Travelers began taking trains to planes on Wednesday as officials opened a light-rail link they promised would rid New Yorkers of a notoriously difficult and expensive ride to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Gov. George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials boarded the inaugural run of AirTrain, an 8.1-mile, $1.9 billion light-rail system that connects the airport to four subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road.
Pataki said the light-rail line - which gets commuters to the airport from two Queens stations in eight to 12 minutes -will put an end to the uncertainty that occurs every time commuters try to get to Kennedy by car.
"When you leave your office or your home, you say, `Oh, my God, how long is it going to take?'" Pataki said at a dedication ceremony in an AirTrain station, which featured soaring glass panels and a ceiling dome crisscrossed by steel rail lines and two miniature planes.
The governor said after Wednesday's inaugural ride: "It is smooth. It is fast. It is quiet. It is a 21st-century mass transit system."
Commuters began trying out the ride to the airport from stations at Jamaica and Howard Beach at 2 p.m. The ride was free on Wednesday; its regular cost will be $5.
Victor Pike, a security officer who lives in the Bronx, traveled to Howard Beach just to try out the new train.
"With the type of train it is, it's worth $5," said Pike, who said he would use the train to fly.
But many commuters were angry that the introduction of AirTrain eliminated the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's old service, which offered a free shuttle bus to the airport from the Howard Beach stop on the A subway line.
Jean Arnett tried out the AirTrain trip to the airport, where she works as an American Airlines administrative assistant, on Wednesday.
"The service is great, but the price is not," Arnett said. "A lot of workers are paying to come to work. It's not fair."
The Port Authority, which runs the area's major airports, estimated different commute times and costs depending on the service used. Commuters who pay $11.75 to travel on the LIRR from Pennsylvania Station, in midtown Manhattan, and AirTrain from Jamaica can get to the airport in 35 minutes; a commuter traveling from the A train's 125th Street station in Manhattan to Howard Beach will need 85 minutes to get to the airport.
The train also has eight connections to airline terminals, rental car lots and long-term parking at the airport 24 hours a day.
The Port Authority said more than 34,000 people a day will use JFK's AirTrain.
About 3,400 people a day use a similar 2-year-old monorail service that connects Newark (N.J.) Liberty International Airport to New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains along the Northeast Corridor.
The opening of AirTrain was delayed for more than a year after a train derailed during a test run in September 2002, killing 23-year-old train operator Kelvin DeBorgh.
An investigation found that the accident was caused by excessive speed and poor communication between workers.
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