By Justin Boron
Draped in a blue lab coat in an office room far away from the nearest train, he sits at the helm of what puts the automated people mover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on the go.
If he wanted, he could talk to the passengers through a microphone at his console, booming a hardy "All aboard."
But the automated computer voice pretty much takes care of that.
It's just a few jabs at the keyboard for Mark Gladfelter to have the trains communicating with the motherboard in his office that synchronizes the cars and moves passengers and airport employees from concourse to concourse about 60 feet below the surface.
Actually, it's not quite that simple. There are some esoteric lights and technical jargon that the virtual conductor must know if there is a crisis. But when the almost 25-year old train system is running well, Gladfelter can recline at the console, page through a novel, and leave the grunt work to the machines.
"If everything is moving all right, then it's easy detail," the systems operator said.
Gladfelter's seat in the transit department overlooks a hi-tech gopher hole of operating and upkeep facilities burrowed below the airport's glossy surface of newstands and coffee shops.
The hidden maintenance bays contain the guts of the airport's 3.5-mile transit loop that enables the electronic people movers to transport as many as 128,000 passengers per hour.
Within the transit department's inner sanctum, Bombardier employees, who operate and maintain the trains, scrub down the 16-ton cars raised up above the tracks, exposing giant tractor trailer wheels.
Dangling down from the bottom side of the trains are data wires that touch certain spots on the track and feed the trains' computers updates on where their people moving counterparts are on the track.
That's what keeps the trains from running into each other, said Christopher Smith, the Department of Aviation assistant transit manager.
The cars strung together into eight trains come into the maintenance bays every other day for routine upkeep, he said.
Their tires last about 60,000 miles, Smith said.
He also warned that airport visitors shouldn't try to find the hidden area on their own.
Anyone trying to catch a glimpse of the behind the scenes action without being escorted by authorized personnel could expect to be treated like a security breach, he said.