Air Train--A Reality? – QNS.com

Air Train–A Reality?

The light rail link for JFK Airport came closer to reality last week.
It got a name — it will be called Air Train. It got a new logo and its sleek, futuristic design was unveiled. Most significant of all, Governor George Pataki, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and a host of Port Authority officials and others officially broke ground at the airport last Wednesday to put the $1.5 billion project in motion.
"We are writing an important new chapter in New York City history," Pataki said at the ceremony. "Airtrain will link the greatest City in the world to an international gateway that is pulsing with the energy of a $7 billion renaissance. For decades, plans to provide fast, realistic travel to JFK sat idle on the runway. Today, we have takeoff."
While the officials at the ceremony were singing the praises of the project scheduled to go into operation in 2002, an unusual coalition of a national airline trade group and more than 100 Queens community organizations has been formed to launch a protest and publicity campaign to stop Airtrain dead in its tracks.
The group called CANT (Citizens Against the Nowhere Train) is comprised of the Air Transport Association and civic groups such as the Queens Civic Congress, the Committee for Better Transit, the Concerned Neighbors of Southeast Queens, the South Ozone Park Coalition of Block Associations and the Mid-Queens Community Council.
The Air Transport Association’s opposition is based on its business concern: they oppose the way Airtrain is being funded by a $3 tax on every boarding passenger at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. The organization contends that the funds, called Passenger Facility Charges, should go instead to improvements on the airport grounds such as terminals and baggage areas. The organization will conduct high powered publicity and lobbying efforts and will assist the local groups who opposed the project for a variety of reasons. The ATA has hired veteran Manhattan-based lobbyist Claudio Wagner and publicist George Shea to distribute position papers and energize local opposition. They began the campaign last Thursday by countering the Port Authority’s groundbreaking with a demonstration on the Van Wyck service road and Linden Blvd., the area slated for the elected train to ride over.
Roger Cohen, the legislative director of the ATA called the project "a dumb idea and the people are going to be heard." The group CANT has dubbed the proposed Van Wyck El the "Little Train That Can’t," calling the 3.1 mile portion of the rail link a highly disruptive project that will harm the residents of Southeast Queens while failing to provide a one-seat ride between the airport and Manhattan.
The Port Authority contends that the Airtrain will be used by more than 32 million passengers a year and that it will make a trip from Manhattan to JFK in only 45 minutes regardless of time of day, weather or traffic, and a loop around JFK will take only eight minutes instead of the 45 minutes now required. The PA also boasts that the train will take cars off the road, easing congestion and pollution and will create 4,150 construction jobs, $580 million in wages and $980 million in contribution-related sales. The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce supports the link saying it will boost the local economy by making downtown Jamaica a hub of transportation and international trade. The Airtrain is also supported by the Association for a Better New York, The Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association and the New York Building Congress.
Under the Port Authority’s plan the Airtrain will encircle JFK with stops at all the major terminals, car rental areas and parking lots, then travel along the Van Wyck El where passengers will then have to switch at Jamaica Station for the subway or Long Island Rail Road. When travelers exit the subway on LIRR they will then again have to make another transfer to their final destination by another subway, bus or cab.
Charles Lucas of the South Queens Coalition of Block Associations said "This train is a negative in every way — it can’t get you from the airport to Manhattan, it can’t reduce traffic and it can’t be transformed into a one-seat ride." While the Port Authority bills the rail link as the first step to a one-seat ride, Cohen says that Airtrain will be incompatible with all other public transit systems. "The train will operate on linear-induction motor technology which cannot work with conventional motor technology, the operating system of the City’s transit systems."

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