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AirTrain JFK

By David Paul Gerber

The JFK Airtrain is a service provided by the Port Authority of NY and NJ.  The Airtrain marks the first time in NYC aviation history that a direct rail link is available to John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport.  This service commenced on 12/17/2003 and runs 24 hours a day/7 days a week. All stations are climate controlled 

There are three lines to JFK Airtrain: 

  1. From JFK to Sutphin Blvd/Jamaica LIRR station.  Connections can be made to the Long Island Railroad at Jamaica station, the E and J NYC subway routes at Sutphin Blvd/Archer Ave and numerous bus routes serving most of Queens, Nassau County and the Eastern section of Brooklyn
  2. From JFK to Howard Beach.  Connections can be made to the A train towards Manhattan or the Rockaways.  There is very limited bus service in the area.  Both of these lines use the outer loop in a counter-clockwise direction.  A typical run on an Airtrain would be from either Howard Beach or Jamaica, loop around JFK once, stopping at all stations in a counter-clockwise direction on the outer loop with Terminal 1 being the first stop and Terminals 8-9 being the last.  Then, the train will return back to the same terminal where it started from and repeat. 
  3. An inner loop line that only runs in a clockwise direction along all airport terminals.  This loop does not serve any lettered stations (Federal Circle, Lefferts, Howard Beach, or Jamaica) it runs continuously around the airport loop.

Typically, one car trains runs the inner loop (Airport terminals only) while the Howard Beach and Jamaica trains use 2 car sets on the outer loop.  All cars and signals are computer controlled; there is no train operator or conductor.  A passenger wanting to get to Terminals 8-9 can transfer from the Jamaica or Howard Beach train to the inner loop train at the first stop at JFK (Terminal 1 station) and save time this way.  The fare is $5.50 each way if you started or ended your trip at either Howard Beach or Jamaica.  Payment is only made by Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard; the unlimited ride cards offered by NYCT are not valid on Airtrain.  This is because Airtrain offers a special reduced Monthly fare  for unlimited use, that will benefit airport employees and frequent airport travelers.  There are special PA/MetroCard Vending Machines at both sides of fare control that allow you to purchase a card before using.  The fare is collected at you enter or leave these stations, similar to the old fare collection on the IND Rockaway branch.  There is no fare collected at any other station, itís free if you travel between stations other than Jamaica or Howard Beach. 

The stations as well as the trains are all ADA compliant.  We start the trip from Station D: Jamaica station and run around the airport before covering  the Howard Beach branch . 

After entering the glass building on Sutphin Blvd and 94th Ave, you use an escalator or elevator to the upper level and fare control area.  Your baggage can be checked at the Airline desk before entering fare control, this helps if you have to carry a lot of luggage from train to your boarding gate.  There is also an indoor bridge connecting fare control with the LIRR Jamaica station next door.  As you swipe the card, you walk down the passageway to the station itself.  There are self-service luggage carts you can rent to carry your luggage for a nominal fee.  The stations have no benches and are completely glass enclosed.  When the train enters the station, both the train doors and station doors must open.  This prevents people from leaning over the edge or walking on the tracks.  There are overhead sensors that detect when the train is properly inside the station and will allow the doors to open once proper contact with the trainís roof is made.  LED signs indicate where to board the train and when the next train will be arriving. 

Departing Jamaica station, we go over the double cross-over and make a soft left turn to what is easily the fastest portion of the Airtrain route.  The 3 mile long stretch down the newly realigned Van Wyck Expressway can attain speeds of up to 55-60 MPH, comforting when you donít have to be stuck in heavy traffic on the Van Wyck.  After passing the Belt Parkway/The Conduits combo, the train slows down in anticipation with the merge with the Howard Beach segment just outside Station C/Federal Circle. 

Station C: Federal Circle:  Street level is for Car Rentals, shuttle buses to other Car Rentals and Airport Hotels.  This is the only station that has two platform levels.  The lower level is for trains to Jamaica/Howard Beach that completed the loop.  The upper level is for trains that are entering the outer loop from Jamaica/Howard Beach. 

