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A New Train and Terminal Upgrades Promise to Reinvent LAX

By Michelle Baran

11.17.18

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A new train system being built at LAX could finally provide relief to the airport's notoriously bad traffic problem.

Courtesy of LAX

A new train system being built at LAX could finally provide relief to the airport's notoriously bad traffic problem.

Los Angeles International Airport consistently gets low marks for everything from its older buildings to traffic-flow issues. But following a massive, multi-billion-dollar overhaul, that should all change within the next several years.

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Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) has had a relatively uninspiring reputation for quite some time. Its aging terminals and infrastructure, coupled with mounting traffic congestion problems, have often landed California’s busiest hub near the bottom of many airport ranking lists in recent years. But help is on the way.

The airport recently broke ground on several major construction projects that promise to alleviate a lot of the issues LAX faces. One of the most promising of those projects is the Automated People Mover (APM), an electric train system that will finally provide adequate public transportation access — and help reduce all that maddening traffic — to and from the airport. The new train will have three stations within the airport and three stations beyond the terminals, including a new 96th Street/Aviation Boulevard Metro station that will connect to two regional Metro lines: the LAX/Crenshaw Line and the Green Line.

A map of the Automated People Mover and its six stations.

The airport train will also connect to a new rental car center and to a short- and long-term parking facility that will double as an airport pickup and drop-off area, all of which should lead to many fewer cars trying to get directly to the terminals.

A rendering of an aerial view of the new electric train system coming to LAX.
The APM will have nine trains, each with four cars, and will carry up to 200 passengers per train. With a max speed of 47 miles per hour, trains will stop at each station every two minutes — and it will take a total of 10 minutes to travel end-to-end (a lot quicker than the 30 to 45 minutes it can sometimes take to crawl through the airport by car these days). It will be free and will operate around the clock. Airport authorities estimate that it will be used by some 30 million passengers each year.

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The one big drawback is that there is still quite a wait. Construction has begun, but the new train system is not expected to be fully operational until 2023 (just five short years, right?). But that will still be five years before the 2028 Olympics, which will be hosted by L.A., and appears to be playing at least some part in motivating the airport to act, and act quickly.

New terminal cores will connect the Automated People Mover to the airport terminals.
In order to connect the people mover to the airport terminals, LAX is also building three new “terminal cores” that will include walkways between the trains and the terminals. The terminal cores will house office space, baggage claim areas, restrooms, and airport lounges, among other facilities.

Big Plans for Delta, American Terminals

In the meantime, several other upgrades are in the works, notably in the American Airlines and Delta Air Lines terminals.

American Airlines last month broke ground on a $1.6 billion modernization project to completely overhaul terminals 4 and 5. The project will be the carrier’s largest individual investment at a single airport in its 92-year history.

Highlights include a spacious and more light-filled departure hall that will connect terminals 4 and 5; reconfigured ticket counter and check-in areas designed to accommodate more people more quickly; modern restroom facilities; and additional power outlets, dining, and retail options post-security.

The carrier is also investing $200 million to build a new Admirals Club in terminal 5, redesign and renovate the Admirals Club in terminal 4, and construct a new Admirals Club in the American Eagle terminal.

The new American Airline terminals are expected to be completed in 2022.

Not to be outdone, Delta Air Lines is investing $1.86 billion in the Delta Sky Way project at LAX, a plan intended to modernize and connect terminals 2 and 3 and the Tom Bradley International Terminal — a new sky bridge walkway will be added beyond the security checkpoints that will allow travelers to transfer between terminals without having to pass back through security. Construction on this project just kicked off this fall as well.

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Delta's overhaul will result in more security screening capacity, more gate-area seating, a new Delta Sky Club, and a new centralized lobby, among other upgrades. The bulk of the project is expected to be completed in early 2021, and total completion is slated for 2023.

Delta has advised that, during construction, customers' bag drop terminal could differ from their departure terminal — so double-check both.

Tips on Getting to/from LAX during Construction

All of these major updates will mean some serious construction going on at LAX over the next several years, which could result in things getting worse before they get better.

In order to alleviate some of the potential problems and delays, there are several useful resources for LAX travelers. Live traffic alerts can be found here, and construction alerts here. Travelers are also advised to arrive earlier than usual to give themselves additional time to navigate through or around any construction-related issues.

There is a comprehensive list of options regarding how to get to and from the airport on the LAX website, including the free shuttle bus service to the Metro Green Line Aviation Station, and the no-reservation-required FlyAway buses that travel between LAX and Hollywood, Long Beach, Downtown L.A., Van Nuys, and Westwood for a one-way fare of $8 to $10 per person.

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