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It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year without fail and has operated continuously since 1981. The underground train at Bush Intercontinental Airport runs a continuous circuit between terminals A, B, the Marriott Hotel and terminals C and D, the International Airlines Building. “There has been an underground train at IAH since 1979, but not the same one that is operating today. That train system was run by the City of Houston; it was not very reliable.” said Frank Gates, operations support manager for the Houston Airport System. During that time period, Dick Nunis, president of Walt Disney Theme Parks, was regularly passing through Houston on his way to Orlando. He became tired of the continuous delays he encountered with the tram system that was then operating between terminals A and B and the Host Hotel. In an attempt to solve the problem, Nunis went to the city and proposed that Disney build a new train. “He guaranteed the mayor he could make it run,” Gates said. The WEDway (Walter Elias Disney) Transportation Company was successful in winning the bid to build. The marketing division for the WEDway was called Community Transportation Services. The first ever WEDway PeopleMover was installed at the Houston Intercontinental Airport, (now George Bush Intercontinental Airport) in August 1981. It cost the city $14 million to build the train system. Two years later, Disney got out of the people mover business and sold the licensing agreements to Bombardier which now operates the new, above ground system currently operating at IAH. They also build and maintain people movers in such places as Las Vegas and the underground trains connecting the U. S. Capitol buildings. “Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were on hand for the grand opening of the new train system in 1981. The inauguration of the new train coincided with the opening of Terminal C and the extension of service to that area,” Gates recalled. Gates was, at that time, one of the Disney Imagineers involved in the development of the present train system. Gates now works for Johnson Controls, Inc. the business that is contracted by the City of Houston to operate the train. “We developed an extruded pipe process to make the track. The track is made from heavy gauge metal pipe that is rounded on the top. The idea was to make a track that would last a million miles. “The track is a bit more than two miles; we estimate the train runs 235,000 miles a month. It takes only 18 minutes to make a round trip. We carry more than 8,000 travelers a month around the system. I think it has done its job,” he said with a smile. “The entire system consists of eight trains. There are three cars in each train. Six trains run at all times. We always rotate two trains out of service for general cleaning and preventative maintenance,” Gates noted. Then, as now, the train is powered by linear induction motors, or LIMS, that have no moving parts, which makes it very energy efficient. “I suspect that it costs less than four cents a mile to run,” said Gates. “The LIM power is more than sufficient to run the train. In fact, 50 percent of the motors can be shut down and the train will still run.” Gates recalled a time when students from Humble High School would come to the airport, sit up on the roof of the parking facility, drink beer and then come down to ride the trains. “It was a cheap date for high school kids. Airport security does not allow that now.” The train has also been in the movies. It was featured in the movie “Side Kicks” starring Chuck Norris. The future plans for George Bush Intercontinental Airport do not include the current underground train system. “The plans call for a terminal train system much like Atlanta’s airport,” said Gates. “It is kind of sad, the end of an era; these trains could last forever.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Photo: Today, Oscar Botello, operations manager, keeps track of the underground train operating systems. He can see exactly where each train is on the circuit and he can tell if someone is holding the door open on one of the cars, causing a delay. Photo by BONNIE McKENNA