Leaving Federal Circle, the line runs alongside the Van Wyck approach roads.  In the tradition of the Sea Beach and Brighton lines in Brooklyn, the Airtrain runs at grade first, with two pedestrian bridges overhead, then dips into two tunnels before becoming elevated again at the next junction before entering the airport loop.  After departing from the second tunnel and entering the junction, the tail tracks come off for the inner loop while we stay on the outer loop and start to arrive at the six airport stations in a counter-clockwise rotation. 

Terminal 1:  Houses most international airlines.  There is a large indoor 4-level Green parking area that connects this station with Terminals 2/3 station about 500 feet away.  The second and third levels are for parking only.  The Airtrain platform and the passage to airport Terminal #1 are both on the fourth level 

Terminals 2/3:  Delta Airlines and some Far East Airlines are the major tenants.  Same setup as Terminal 1 station, there are separate walkways and passageways  

Terminal  4:  The International Arrivals Building This is the only station inside JFK that is directly connected to an Airline Terminal and is the original location when the airport opened as Idlewild.  The glass enclosed building offers an indoor shopping mall, eateries, and a waiting area.  There is artwork inside near the entrance and other services are offered such as:  Ticket Reservations, Car Rentals, and individual Pay-Phones at each seat are offered.  The mall is accessible by a passageway and the Airtrain station is upstairs. NYCT bus Q3 and B15, and  MTA Bus Q10 all now only stop at Terminal 4 and no longer stop at the other terminal buildings. The buses will continue to make at Federal Circle and any other stops not directly accessible from any Airtrain stop.  Therefore if a passenger wanted to go to any other terminal outside Terminal 4, he/she would have to transfer for free to the Airtrain to continue their trip . The building has 3 levels.  The main level is flight arrivals and waiting area, middle level is the Airtrain station, and Upper level is ground transportation and flight departures. 

Terminals 5/6:  Terminal 5 is closed and under construction, Terminal 6 is home to Jet Blue and has 3 levels.  First Level is the street level and Orange Parking Area.  Second level is the station platform while the upper level above the station has a connecting indoor passageway to Terminal 6 with two walkways (one in each direction). 

Terminal 7:  Terminal 7 houses British Airways and United as the primary tenants.  The Orange Parking area is opposite the station and airport Terminal.  The lower level is for taxi pickups and drop-offs, the middle level is an indoor passageway to the Terminal 7 airport entrance and has no walkways, and the upper level is the Airtrain platform. 

Terminals 8/9Red Parking area and most domestic American Airlines flights.  There are escalators leading from parking lot and street level to the station platform.  The indoor walkway on the second level is not yet completed; you still have to walk outside from station to Airport terminal.  The Airtrain platform is on the third level. 

After departing Terminals 8/9 station, we merge with the inner loop tracks and go through the tunnels and at grade stretch back towards Federal Circle and Jamaica. 

We now cover the Howard Beach branch which starts adjacent to the NYCT Howard Beach subway station on the A line and replaces the previous setup of shuttle buses that originated at the north end of the Manhattan Bound platform.  This exit is permanently shut.   

A sparkling new overpass and glass building dots the subway platform overhead and connects with Station A: Howard Beach at the east side of the subway station.  This station also houses Long Term Parking Lot A.  There are 2 different sets of turnstiles, one for the subway, the other for the Airtrain, taking a short walk down the passageway; we now board the Airtrain for a quick 5 minute ride towards Federal Circle.   

After boarding Airtrain, we take off for Station B: Lefferts Blvd.  The street is located at the east end of the station and is accessible from North/South Conduit Avenues.  Only facilities located at this station are Long Term Parking Lots B and C and the Employee Parking Lot for Airport and other PA employees only.  There are no other airport services at this station.   

Leaving Station B: Lefferts Blvd, we see the Airtrain yard and yard lead on the north side of the branch with the yard lead.  This is where all of the Airtrain cars are stored here.  Eventually, we merge with the Jamaica branch at the junction outside Station C: Federal Circle. 


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 Last revised 02/26/2011

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