Airport's automated people mover gets named

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's automated people mover now has a name, airport officials said. It is The Plane Train.

In search of an official name for the automated people mover, the airport began a four-week social media contest on April 1, said Al Snedeker, a spokesperson for Hartsfield-Jackson.

Snedeker said Don Auensen, of Marietta, posted the winning entry shortly after the contest began.

More than 600 entries and comments were received on Hartsfield-Jackson's YouTube channel and Facebook fan page, in response to a behind-the-scenes video of the train system, Snedeker said. The Plane Train was one of the most popular names submitted, and Auensen was the first contestant to suggest it, he added.

"Calling it The Plane Train just seemed right," Auensen said in a prepared statement. "I knew the airport wasn't looking for a silly name. I didn't know what else it could be, because The Plane Train says what it does."

Snedeker said that Auensen won a $100 American Express gift card and received a certificate of recognition bearing his name and the new, official name of the train.

When asked how he will use his gift card, Auensen winked and responded that he is hoping to use it for airport parking.

"I'm pleased to announce that, from now on, the automated people mover at Hartsfield-Jackson will be known as The Plane Train," said Robert Kennedy, interim general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson. "It's short and sweet, and it highlights the train's mission to transport more than 200,000 daily passengers among six concourses."

On Aug. 10, Auensen was invited to the Department of Aviation, where he met airport officials, including Steven Poerschmann, aviation transportation systems director; Christopher Smith, aviation transportation system manager, and Kennedy. In addition, the officials hosted Auensen for a private tour of The Plane Train's maintenance and storage facility.

Auensen said he enjoyed meeting with airport officials and going on The Plane Train tour.

"I am kind of a humble-type person. I don't wave my flag too much," said Auensen. "Hopefully it [the new name] hits the branding [well]."

Poerschmann said The Plane Train is the busiest people-mover system in the world, and that it began service at the airport in 1980.

Poerschmann explained that though The Plane Train is easily accessible to the approximately 250,000 passengers the airport serves daily, travelers can opt to walk to the concourses instead.

"If I've got time I will walk, to be honest, but it is always there when I need it," said Auensen. "Never too long of a wait, never too crowded."

Smith said the maintenance and storage facility, which is a little more than 20,000 square feet in size, is located 30 to 40 feet underneath Concourse E.

"There are three distinct tunnels underneath there, and we have a test track which is where we will be testing whenever we will be doing the work on the brakes or the wheels," said Poerschmann. "Before we can put the trains in regular service we have to test them to make sure they operate the way that they are supposed to."

Smith said the maintenance and storage facility has five maintenance bays for the trains, including two bays for light maintenance and three bays for heavy maintenance.

The trains have daily inspections at the light maintenance bays, said Smith.

Corrective and more complex maintenance is conducted at the heavy maintenance bays, he explained.

He said the three tunnels include a north tunnel, a south tunnel and the test track.

According to Poerschmann, Hartsfield-Jackson currently has 49 vehicles that are part of The Plane Train fleet.

Smith explained that four vehicles create a train, and that the train system is up and running for loop service from 5 a.m., to 1 a.m.

The loop service is when the train travels its path in a circle to reach all of the concourses, Smith said.

From 1:30 a.m., to 4:30 a.m., the train provides shuttle service, said Smith. The shuttle service also reaches all concourses, but instead of traveling in a circle, the train travels up and down the track, he explained.

"It allows us to perform better maintenance on vehicles, stations and tracks," Smith said of the schedule.

Airport officials led Auensen into the central control center, where The Plane Trains are operated. The center is housed at the maintenance and storage facility.

"Central control is pretty much the brains behind the system," said Smith.

Currently, the center uses analog technology to control the train system, but it will switch to digital technology by the end of the year, said Smith. The center is currently running the digital system to test the new technology before switching it, he explained. The transition will begin in early October, he added.

"It's like switching from VHS to DVD," he said.

Kennedy added that The Plane Train system will be extended to the new international terminal. The underground tunnel connecting the train from Concourse E to Concourse F at the international terminal is currently under construction, he added.

The airport will have to expand The Plane Train fleet to accommodate the train's expansion to the terminal, said Poerschmann.

"Our fleet is going to grow by 10 cars over the next two years," said Poerschmann. "The first two are in the assembly line. They should ship next month."

Poerschmann added that there will be a second maintenance facility underneath the international terminal, and it will house the additional fleet.