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Honolulu Elevated Train Update

What is the Honolulu Transit Project?

For anyone not familiar, the Honolulu Rail Transit Project is a 20-mile, 40-feet high, 30-feet wide, elevated rail line with 21 stations.  The project will eventually connect West O‘ahu with downtown Honolulu and Ala Moana Center via Honolulu International Airport in a time of 42 minutes.  Future extensions could serve other parts of West O‘ahu and other communities of Salt Lake, UH Mānoa, and Waikīkī.

This has been a highly controversial, 40-year old project that is now scheduled to start the ground-breaking phase.  Opponents of this project cite aesthetic concerns, cost-to-benefit concerns, and on-going operational deficits as their major points.  However, nothing short of a court-order will stop construction, which is now slated to begin this March and scheduled to be completed in 2018.

What are the benefits?

By 2030, about 116,300 trips per weekday are expected on rail transit. It will take about 40,000 vehicles off our roads each weekday by the year 2030. This reduction in the number of cars and trucks on our congested streets will deliver benefits and improve travel times for everyone – train riders, bus passengers, and vehicle drivers.


• Modern steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technology powered by a third rail
• Elevated, grade-separated
• Vehicle maintenance and storage facility near Leeward Community College
• Four new bus transit centers located at UH West O‘ahu, West Loch, Pearl Highlands, and Aloha Stadium
• Four new park-and-ride lots at East Kapolei, UH West O‘ahu, Pearl Highlands, and Aloha Stadium with a total of 4,100 parking spaces
• Traction power substations
• A dedicated access ramp from the H-2 Freeway to the Pearl Highlands station’s park-and-ride and bus transit center

The main points made by proponents of the rail system is that Honolulu must address its growing traffic problem.  People often overlook the fact that while Hawaii’s image is all about beaches and tropical surroundings, Honolulu (and the island of Oahu) has an ever growing population of 950,000+, as of the 2010 US Census, the 11th largest city in the US.

While a concern voiced often by opponents is that a raised rail system will be a blight to the landscape, I think its important to remember where these elevated rails will be located.  It mainly runs thru commercial districts and over existing heavily traveled corridors that are not exactly post card photo-op locations.   So, the real question is, will the reduction in car traffic offset the unsightliness of the raised railway?

What’s interesting is that there are sections of multi-level highways that can also be seen in and around the rail system corridor and noone seems to have a problem with these!  I think it might be interesting to see if the elevated rails are any more obtrusive than these elevated highways.  Progress is rarely, if ever, a straight line of just improvements and benefits with no drawbacks.

Another argument being thrown around is the cost of building it.  A comparison made is that the Honolulu Rail System will cost twice what the Washington D.C. Metro system cost.  And, while this is undoubtedly true, we should remember that virtually everything costs more  in Hawaii!  So, is this higher cost really a shocker to anyone?   If any comparison is to be made to the Washington Metro system, it should be that one of the nice things about it is that large portions of it run underground and therefore out-of-sight.  Trying to do this in Hawaii, however, would really increase the cost to astronomical heights, if it were even practical to do so.

Environmentalists are usually opponents of any building projects, however, the reduction in car and bus traffic that will result from people using the rails rather than the roads makes it difficult for them to strongly oppose this particular project.  Of course, there is one group who says that the railway lights will distract birds in migration patterns and disrupt Hawaiian historical sites.  These are the same birds that have learned to navigate in spite of the thousands of car headlights that use the roadways that cover the same route that the trains will be built over.  And, any disruption of Hawaiian historical sites has already been done with the building of these same roadways.

Share Your Thoughts

So, while I can’t say that I am a 100% supporter of the Honolulu Transit Project, after weighing the pros and cons, and the fact that this particular train seems to be leaving the planning depot and moving toward reality, I think the people of Honolulu should now focus their efforts on getting people to utilize this system when available.  I do wonder, however, why they are using a three-rail system rather than a mono-rail that just seems to have a more modern appearance.  I imagine there is a cost factor involved, but can’t honestly say.

Having lived in the D.C. area for a couple of years, I can tell you that I happily took advantage of the Metro System…and I love driving!  The tradeoff was not having to fight traffic and avoiding the frustration of finding a parking place, but simply enjoying what D.C. had to offer.  I think that Honolulu offers the same compactness that D.C. does to make a rail system work.  I even took the Metro whenever I had to get to the airport…parking rates at the metro parking lots was much lower than parking rates at the airport and I also saved on the gas needed to drive there and once again, avoid the stress of heavy traffic.

So, while an elevated train may be somewhat unsightly to tourists, as well as residents, we should keep in mind that sitting in heavy traffic is not exactly anyone’s vision of a tropical paradise, either.  It has been said by virtually everyone that the true beauty of Hawaii reaches beyond its beaches and lush tropical vistas, but the welcoming nature of the people.  As long as the Spirit of Aloha remains strong, people will continue to visit Hawaii and leave with happy memories of their experience, not memories of the unsightliness of the Honolulu transit rail system.



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