Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phoenix Sky Train and the limits of intermodality

Some people at a place called Air Rail News have been sending me their newsletter for a while. It's basically just recycled press releases, and I'm not all that interested in airport rail connections, but every once in a while they have something interesting. This week they noted Phoenix's Sky Train project.

Sky Train will be an automated, rubber-tired "train" in a dedicated, elevated right-of-way, connecting the terminals and long-term parking to the airport light-rail/bus stop. It will replace the current shuttle bus, which sounds like a good thing, because the last time I went to Phoenix the shuttle bus took a while to show up.

It's great that they're improving connections between terminals and to the light rail and local buses. But they're forgetting about intercity travel. The new Sky Train will not connect to Union Station, which is understandable since Union Station hasn't seen regular train service since 1996. But the Greyhound bus station, now also served by several Mexican bus lines, is just a few blocks west of the airport.

In fact, it's one of Phoenix's ironies that the airport is four miles from downtown across from the bus station and along the new light rail line, while the train station is thirty miles south of the city in a little town with no bus service to speak of.

Another weirdness of this plan - and many airport rail services - is that it's completely incompatible with the light rail system. The Sky Train FAQ gives a lame excuse of not wanting to inconvenience light rail riders who weren't going to the airport. Of course, they wouldn't have to run all the light rail trains through the airport. Just those bound for Union Station.

The Sky Train will be built in two phases, so let's add a third: connect the airport with the Greyhound station to the west. I would also like to see the Sky Train built with the same rail and power systems as the Metro Light Rail so that they could be connected later.

Another possibility is that the Sky Train could act as a local loop from light rail to airport to Greyhound, but the elevated structure could be built wide enough to accommodate a second set of tracks for light rail. Phase 4 could be a light-rail branch through the airport to Greyhound and then continuing west to Union Station and reconnecting with the current light rail line somewhere downtown. It would only have to make one stop at the airport; passengers for other terminals could transfer to the Sky Train there.

1 comment:

jason stathan said...
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