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I’m here at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, but not to catch a flight.
To catch a train.
And not the blue line into the city, either.
O’Hare operates an automated shuttle system that takes people between the terminals.
They called it the Airport Transit System, or ATS,
but many people would call it a People Mover.
It’s a fitting name ‘cause that’s what it does.
As I record this, there are five stations just like these;
three at each of the domestic terminals,
one at the International terminal,
and a final one at the remote parking facility.
At the time of this video’s release, the system has actually been shut down and won’t
reopen until the fall of 2019.
It’s in the process of getting new trains, and a new station
at the Multi Modal Rental Car and Parking Facility.
Whatever that is exactly.
And it might be wise to remodel the existing stations because....
In many respects, this system is like a sideways elevator.
As the trains approach the landings, the interior doors line up with the landing doors and once
they both open you have access to the train and/or the platform.
Then it moves along to the next “floor”,
lines itself up, doors open again, and it moves along.
The vehicles have rubber tires and are more like buses on a guideway than trains on a track.
Here at O’Hare the guideway uses a grooved steel plate as a “road surface” because,
well, winter is a thing that happens here, and a freeze-thaw cycle doesn’t really bother
a hunk of steel.
An interesting thing about O’Hare’s system is that at each end, the trains switch sides
to allow for a continuous loop of multiple trains on the system.
And a strange thing about the system, at least the 1993-2018 version, is that trains seems
to speed up and slow down at odd and unpredictable times.
And they accelerate a lot faster than you might expect, wonderful for vehicles that
are mostly standing room only.
Here’s hoping that gets improved.
Now, O’Hare’s peoplemover certainly isn’t unique.
Lots of airports have strikingly similar systems.
Here at the Orlando International Airport, you’ll find not one but 5 people movers!
Four of the them simply take people between the gates and the main terminal building,
while the fifth one is new and does something else.
In many ways they’re just like the O’Hare system.
though here a concrete road surface is used because winter isn’t really
a thing that happens here.
Four of the people movers simply move people back and forth between the main terminal building
and the gates themselves.
It’s a very brief journey, so there are only two trains and they just go back and forth.
And sometimes they only run one side.
Recently, the trains on Airsides 1 and 3 were replaced with Mitsubishi Crystal Mover vehicles,
so although this looks to be the more modern of the two systems, the track and other infrastructure
is actually older.
Airsides 2 and 4 were built later and use Innovia APM 100 vehicles from Bombardier which,
don’t worry, will appear later in this video.
I’ve always liked the layout of this airport, though it should be noted that these people
movers are in the sterile area past security unlike O’Hare’s which are outside of it.
The fifth and final people mover was just added in 2017, and it currently takes travelers
to, well, not much more than parking at this point.
But eventually, the completed Intermodal Terminal will provide train service to Miami and other
areas on the proposed SunRail and BrightLine extensions.
At least that’s the plan.
Interesting I should find myself in Orlando in a video talking about people movers.
I wonder if there’s a noteworthy peoplemover somewhere near here that might have something
to do with the title and purpose of this video…
Here at Tomorrowland at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida lives the
Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover.
Originally opened in 1975 as the WEDWay Peoplemover, this system has been taking literally millions
of guests on a grand circle tour of Tomorrowland, and remains a fan-favorite of many, including
This WEDWay PeopleMover is actually Disney’s second peoplemover, with the first now defunct
attraction makings its debut at Disneyland in 1967.
Its roots come from the Ford Magic Skyway attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair
which was designed by WED Enterprises.
WED, by the way, stands for Walter Elias Disney.
After observing equipment used to move steel ingots around Ford’s steel plant in Detroit,
Walt Disney wondered if this could be adapted into an attraction.
And it was, for Ford’s Magic Skyway.
Actual Ford cars, with their engines and transmissions removed, were used as ride vehicles.
The car bodies were pushed along a track by spinning urethane wheels which rubbed against
flat friction plates on the bottom of the cars.
The attraction was a hit, but most importantly the propulsion system proved to be effective.
When it came time to use this technology in a more permanent attraction at Disneyland,
Ford wasn’t that interested in a sponsorship, so instead the Goodyear Tire Company came along,
and the urethane wheels were swapped for rubber tires.
The idea behind Disney’s peoplemover was to actually be a real mass transit system
(and this is probably why Ford didn’t want to sponsor the attraction at Disneyland, as
mass transit usually isn’t too good for car sales).
Though it wasn’t known to the public, Walt envisioned systems like these to form the
backbone of the transportation networks in his never truly realized
Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT.
