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One of the key selling points of the new $267-million InterLink at T.F. Green Airport is the easy access it gives passengers coming in by rail to get to their flights.
Because of the intermodal transportation hub that was largely completed in 2010, they can simply hop on a train, get off at the airport’s rail station, and travel a mere 1,570 feet on moving walkways into the terminal.
At a news conference at T.F. Green on Jan. 11, Governor Lincoln Chafee, a longtime champion of the project, called it "the closest air-rail link in the country," according to a story in The Journal.
He was repeating a claim that has been made in various ways by numerous state officials and agencies, including Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and the Federal Highway Administration. Most used the superlative "closest."
A PolitiFact Rhode Island reader asked us to check out Chafee’s claim, noting that he had visited several airports that seemed to have closer rail links.
Because we had a request -- and because taxpayers footed most of the $267-million bill for the InterLink -- we decided to get to the bottom of it.
We called T.F. Green, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and Chafee’s office to see if any studies had been done that could answer the question.
While we waited for answers, we found a number of online railroad and airport forums with discussions of this very topic. Although none had clear-cut answers, they included anecdotal information that we used as a jumping-off point.
From that start, we put together a partial list of airports with rail connections. They include Hopkins International Airport, in Cleveland, which in 1968 became the first airport in the country to be connected to a commuter rail system; and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is connected to a light rail commuter system.
Other major airports also have commuter rail links, including Reagan National Airport, in Washington, D.C., Chicago Midway International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
We also found that Philadelphia International Airport has multiple rail stops that are very close to its terminals.
The rail line bisects the airport, with the terminals on one side and baggage claim areas and parking facilities on the other, according to a map of the complex.
Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman for the airport, said that passengers who get off at any of the airport stations can get into the terminals by riding an escalator one floor up.
"The airport line was designed so you can get off the train and go directly into the airport," she said.
We couldn’t find any measurements of the distances from the train stops to the terminals, so we asked Lupica how long it takes to get from one of the platforms into the airport.
"Thirty seconds," said Lupica, who rides the train daily. "You literally get off the train and walk into the building.
While we continued our search, we heard from Dana Alexander Nolfe, a spokeswoman for the DOT, and Patti Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.
Nolfe said T.F. Green’s InterLink should accurately be called "the closest air-to-Amtrak rail line in the country."
"We do not have the closest air-to-commuter rail line in the country," she said.
Goldstein agreed and said the Amtrak claim was first made in 1998 at a news conference attended by then-Warwick Mayor Lincoln Chafee, Governor Almond and officials from the Federal Railroad Administration. She gave us subsequent published references to the distance to the rail line made by Chafee (1,200 feet) and former Governor Bruce Sundlun (1,170 feet).
Meanwhile, we heard that Bob Hope Airport, in Burbank, Calif. also has a nearby rail line that serves both commuter trains and Amtrak. There are stops for the two train services outside the airport.
We asked Victor Gill, a spokesman for that airport, how far the Amtrak line is from the closest terminal and he estimated the distance at 300 yards, or 900 feet.
We checked for ourselves on Google Maps and found that the walking distance from the Amtrak station to Terminal B is about 1,056 feet and from the station to Terminal A is about 1,584 feet. The rail line itself is literally across the street from a runway on the southwest side of the airport.
Governor Chafee said the T.F. Green InterLink is the closest air-rail link in the country. Whether he meant closest commuter link or closest Amtrak link, he’s wrong.
Several major airports have closer commuter links, including some that run adjacent to or through their terminals.
And Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport is closer to an Amtrak line. Plus, it has something T.F. Green does not: an actual Amtrak station.
Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor does indeed pass near T.F. Green, but Amtrak trains do not stop at the InterLink. Only commuter trains that are operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority -- and use the Amtrak line -- do.
Officials have talked of having Amtrak trains stop at the InterLink eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet. So at this point it seems irrelevant that the airport is so close to the Amtrak rail line.
We rule Chafee’s statement False.
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Providence Journal, "R.I. to market its air-rail link," Jan. 12, 2012, accessed Jan. 17, 2012
Providence Journal, "Warwick’s train station project: More hare than snail," Sept. 13, 1998, accessed Jan. 19, 2012
ChamberWorks, "Chafee details Warwick Station Redevelopment District Master Plan," Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, August 1998, accessed Jan. 19, 2012
DOT.State.RI.US, "Intermodal Planning," Rhode Island Department of Transportation, accessed Jan. 17, 2012
DOT.State.RI.US, "Warwick Intermodal Station at T.F. Green Airport Environmental Assessment Executive Summary," Rhode Island Department of Transportation, accessed Jan. 17, 2012
The Interchange, "MBTA commuter rail service arrives at the InterLink," Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Winter/Spring 2011, accessed Jan. 17, 2012
PVDAirport.com, "Intermodal Update," T.F. Green Airport, May 21, 2009, accessed Jan. 17, 2012
WarwickRI.gov, "Mayor Scott Avedisian Welcome Message," accessed Jan. 19, 2012
FHWA.DOT.gov, "Project Profiles: InterLink," Federal Highway Administration, accessed Jan. 19, 2012
Maps.Google.com, "Philadelphia International Airport," accessed Jan. 18, 2012
Phl.org, "Philadelphia International Airport - Flash Terminal Map," accessed Jan. 18, 2012
Maps.Google.com, "Bob Hope Airport," accessed Jan. 18, 2012
BurbankAirport.com, "Parking and Ground Transportation Map," accessed Jan. 18, 2012
Interview, Victoria Lupica, spokeswoman, Philadelphia International Airport, Jan. 18, 2012
Interview, Victor Gill, spokesman, Bob Hope Airport, Jan. 18, 2012
Interview, Dana Alexander Nolfe, spokeswoman, Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Jan. 19, 2012
Interviews, Patti Goldstein, spokeswoman, Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Jan. 17-19, 2012
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