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O'Hare's upgraded people-mover system now fully operational

April 25, 2022
5 min read
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For the first time in years, passengers navigating Chicago-O’Hare International Airport (ORD) have access to round-the-clock service from the airport’s people-mover system.

After years of construction and delays, O’Hare’s Airport Transit System (ATS) resumed 24-hour service last week, marking the end to a lengthy saga, and a major win for travelers departing, arriving and connecting at one of the nation’s busiest airports.

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The new system features upgraded cars, with service every three minutes, that can transport passengers between the terminals and rental car and economy parking facilities within a matter of minutes.

Closed since early 2019, the ATS reopened in November 2021 but had been operating on a reduced schedule until the system reached full operation for the first time on April 18.

(Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Aviation)

The upgraded system

The new people-mover system, which operates outside security checkpoints, features three-car trains carrying 147 passengers. The trains’ route spans three miles, carrying passengers between O’Hare’s Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5, as well as the multi-modal facility, which is home to the rental car center, Economy Parking Lot F and the Kiss ‘n’ Fly, among other local mass transit options.

Related: Chicago O’Hare vs. Midway – which airport should I fly into?

A trip between Terminal 1 at one end of the line and the multi-modal facility takes ten minutes, with five stops along the way.

(Map courtesy of the Chicago Department of Aviation)

Work on the people-mover system is part a project that had been in the works for years as part of an effort to upgrade the ATS, which the city first commissioned in 1993.

The project replaced vehicles and control systems on existing tracks, and expanded the ATS fleet from 15 cars before the project to 36 cars today.

Having the system operating at full capacity figures to mean easier access for passengers as they travel through O’Hare.

Related: Layover lowdown: Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Chicago's O'Hare Airport. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Delayed reopening

The full operation of O’Hare’s people-mover system comes after a project that included a series of delays that pushed the project’s completion back years. After temporary closures at the outset of the project, the system shut down completely at the beginning of 2019 for crews to complete the project’s final phases.

The Chicago Department of Aviation said at the time that the system would remain closed until the fall of 2019.

By late summer 2019, though, the city revised reopening expectations for the system, anticipating it would be operational by the holiday season that year, with airport officials at the time speaking of a “challenging project” that had been “frustrating at times.”

Citing electrical problems in October 2019, though, the city announced the trains would remain out of service into 2020. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, with no sign of the system reopening.

That changed in November 2021, when the trains began service with reduced hours, before expanding hours over the ensuing months leading up to the full schedule resuming on April 18.

Related: New LAX people movers on track for 2023 completion

Shuttle service ending

During the closures of the ATS, O’Hare has been operating shuttle bus service to transport passengers. That 24-hour service will continue over the next week as part of the transition to full ATS service before ending on May 1, the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

Part of much larger upgrades at O’Hare

The finishing touches on O’Hare’s people-mover system come as much larger improvements are in the works at the airport.

Last September, the city celebrated the end of more than a decade and billions of dollars in runway modernization projects.

One of Chicago-O'Hare's runways upgraded as part of a recent series of improvement projects. (Photo courtesy of the Chicago Department of Aviation)

Meanwhile, work is underway to completely revamp the passenger experience at the airport, which airport officials say represents the largest redevelopment in the airport's history.

O’Hare is undergoing $8.5 billion in construction as part of a collection of nearly 100 projects dubbed O’Hare 21. The improvements will feature two new terminals and satellite concourses, including a new Terminal 5 that airport officials say is coming later this year. Portions of the extensive work are expected to be completed over the coming years.

Bottom line

O’Hare is going through massive changes over the coming years, which will completely revamp the passenger experience. With the people-mover system now fully online, one step toward the future vision for the airport is complete; a step that should make things a lot easier for passengers as they navigate the terminals.

Featured image by Welcome to O'Hare (Photo courtesy of Tupungato / Shutterstock)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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