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The Safety Hazards of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s “Plane Train”

The people-mover known as the “Plane Train,” which shuttles passengers around the busiest airport in the world, is so ridiculously unsafe that it’s become a running joke, yet nothing is being done to improve safety. The interior of each Plane Train car is empty, except for 10 vertical bars to be shared among 50 riders at a time. Before each start and stop, an automated voice advises travelers to “please hold on” — and it’s not kidding. The train then lurches in and out of its 24-35 mph operating speed abruptly enough to knock unbraced passengers off their feet.

Automated voices also warn at each station that “the doors are closing and will not reopen.” Apparently, being caught in the doorway doesn’t instantly sentence a person to bifurcation, but it does win them the ire of the maintenance manager, because the system is so ill-prepared for this contingency that a technician must come reset the system every time it occurs.

Laughing about It Doesn’t Make It Safe

Locals talk about the Plane Train with a tone of affectionate teasing. One Atlanta parenting column even suggests taking kids aboard specifically because “the Plane Train is a ride in itself. Kids can stand and hold onto a pole and try to keep themselves upright as the train stops.” As appealing as that might seem to a child facing a long, monotonous airplane ride, it’s not so much fun for people who just need a reliable way to get to their gate on time and find themselves being jerked violently against the wall or their fellow passengers. For travelers with brittle bones, susceptibility to bruising, and other medical conditions, Hartsfield-Jackson offers a perilous choice between risking the Plane Train or walking distances in excess of a mile.

Renovations and Repairs Are Consistently Focused on Capacity, Not Safety

After running continuously for 34 years without upgrades, the Plane Train is currently undergoing renovation. The purpose of that renovation, however, is to reduce outages and shave 13 seconds off of the interval between train arrivals. There’s no mention of improving safety. In fact, Hartsfield-Jackson doesn’t seem to acknowledge that any safety issues exist to be addressed.

Meanwhile, on top of the many bumps and bruises it causes, the train continues to behave like a full-scale disaster waiting to happen, even as construction continues. In September of 2018, a metal plate on one of the switches broke off, allowing the train to cause significant damage to its own track. Just two months later, the brakes overheated to the point of setting off a smoke alarm.

The 2017 Power Outage Offers a Glimpse of What Could Happen

The infamous total blackout of Hartsfield-Jackson airport in 2017 has yet to be fully explained, but it began with a fire in the underground tunnels that house the electrical cables running to the Plane Train and other operational systems. That tunnel runs along the same path as the Plane Train, and there were people trapped inside the train (as in other parts of the airport) as the fire took place. Thankfully, no one was killed, but the lack of change since is extremely disturbing.

If you’ve been hurt by the unsafe conditions on the Plane Train or anywhere on the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport premises, contact The Stoddard Firm for help.