O’Hare Airport Opens Long Delayed Airport Transit System

Corridor between terminal 2 and the ATS station on opening day by Ian Achong

The Chicago Department of Aviation has officially opened the new Airport Transit System (ATS) at O’Hare International Airport. The opening marks the end of a multi-year process of construction, acquisitions, and testing performed with contractor Parsons Construction Group. Work originally began in 2018 and has since faced various delays with this opening being over a year after its originally scheduled date. Now open from 10:30am to 8:30pm, busses will continue to run 24/7 to facilitate the integration as the hours expand to full-time operations in early 2022.

View of new ATS trains from the connection corridor on opening day by Ian Achong

O’hare’s original ATS opened in the spring of 1993 as part of a larger development plan which began in 1982, that also brought us terminal 5 and an expansion of the domestic terminals. Originally awarded to Westinghouse Electric, the system was then given to French industrial conglomerate Matra who in its time produced everything from cars, bicycles, to defense missiles before going defunct in 2003. In 1987 its groundbreaking was held by Mayor Harold Washington on the new system that would connect the existing three terminals to the new terminal 5.

Passengers starting to use the system at terminal 5 on opening day by Ian Achong

The Matra-designed system brought various challenges as it was one of two in operation, the other being in Taipei, Taiwan. Renovations to the ATS included new track sections, incorporating new vehicles designed by Bombardier, and a new control system to the existing tracks. With maximum speeds of 50 miles per hour, the new system boasts 36 cars with a capacity of 147 passengers split into 12 trains, replacing and expanding the previous 15 cars. From end to end it takes roughly 10 minutes to get through the airport with stops at all four terminals and terminating at the new consolidated car facility.

Doors opening for the first train of opening day by Ian Achong

Breaking ground in 2018, construction began extending the existing tracks to the new consolidated rental car facility north of the airfield. That facility would become known as the Multi Modal Facility (MMF) serving the economy parking lot, Kiss ‘n’ Fly, as well as Metra trains and Pace busses. The extension brings the track length of the system to a total of three miles from the original 2.7 and closed the previous final stop at the remote parking lot while doubling the passenger capacity from before.

View from train on opening day by Ian Achong

Originally predicted to cost $310 million, the final price tag came out to roughly $323 million which was divided into: $19.4 million towards design, $37.8 million for the track extension, $122.1 million purchasing the new vehicles, $81.9 million on system modernization and integration, and lastly $62 million on project management and administration. Rigorous testing was performed before its eventual opening in which the trains traveled more than 360,000 miles, roughly the equivalent of six months of service.

View of the new train on opening day by Ian Achong

The November 3rd opening was met with much fanfare by employees of the Chicago Department of Aviation, engineers, and employees who were there to greet the first guest with luggage tags and hand sanitizers onto the new system. Passengers quickly began utilizing the train, many not knowing the history behind the day for the city. YIMBY was lucky enough to join in on the festivities and the first ride on the sparkling new driverless system which boasts info screens, well-illuminated interiors, freshly painted stations, and plenty of room for baggage.

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3 Comments on "O’Hare Airport Opens Long Delayed Airport Transit System"

  1. Good things are worth waiting for.

  2. The fact that it only came out only $13 million over budget for such an extensive project is amazing in itself. If it had been done here in NYC, it would have come out at a cost three times the original budget. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  3. Construction from Lot E to Lot F began in Aug 2015, so from that date to Nov 3 is 3 years an three months. I know because I was driving a shuttle bus for Delaware Car Rental at that time. ..

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