Although the Disneyland PeopleMover wasn’t the first transportation device to be called
a peoplemover, it is likely that its popularity as an attraction is responsible for the continued
use of the word “peoplemover” to describe similar transit solutions.
One of the more novel ideas from the peoplemover was that the passive vehicles, not requiring
a power source of their own, could truly never stop, and indeed that was the idea.
Just like the still-operating version in the Magic Kingdom, rather than come to a stop,
the vehicles would slow down as they approached the station, and join a continuous chain of
cars traveling at the same speed as the moving platform next to it.
Then, after making its way around, the trains at the front would accelerate, and break away
from the chain.
When it came time for PeopleMover Version 2 at the Magic Kingdom, the spinning rubber
tires were dropped in favor of the much more futuristic looking linear induction motors
embedded at regular intervals along the track.
These motors, in addition to creating delightful 60 Hz harmonics, generate electromagnetic
fields which interact with metal plates on the bottom of the trains and push them along.
[Sound of propulsion system]
The ditching of the tires, by the way, resulted in Goodyear not wanting to sponsor this version
of the attraction.
First they destroyed the car.
Then they went for the tires.
Now, using linear induction motors isn’t new, but in an application like this it was
The LIMs themselves are essentially just a bundle of some copper and iron.
Because the trains take the place of the rotor in a conventional motor, the propulsion system
effectively has no moving parts.
I suspect it’s for this reason that the attraction is still operating, as opposed
to the Disneyland peoplemover which suffered a rather… tragic fate.
I can’t see how maintenance costs are going to be very high for this attraction.
But this peoplemover, although it is the second of the two Disney PeopleMovers built at a
Disney theme park, is only the second of three Disney PeopleMovers.
That’s right, Disney built a third one, but it’s not here.
Instead, it’s right
here at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.
In what can only be described fairly as a basement, lives a legit Disney PeopleMover,
though at first glance you might not realize it.
The Subway, formerly known as the Inter-Terminal Train, takes travelers between the terminals,
and also makes a stop at the Marriott hotel.
Like Disney’s PeopleMover, it travels in a continuous loop , however in this case there
are multiple platforms.
Rather than just the one.
And also like Disney’s PeopleMover, it was built by WED Enterprises, now known as
Walt Disney Imagineering.
The history of this peoplemover is kinda weird, and honestly not that well known.
There was a system before it traveling the same route, but apparently someone in charge
of the airport wasn’t very happy with it for some reason.
Disney had set up the Community Transportation Services Division of Walt Disney Productions
in order to try and sell the Peoplemover system to local governments or, perhaps, airports.
And Houston appears to be the only buyer.
This system went online in 1981, six years after the original WEDWay Peoplemover opened
at the Magic Kingdom.
Now for those of you shouting to yourselves
Hold your horses.
We’ll get there.
One glance at the track and you’ll immediately recognize the same propulsion system from
The linear induction motors simply push these passive trains along, and their small wheels
and track enable them to navigate surprisingly tight corners.
Supposedly that’s why Houston was intrigued and got Disney to build this for them, as
the required track layout given this space included a lot of tight and sudden turns.
The similarities don’t end there.
Just like at the Magic Kingdom, pre recorded announcements emanate from the ceilings by
way of simple loudspeakers, and the tops of these vehicles are made of a mesh screen that
allows the sound - and light - to pass through.
[ANNOUNCER: You are at Terminal D and E.
Hold on to the handrails.
Your next stop will be Terminal C]
The overall sounds of the propulsion system
and general feel of the vehicle’s movement is obviously the same as the classic
[sound of propulsion system]
But there are some notable differences.
Most notably, the vehicles themselves are enclosed and significantly larger.
So there actually is standing room in these cars.
As you can see I can walk around in there, and the bench seats are wider than Disney’s
They seat probably three across, if you were pretty tight, so the capacity of 12 people
in these vehicles is totally believable.
The need to enclose them is understandable, as the airport runs this system pretty much
unattended, as opposed to the Disney attraction where the entire track is monitored by a CCTV
system and a plethora of cast members are ready to intervene at any time.
And of course, the vehicles would have to be larger in a real-world scenario because
there are people with bags and things that need to use this, rather than the cozy 4 person
compartments of the PeopleMover attraction.
The second and possibly most significant technical difference is that the vehicles actually stop
at each station, and a set of curtain doors block access to the track.
This complicates things more than it might seem at first, as now there needs to be a
separate mechanical system for opening and closing the doors, as well as a modification
to the propulsion system to allow for controlled stops.
