Computer glitch forces Sacramento airport to shut people mover for two hours

Published: Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3B

A computer malfunction caused a two-hour-plus closure of Sacramento International Airport's automated people mover Thursday morning, forcing fliers to make a six-minute trek on an elevated outdoor ramp to and from their planes.

The people-mover guideway, carrying two automated cars, connects the airport's new Terminal B with the jet concourse building.

Technicians shut down the cars at 7:57 a.m. when system computers crashed. The system was rebooted at 10:22 a.m.

Representatives of the manufacturer, Bombardier Transportation, were on site Thursday investigating the cause of the failure.

Airport officials said they considered busing people between the two buildings but decided to have them walk on the concrete guideway to save time and because the weather was good.

"We felt this was the fastest, safest, most customer-friendly approach," said Lisa Stanton, airport system chief operating officer. "We moved 400 passengers in considerably less time than had we put them on buses."

Dozens of airport employees were stationed at intervals along the walkway as a safety precaution. Some of them pushed passengers in wheelchairs up and down the slope.

Airlines held six flights – the longest 16 minutes – to give customers time to get to gates, airport spokeswoman Laurie Slothower said. Fewer than a dozen customers missed their flights, and took later planes, she said.

Officials said they knew such an occurrence was possible when they designed the facility as two buildings with a people mover as the sole connector.

Designers had considered building a passenger tunnel between the two buildings, similar to one at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, but concluded an elevated people-mover system would be more efficient and less expensive over time.

Despite Thursday's failure, less than three months after the system opened, airport officials said they have no plans to allow passengers to walk on the guideway between the two buildings during normal operations, citing safety issues. Some passengers have said they would prefer to walk than to take the people mover.

"This system was selected based on its reliability at numerous (other) airports," Stanton said. "I am hopeful this was a unique, random occurrence."

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