Honolulu's First Two Rail Cars for New Transit System Arrive on Oahu

The elevated rail system taking shape from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will have 20 trains, and each train will consist of four rail cars.

by Marcel Honore, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / March 25, 2016
Honolulu, Hawaii. Wikimedia Commons/ Steve Bozak

(TNS) -- Honolulu’s first two rail cars have landed on Oahu — covered in shrink wrap, resting on trailers and poised to help form a transit system that local leaders are betting on to change how commuters eventually get around the island’s crowded South Shore.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell joined top rail officials at Honolulu Harbor’s Pier 1 on Thursday to tout the arrival earlier that morning of the cars, valued at $2.2 million each and designed to operate as long as 40 years.

“While we have bumps down the road, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, we’re going to ride this system and get on these cars and not even think twice about it.”

“This is the way we’re going to travel in the future,” Caldwell said at a news conference held in front of the two rail cars and next to the towering hull of Pasha Hawaii’s Jean Anne shipping vessel, which brought the cars from San Diego.

“While we have bumps down the road, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, we’re going to ride this system and get on these cars and not even think twice about it. It’s going to be part of life here in the urban core,” he added.

The elevated rail system taking shape from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will have 20 trains, and each train will consist of four rail cars. One end car and one middle car arrived Thursday. The trains will be capable of carrying 800 passengers, which officials said will be the same as 20 full public buses.

Officials say the trains will form the first major driverless rail transit system for any U.S. city. “They’re not arriving in New York or Boston or San Francisco. They’re arriving here in Honolulu,” Caldwell boasted Thursday.

The island’s rail cars will also be the nation’s first to feature an “open gangway” design that allows passengers to move between all four cars in the train to search for open seats, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said. They’ll also feature free Wi-Fi service, call boxes and closed-circuit TV for security, officials said.

The additional two cars to complete Honolulu rail’s first train are slated to arrive Monday, and then crews will move them next week to the rail operations center in Pearl City, according to Pasha officials. Rail crews will then test the cars and install decals and other components.

The cars are being assembled at a Hitachi factory in Pittsburg, Calif. They’re being shipped out of San Diego and Los Angeles instead of Oakland, which is closer to the plant, because the enclosed ships that handle rolling stock and could accommodate them only run between Hawaii and th ose Southern California cities, according to Pasha General Manager Reggie Maldonado.

Marco Maraschin, a general manager with Baggio International Shipping, the freight company that’s handling transport, declined to disclose how much more it cost to truck the rail cars to Southern California. “Of course, the cost is more expensive,” but the company wants to ensure safe delivery, Maraschin said. HART spokesman Bill Brennan said the costs were covered by Ansaldo Honolulu JV under the firm’s $1.4 billion contract with the city.

Since 2014, Honolulu’s rail project has seen its price tag rise from $5.26 billion to an estimated $6.56 billion and final completion pushed back about two years.

The first rail cars arrived about two months after the City Council and Caldwell approved Bill 23, which extends Oahu’s 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge funding the project another five years to cover the growing construction costs. Those approvals came after Caldwell and other rail officials spent a year lobbying to secure the additional funds.

Despite the financial woes to get the full project done, HART has regularly touted construction progress — or any new step that moves the project forward. Last fall, as the Council prepared to take up Bill 23, HART and Caldwell held a tour of the nearly finished building housing the rail operations center next to Leeward Community College.

This week, in addition to the cars’ arrival, HART touted its crews’ finishing the elevated rail guideway along Farrington Highway. Next week the agency will hold a groundbreaking ceremony for stations in West Oahu, where political leaders such as U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono are slated to speak.

The cars that will make rail’s second train are due to arrive in the fall, project officials said Thursday.

©2016 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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