Testing phase of rail project begins

Scott Ishikawa
Scott Ishikawa
Ryan Tanabe
Ryan Tanabe

WAIPAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Step one in the quest to build a rail line: digging some very deep holes. Now, six weeks after the ceremonial groundbreaking for Oahu's mass transit project, the heavy equipment is in motion in West Oahu.

Here's the twist – all that digging doesn't count as actual rail construction. That starts next month. What's happening now in Waipahu is part of the testing phase, but it's already providing a hint of what's to come for nearby businesses.

The project is still technically in the design phase, but this isn't your typical drawing board design work.

A giant drill is boring an eight foot-wide hole in the median on Farrington Highway. It's prep work and fine tuning of the design for columns that'll support the elevated guideway.

"Basically the technique that they are going to use is they are going to put a steel cage in the ground after they drill this hole," said rail transit spokesperson Scott Ishikawa. "They are going to pour concrete all the way down, maybe 100 to 150 feet deep.  And they are doing to take that column out to test to see how it holds up.  Basically it is kind of a test column to determine how the real column is actually going to hold up when they build it."

This process is called "drill shafting." It's quieter and produces less vibration than pile driving.

"Whatever we learn from these tests -- how deep these columns will have to go -- the contractor will take it back to the office and start designing the actual guideway," said Ishikawa.

The city likes to talk a lot about how the rail line will not only create jobs, but also help stimulate the economy. At the construction site is an example – at lunchtime the workers stroll across the street to their nearest eatery, and put money they earned on the rail line right back into the local economy.

Tanioka's is a long-time local favorite, and it's one of the area businesses that's seen a bump in business.

"They do order from us because it's a fast food process.  Come in and out.  I believe they only have one hour lunch so business is good ... from them," said Ryan Tanabe of Tanioka's Seafoods & Catering.

Sales are already brisk, and should pick up even more if actual construction does begin as scheduled next month, and as many as 1,000 workers are brought in to work on the first 6 ½-mile phase of the rail line. The first task of actual construction will involve relocating above and below ground utility lines.

According to the City, enough of those utilities will have been moved so it'll be able to begin building the guideway itself by the end of the year.

Skeptics still have their doubts about the project sticking to that timeline.