as transition plan, environmental conditions and security off their lengthy "to-do" list, the Nov. 10 opening day comes into clear focus.

Making the Connection

Hartsfield-Jackson's Rental Car Center will be serviced by rubber-wheel electric trains running on a 1.5-mile elevated guideway. Dubbed the ATL SkyTrain, the automated people mover will service three platform train stations: one at the west end of the terminal; a second at a conference center in neighboring College Park; and a third at the new Rental Car Center.

Twelve agencies will run pickup and return operations from the new Rental Car Center. The facility includes a 137,000-square-foot customer service center and two four-story parking decks, with 2.8 million square feet of space and 8,700 parking stalls. Turnaround facilities adjacent to the parking decks include 1,200 surface parking spaces, vehicle maintenance areas, 55 fuel pumps and 19 washing bays with a water recovery system.

The Rental Car Center/ATL SkyTrain project broke ground in fall 2006 as part of the Year 2000 Master Plan. The plan also includes a new International Terminal that's currently under construction and an already complete fifth runway.

Destination: Simplification

Previously, rental car transactions at Hartsfield-Jackson began at a variety of proprietary service desks in the terminal and ended at numerous pick-up plazas serviced by a fleet of buses displaying each provider's name.

The new consolidated center was designed to simplify the process by allowing customers to execute their transactions and pick up their vehicles in one location serviced by one transit method.

According to Bheodari, the Rental Car Center/ATL SkyTrain combination will eliminate approximately 125 buses that delivered customers to the scattered service plazas of 12 different rental car agencies.

"It is a more efficient operation and a more environmentally friendly operation in that we don't have rental car workers, passengers and buses clogging up the roadways," Bheodari emphasizes. "Instead, we have a very efficient train system to move the customers back and forth from the airport to a central location."

The ATL SkyTrain platform in the airport, notes Bheodari, is in the same west side location where customers previously boarded rental car buses. The 2 1/2-minute journey to the Rental Car Center includes a stop at the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) for customers using the conference facility or an adjacent hotel.

This convenience will make GICC the only convention center in the world linked directly to an airport with an APM. Marriott is in the process of building a flagship location and a SpringHill Suites to accommodate the GICC and its unique APM service.


As final construction details are added to the center, rental car companies are finishing the architecture of their information technology systems and are preparing their quick-turn areas for rental service. They're also planning their move from the airport terminal to the new Rental Car Center.

"More importantly," notes Bheodari, "there is training for all rental car employees and Department of Aviation employees and first responders to ensure everyone knows what their individual responsibilities are and collectively how to mitigate any situations that may pop up. There is a series of training that is underway - some new and some refresher."

Because train service adds a new operational element to the airport, a number of standard operating procedures and contingency plans were developed. In October, the activation team tested a number of new contingency plans to support the facility through collaborative efforts with the Department of Aviation (DOA) stakeholders, the rental car companies, the City of College Park, the City of Atlanta and their affiliated police and fire departments.

"We are running through exercises to ensure that everyone knows how the plans are going to work and how they are going to function," explains David Gruber, a DOA lead planner for the Rental Car Center activation. "I think it has been an excellent process that has worked very well, especially from a collaborative standpoint because we have participation from almost every DOA department entity. It is amazing to see how far we've come and how much progress we've made, and to be at the point where we are able to exercise the final versions of the plan and go through the exercises to make sure everyone knows their responsibilities."

Each rental car company, adds Bheodari, has provided the DOA a transition plan to ensure that the Rental Car Center is operational the morning of Nov. 10. Before opening day, rental car companies will have a 10-day transition period to test their operations.

At the same time, Sumitomo is testing the train system to ensure success in the final safety certification. At peak times, the driverless, automatic train system manufactured by Mitsubishi and managed by Sumitomo will operate four-car trains to transport roughly 2,700 customers per direction. A fifth car will also be available in "ready reserve."

As opening day approaches, Lea+Elliott is monitoring the vehicle and electrical-mechanical components and facilities interface performance of the APM supplier, Sumitomo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

"Sumitomo Corporation of America and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are very proud of our ability to work together toward a successful conclusion to this phase and look forward to operating and maintaining the system," notes Gino Antoniello, vice president of transportation systems and equipment for Sumitomo Corporation of America.

Although completion of the Rental Car Center/ATL SkyTrain project will be a huge relief for airport staff, it will be a temporary respite at best. The debut of the airport's new international terminal, scheduled for spring 2010, is already looming large on the calendar. The Rental Car Center/ATL SkyTrain activation process, notes Bheodari, will serve as a useful template.

Passenger Transport

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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