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10 April 2013

PHX Sky Train™ Opens at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

PHX Sky Train™, the $1.58 billion inter-terminal train system at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, opened on April 8 as one of the world’s most advanced and energy-efficient automated people movers.

By bringing transit directly into one of the nation’s busiest and most urban airports—Sky Harbor is located just three miles from downtown Phoenix—the PHX Sky Train™ serves as more than just a hub for smart transit or transit-oriented development. It establishes a new framework for the city’s long-term growth.

The all-electric PHX Sky Train™ is the result of an eight-year collaboration between HOK and transportation design and engineering firm Gannett Fleming. HOK designed the three stations while Gannett Fleming designed the rail system and bridges.

The first of three planned stages, Stage 1, which includes three elevated passenger stations, travels a 1.7-mile route linking Phoenix’s METRO light-rail station with the airport’s economy parking structure and the 88-gate Terminal 4. It is expected that 2.5 million passengers will ride Stage 1 in the first year of operation.

“We wanted to design something efficient and flexible that would fit with the airport’s goals,” said Chris Anderson, HOK in Los Angeles’ senior design architect for the project. “They were looking to make Sky Harbor a multi-modal airport. While this would serve the immediate need to reduce congestion around the terminals, it also reinforces the airport’s long-term goals for smart growth and flexibility.”

Ernest Cirangle, AIA, director of design for HOK in Los Angeles, says the design team had to navigate two primary challenges. “One was that everything had to fit seamlessly within very complicated existing conditions,” he said. “It was like working inside a Swiss watch.” The other challenge was determining the overall design language. Cirangle developed the idea to play off aerodynamics and aviation imagery to give the 44th Street station (pictured above and below) a public character that signaled its purpose.

Connecting with Phoenix’s METRO light-rail, the 44th Street station was conceived as the flagship station for the entire system. “This station was designed to capture the imagination and excitement of movement,” said Anderson. Overall, the design provides a streamlined and functional solution that makes a statement without being grandiose. This flagship station will stand out as a symbol for Sky Harbor and the city as a whole.

The elliptical form of the 44th Street METRO station, while easily identifiable, is more than a symbolic gesture. Because the shape is structurally more efficient, it allows for a 30 percent reduction in steel compared to more conventional structures. This was a significant carbon footprint-reducing measure. The elliptical shell also functions as a high-performance envelope, protecting passengers from the extremes of the desert climate. Set between this envelope and below the platform is the covered, open-air breezeway. While strategically conceived as space for the future growth of the station, the phasing of this expansion created a significant reduction in the station’s immediate and near-term heating and cooling requirements.

The design strategies enabled the team to reduce the airport’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 6,000 tons per year. The three stations will also use 30 percent less power than an established baseline. The entire project has achieved a rating of LEED-NC Gold, making it the first automated people mover system to earn this rating.

The clean, flexible design made it possible for local artists to use the architecture as a palette for vibrant works of large-scale public art, such as expansive floor, ceiling and wall mosaics. HOK’s team helped select the art and coordinated how it would be integrated into each station and bridge connection. As a result, PHX Sky Train™, while evoking the dynamism of high-tech travel, is imbued with a sense of place specific to the history and identity of Phoenix.

Watch Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton tour the Terminal 4 station on the airport’s YouTube channel.

View news coverage:

AZ Central

World Architecture News

Airports International

Airport World

Railway Gazette