PHOENIX -- It's not slated to open for at least a couple of months yet, but Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton gave us a preview of the new 44th Street PHX Sky Train™ station Tuesday morning.
The PHX Sky Train™ will open early next year, serving as a new gateway into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and creating a seamless connection with METRO Light Rail from the station at 44th and Washington streets.
In addition to the Light Rail station, the train will also have stops at the East Economy Parking Lot and Terminal 4, which is the airport's busiest terminal. The ride from the Light Rail station to Terminal 4 is estimated to be just five minutes.
With trains running in both directions every three to four minutes, the PHX Sky Train™ will operate seven days a week, 365 days a year, and will be free of charge.
"It's going to be really convenient," Deputy Aviation Director for Public Relations Deb Ostreicher said last year when the framework was finished. "You can do it now on the free shuttle ... but soon, it'll be a train."
Cole Conway, who regularly takes the shuttle, said he's curious to see whether the new train saves time and increases convenience.
"I'm excited to wait and see what the difference is between the two," Conway said.
"I think it's part of the modernization," said shuttle passenger Michael Feyrer, who said he's watched the project as it's gone up.
In addition to getting to their planes, passengers also will be able to check their bags at the 44th Street Station -- before they even get to the airport.
"This facility, the 44th Street Station, is going to go a long way to advancing the long-term goals of our airport and make life more convenient for the literally millions of passengers who use Sky Harbor every day," Stanton said during Tuesday's media tour.
While the first phase of the $1.5 billion is nearly ready to open, the PHX Sky Train™, which is electric and automated, will expand to serve Terminal 3 with a walkway to Terminal 2 by early 2015, and will continue to the Rental Car Center in its final stage.
The implementation of the PHX Sky Train™ is expected to take a significant number of buses and cars off the roadways, hopefully easing traffic congestion in and out of the airport.
"You're going to just be able to take the train to the plane," Ostreicher said. "It'll be so easy.
"This is going to alleviate so much traffic on the roadways. ... We're building it now because by 2020, believe me, you're going to need it -- not just sometimes, but all the time. ... Your access in and out of the airport will be much, much easier."
Once it's operating, the train is expected to carry 6 million passengers each year.
While city leaders say the project created thousands of jobs, overall, a shuttle driver expressed concern over what will happen to her job once the train is fully operational.
Veolia Transportation operates the shuttles, which run from the 44th Street station to Sky Harbor, according to the airport. A spokeswoman for Sky Harbor said discussions with the drivers have been ongoing for the past several years, and adds an attrition plan is in place.
Construction on the PHX Sky Train™ began in March 2010. The structural framework was completed a little more than a year later. The cars that make up the PHX Sky Train™ were unveiled in August 2011. Each of the 18 train cars has a 53-passenger capacity. The cars will be assembled into two- and three-car trains.
The environmentally friendly PHX Sky Train™ made its first official test run on May 16, followed by a trip over an active taxiway in June.
"The taxiway bridge is the first mass-transit bridge in the world to be constructed over an active airport taxiway," according to the Sky Harbor International Airport website. " It is more than 100 feet tall and large enough for a Boeing 747 to pass below."
The funding for the PHX Sky Train™ project came from fees paid at Sky Harbor Airport, which is a self-supporting entity.
Stanton said Stage 1 one of the project created 6,000 jobs. The second stage is expected to add 2,000 jobs.