Modern AirTrain at Newark airport takes another step with awarding of contract

Updating 2.5-mile track that has outlived its usefulness has been long journey

The desire to replace and modernize the AirTrain system at Newark Liberty International Airport — a goal for nearly a decade — took a big step forward last week, when Doppelmayr, a market leader in cable-propelled transport systems, was selected in the first phase of a multiphase procurement process, officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said.

The next contract, expected to be awarded in 2024, will be to build the guideway that the trains will run on, as well as stations.

The hope is that construction on a modern, European-looking system will begin in 2025 and be finished in 2029.

Gov. Phil Murphy sure feels that way.

“By advancing the replacement of AirTrain Newark, we further build upon Newark Liberty’s transformation into the modern, world-class airport our region deserves,” he said.

Murphy noted the project is about more than just the 2.5-mile track.

“This project marks a massive win-win not only for the tens of thousands of passengers who utilize AirTrain Newark daily, but for our residents in adjacent communities as well,” he said. “While the revamped AirTrain will improve efficiency and connectivity at Newark Liberty, the project will also promote workforce development opportunities and good-paying local jobs, including for minority- and women-owned businesses.”

Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole agreed.

“This is a critical step in our wide-ranging efforts to revitalize and modernize Newark Liberty International Airport,” he said. “Given Doppelmayr’s experience and expertise, we know the firm will be a great partner in bringing our travelers the reliable, efficient transportation they deserve, surrounded by world-class terminals and amenities.”

In addition to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the automated people mover system and its vehicles, the first procurement phase also includes the furnishing, delivery, installation, testing and commissioning of the system technology components. Those components include train control, electrical power, communications, propulsion and maintenance and control facility equipment. Future project procurement phases will include contracts related to the system’s guideway and stations, maintenance and control facility, pedestrian connections and demolition of the existing system, among others.

Doppelmayr was selected after a rigorous review process, following a Request for Quote issued in December 2022 and a Request for Proposals issued in March.

“We are committed to driving this critical project forward, and this multistep procurement process does it in a way that’s manageable and encourages competition,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said. “The selection of Doppelmayr underscores our determination to deliver travelers a world-class customer experience at our airports, including modern, reliable mass transit options.”

The contract continues the Port Authority’s mandate to create equitable economic opportunities at its major capital projects. To this end, Doppelmayr has committed to making good-faith efforts to meet specific benchmarks around the hiring of minority-owned business enterprises, women-owned business enterprises, service-disabled veteran-owned business enterprises and locally owned business enterprises, with those from the cities of Newark and Elizabeth prioritized.

The firm is also required to develop a locally based workforce development program, with goals to hire program participants for future work on the new system’s construction and operation.

AirTrain Newark serves as the primary means for millions of passengers to transfer between the three passenger terminals at Newark airport, parking, rental car facilities and regional rail transit via the Northeast Corridor Rail Link Station, with connections to New Jersey Transit and Amtrak rail service. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the AirTrain carried an average of 33,000 passengers per day, or approximately 12 million passengers per year. The existing AirTrain, in operation since 1996, is reaching the end of its useful life, requires extensive maintenance and repair and cannot adequately meet forecasted demand.