AirTrain to LaGuardia could open by 2025, but travelers will have to catch it from Willets Point

Aug 21, 2020

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New York politicians and civic leaders have long dreamed of a rail line to New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Built on the shore of Flushing Bay, LaGuardia (LGA) is tantalizingly close to Manhattan — but a painful 2.5 miles from the closest subway station. That “last mile” — or the distance between a destination and train station — may finally close, albeit in about five more years.

A proposed AirTran between the terminals at LaGuardia and the Mets-Willets Point subway and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station could open by 2025 if everything goes to plan, according to a new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) environmental assessment of the project released on Friday. The AirTrain would close the roughly three-mile gap between the airport and the station.

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The route of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain connecting Terminals B and C to the Mets-Willets Point subway station. (Image courtesy of the FAA)
The route of the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain connecting Terminals B and C to the Mets-Willets Point subway station. (Image courtesy of the FAA)

 

The AirTrain would likely be similar to one at nearby New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). It would be an elevated, automated rail line that whisks airport-goers between the Willets Point station and the terminals at LaGuardia.

The trip would take roughly six minutes from Willets Point to the new Terminal B at LaGuardia, according to the documents. This translates to a roughly 42-minute ride to Times Square if connecting to the 7 train, or as little as a 24-minute ride to Penn Station if connecting to the LIRR’s Port Washington line. These estimates do not include transfer time between the AirTrain and either subway or commuter rail.

Related: LaGuardia’s new terminal is a major upgrade

The average travel time between LaGuardia and Times Square in a taxi ranges from 36 minutes to 43 minutes, according to the FAA. Those who get stuck in New York’s infamous traffic know it can take even longer.

The proposal is not without its faults. Airport-goers coming from Manhattan would have to go several miles past LaGuardia to Willets Point before catching the AirTrain back to the terminals. A more direct alternative would be an AirTrain or subway extension from the existing subway line in Astoria. That idea, however, has been shot down repeatedly by elected leaders as too expensive and not feasible.

Related: Delta wants to speed up LaGuardia renovation project during pandemic

Travel times between LaGuardia and Manhattan via the proposed AirTrain and LIRR. (Image courtesy of the PANYNJ)
Travel times between LaGuardia and Manhattan via the proposed AirTrain and LIRR. (Image courtesy of the PANYNJ)

 

If built, the AirTrain could be a capstone in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s massive rebuild of LaGuardia. More than $8 billion in works are underway, including the new Terminal B that has opened in phases since December 2018. Delta Air Lines is building a new Terminal C where the first concourse opened in October 2019.

The proposed airport connection would cost at least $2.05 billion based on the FAA’s report. Full funding for the project has yet to be set aside and comes at a time when municipal budgets, including those of LaGuardia operator the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, if everything goes to plan, travelers could look forward to a back-seat train ride to LaGuardia in just five years.

Related: First look at American Airlines’ brand-new concourse at LaGuardia Airport

Featured image by Bruce Bennett / Getty Images.

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