The Public Eye: Sacramento International Airport upgrades people mover's emergency walkway

Published: Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:24 pm

Sacramento International Airport officials have begun $60,000 in safety upgrades on their automated people mover after county building inspectors said the device's emergency walkway is not legal for public use.

The $30 million people mover system, part of the recent $1 billion airport expansion, ferries passengers in shuttle cars between new Terminal B and the new jet concourse building.

The upgrades stem from an incident in December when the airport was forced to shut down both of the people mover shuttles for two hours because of an electrical failure. To get passengers to and from planes that morning, officials escorted them on a five-minute walk across the sloping, outdoor bridgeway.

That use of the walkway,was not allowed, however, under state building code standards.

After discussions with Sacramento County's chief building official, Thor Lude, highlighted in The Bee this spring, airport officials agreed to add handrails, safety striping, rest areas and trip-hazard covers to the 1,000-foot-long concrete bridgeway.

The early-morning work began last week and is expected to take two weeks.

Lude acknowledged that the changes do not adhere to the wording of the building code, which calls for flat landings at spots along the walkway depending on slope grade. However, in a letter to the airport and comments to The Bee, Lude said he is giving his approval because the work meets the intent of the code.

"I have concluded (the upgrades) will provide a reasonable and equivalent degree of safety for the … walkway surface as that prescribed by the California State Building Codes," he wrote to the airport.

Lude said his approval is also based on assurances from airport officials that they will position employees on the walkway as a safety precaution if there is a recurrence of the people mover shutdown, and that employees will escort people in wheelchairs on the route.

Some passengers have complained that they would like to walk to the concourse building instead of taking the shuttles, and have asked why the bridgeway wasn't designed to allow them to do that during normal daily operations. Airport officials said their goal in designing the new facility was to limit walking distances because most fliers prefer shorter walks.

Airport officials say they have learned since the December computer failure that the two shuttle cars could have been run manually, at slower speeds, while the communications system was rebooted.

Airport officials said they also will consider transporting passengers to and from the concourse building on buses if the shuttle system breaks down.

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Read more articles by Tony Bizjak

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