If you’ve ever been on the PeopleMover at the Magic Kingdom during a stop, you’ll
know that it’s anything but controlled.
Your vehicle usually ends up going backwards for a bit, before sorta drifting to a stop.
My guess is that during a stop, the motors are simply reversed for a set period of time,
slowing the train, but also throwing it back a bit as a result.
And sometimes during startup, your train won’t move and the one behind you will just ram
I’m not kidding, I’ve been in a PeopleMover collision, that’s the reason they have the
bumpers on the ends of the trains.
It’s harmless but... startling and they did have to shut down the ride after that.
We were escorted through that particular door and ended up in a gift shop.
So there’s a fun piece of trivia for you.
Having finally had an opportunity to ride this system, it appears as though the motors
simply shut off when the train is close to the platform, and a friction brake grabs hold
of the train when it’s correctly aligned.
The system is surprisingly good at lining up the trains.
I only noticed a deviation of a few centimeters in most cases.
[Sound of door opening]
One of the key ways you can tell this is the same system as Disney’s is that the motors
get closer together at every point the train changes speeds.
I’m not entirely sure why this needs to happen, but I think it has to do with the
fact that the motors are simply being run on 60 hz AC current.
The only way to affect how quickly they push the train is to change the motor’s design,
and these bundles of motors probably serve as some sort of transition area between the
high and low speed sections.
You’ll also notice that in Houston, the stations are all equipped with closely-spaced
motors, which may be a requirement for a controlled stop and start.
Now before I start talking about all the downsides of this little oddity, let me first say that
I’m really glad PeopleMover technology made it outside the Disney parks at least once.
There are a lot of potential advantages to this system.
For example, the propulsion system itself has virtually no moving parts.
The only things that would “wear” on the system, in a traditional sense, are the vehicles’
wheels, the articulation points between the cabs, and the doors and door mechanism.
The linear motors themselves also provide a strong level of redundancy.
I would imagine that if one of them fails,
it’s not really going to wreck anyone’s day.
The trains are much longer than the gaps between the motors, so it would almost certainly have
enough inertia to catch the next one.
Of course this is an assumption, but I’m willing to bet that this system requires quite
a bit less maintenance than a conventional one.
But, now we have to talk about the downsides.
Let’s start with a limitation that may not seem so obvious at first--
both Disney’s PeopleMover and this one in Houston are indoors.
Yes the track at Disney might get wet in the train, but the PeopleMover has a roof over
its head the whole way, and it is actually considered an indoor attraction, which means
it doesn’t shut down in stormy conditions like outdoor attractions do.
Oh, you wanted proof?
Here ya go.
[sound of pelting rain] [ANNOUNCER: ...grand circle tour of Tomorrowland.
Along the way, you can preview many of the exciting places you’ll want to be sure to
enjoy today while visiting this land of tomorrow…]
Getting a bit wet is about all these could take.
Without some way of heating the track and the rails, using a system like this in a snowstorm
would likely be a disaster.
You might have also noticed that both here in Houston and in Orlando, the entire course
has no elevation change.
It’s a completely flat experience, likely due to simple engineering challenges associated
with using linear induction motors.
The original PeopleMover in Disneyland had a course with quite a few inclines, however
it had the advantage of those rubber tires pushing the trains along.
And technically the course is still there, it’s just…
in a sad state.
And let’s be honest here.
The Houston Subway system, while novel, is also a little…
how can I put this kindly?
It’s unusually small, with odd looking trains, and a whole lot about it is just weird.
Like the fact that along the entire course, there’s only a half-height wall, except
at the stations where the curtain doors were made full-sized.
Not sure why it couldn’t have been smaller.
And even simpler… it’s a weird little thing going through a basement hallway.
Sure, it does move people, and it’s handy, but like… it’s also just… well honestly
a little creepy.
At least its setting.
But it gets worse!
The SubWay is borderline redundant at this point.
The airport already has a MUCH more modern people mover system which takes people between
This one's on the other side of security, in the sterile zone, so you can get between
the terminals without exiting security.
♫ three-tone chime ♫
[ANNOUNCER 1: A train is arriving.
Please keep clear for passengers exiting the train]
[ANNOUNCER 2: El tren está por llegar.
Por favor, permita espacio para los pasajeros que salen del tren.]
♫ single chime ♫
If you were a traveler with a connecting flight in another terminal, you’d be much better
to stay within the sterile area and take this one.
It’s also handy for the simple case of wanting to grab food from a restaurant that’s in
Because for most purposes the SkyWay is frankly better, the fate of the Subway isn’t that
certain, although it was recently renamed and had its announcement spiel changed.
