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Bush Airport Train Turns 30

Partnership with Walt Disney Company proves durable

August 1, 2011

© Houston Airport System
Mickey Mouse himself was on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, held in August 1981.
The inter-terminal train (ITT) system at George Bush Intercontinental Airport turns 30 this month and the “underground” transportation loop is looking better than ever.

Debuting to the public in August 1981, the durable train system still operates using the same engineering principles employed three decades before, utilizing a path of magnets to propel the train cars forward.

“The system itself is not overly complex and from a repair standpoint we’re very grateful that it’s not a complex system,” says Diego Parra with the Houston Airport System. “It’s just a very simple idea that has withstood the test of time incredibly well.”

Located one floor below the baggage claim areas within the five terminal facilities at Bush Airport, the system employs two separate tracks to ferry passengers between Terminals A, B, C, D and E.

The system is available to all customers visiting Bush Airport, since the stations themselves are located prior to the security checkpoints. The ITT system also features a typical reliability rate of 99 percent.

“I think it’s a terrific system,” says passenger Becca Garner. “I travel through this airport on a regular basis and I’ve never had a problem with it and I’ve never had to wait more than a few minutes for a train to arrive.”

But according to the back story of the ITT system, inter-terminal travel at Bush Airport wasn’t quite as reliable in the early years. The airport did have a train system connecting Terminals A and B when it first opened in 1969 but just about everyone agrees that the train was somewhat unreliable. A second-generation train system was employed but the problems persisted.

“The story is that an executive with the Walt Disney Company was one of the people who became frustrated with the train system,” says David Robertson, an operations coordinator with the Houston Airport System. “So he offered to design a system that would be both faster and more reliable.”

The result was a partnership between the City of Houston and the Walt Disney Company that would produce the WEDway Inter-terminal Train System, the only people moving system built by Disney for use outside its own property.

Mickey Mouse himself was on hand when the ribbon was cut on the new transportation system 30 years ago this month and since that time, millions of passengers have utilized the trains to make their way around George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“I think it’s a testament to a really great design,” Parra says. “The fact that it’s still so reliable three decades later really says a lot about the people who came up with the original concept.” 
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