And I was quite surprised to see many people still using it.
It does get some love,
but who knows for how long.
But here’s the thing.
This system, while it does have a bunch of potential advantages, also has a lot of serious
The idea of making the vehicles completely passive, just a box on wheels essentially,
could potentially reduce maintenance costs, but it turns out that there are very few situations
in which that’s actually a good idea.
It either needs to be indoors like this,
or outdoors in a place with perpetually warm weather, like Orlando.
Back in Chicago, this wouldn’t fly.
Well of course not that’s what the planes do,
but I mean that a passive vehicle in sub-zero
temperatures is just unacceptable.
It needs to have some source of power for heat if nothing else, and if you’re going
to provide it with an electrical source via bus bar or third rail, you might as well stick
motors in the train, too, and have them propel themselves.
So while I do think it’s great that Disney’s PeopleMover technology
made it into the real world at least once,
I’m not really surprised that this is the only time it happened.
Maybe one day there will be more implementations for a passive train with linear induction motors.
Perhaps for goods transportation, or maybe even baggage distribution inside an airport.
But for actually moving people, this people mover comes with a lot of asterisks attached.
Remember how I said hold your horses about DC?
Well, it turns out that maybe, just maybe, Disney built a fourth WEDWay peoplemover under
the US Capitol building.
And probably not.
But still kinda maybe.
So it turns out there is a system of small subways under the capitol building that transport
representatives and senators between their offices and the capitol.
These subways have existed in some form for over a century, but one of them was updated,
probably in the 1980s.
And, it uses the exact same vehicles that we see in Houston.
But, and here’s where it gets weirder, there is no record of Disney’s involvement.
And, there are some significant technical differences.
I’ve put a link to a great video of this system in the description, and it you take
a look at it you’ll soon discover that the LIMs are run with a variable frequency drive,
which likely allows for smoother operation, and certainly makes the system sound much
different from the PeopleMover or Houston’s Subway.
You’ll also see that the motors are spaced much closer together, and likely thanks to
that variable frequency drive, they are spaced at a consistent interval throughout.
I’ve been trying to figure out how this system is related to Disney or Houston, and
I’ve gotten only the smallest of clues.
A now-defunct company called Transdyn claimed to have built the control and communication
systems for the Senate Subway, and their parent company, Powell Industries, is based in…
So, that certainly suggests there’s a connection somewhere, but I can’t quite pinpoint it.
It’s likely that Disney contracted with a third party to build the vehicles for Houston’s
Subway, as after all they do that sort of thing all the time.
And if that company was in Houston, and was somehow involved with Transdyn or Powell Industries
(or indeed was either of those two) then it would make sense that the same trains would
end up in DC.
And indeed much of the same concept could simply have been borrowed from the Houston
airport design, as after all Disney didn’t own any patents related to this PeopleMover
system (at least, I can’t find any aside from the original Disneyland system of wheels
So, if you know how exactly the Senate Subway and the Subway at Houston’s Airport are
connected, please let us know in the comments.
It’s driving me a little crazy, and there is a very small amount of information out there
about either of these two systems.
But for now, I hope you enjoyed this look into what might be the ultimate Hidden Mickey.
I am really glad I got to head to Houston to make this video while the Subway is still
Who knows, it might still be around for another few decades.
If it’s as low-maintenance as I think it is, there’s not much of a point to getting
rid of it.
And when you need to get from Terminal A to Terminal E, it can save you from a pretty
As always, a great big beautiful thank you goes out to the folks who support this channel
on Patreon, especially the fine folks you see scrolling up your screen.
Going to Houston specifically to film its PeopleMover was something that I never thought
was in the cards, but thanks to you, I could!
If you’d like to support the channel and get perks like early video access, behind
the scenes footage, and the inside scoop on the latest projects, please check out my Patreon
Thanks for your consideration, and I’ll see you next time!
♫ monumentally smooth jazz ♫
Oh, thank god I’m at the right airport.
I’ve put together a Technology Connections 2 video which is much more vlog-like and includes
a lot of other observations I made around the airports.
Check it out through the card up above or hang around for the end screen.
It’s also down below in the description.
Gonna do another walking take, as the people stare at me because the
♫ people in the airport think that I’m crazy! ♫
That’s OK, though.
Crazy is good.
OK, it’s not in all… it’s not in all circumstances, but sometimes it is.
Yeah, I’m going down.
[ANNOUNCER: ...is available 24 hours a day]
[ANNOUNCER: The airport terminal buildings have been designated as non-smoking areas]