New rail CEO pledges rail will be done right

Daniel Grabauskas confirmed as HART executive director
Daniel Grabauskas confirmed as HART executive director

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Daniel Grabauskas compared big projects to having a baby.  Conception is fun. Birth is painful.  And raising the child is hard work but well worth it in the end.  He says the same will be true with the Honolulu rail transit.

Grabauskas is the new face of the Honolulu rail project.  He has officially been confirmed in a unanimous 10 to 0 vote by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) board.  Grabauskas will move from Massachusetts to Honolulu and start as rail's CEO in April.

The city spent $150,000 on the search to find Dan Grabauskas.  Now that he's hired he'll be the highest paid city employee making $322,000 a year with bonuses during his three year contract.

"My goal is to come here, do a lot of listening and a lot of communication," said Grabauskas, after the confirmation vote.

He pledges to make sure rail is done right.  That includes building a safe and secure system on time and on budget and be transparent throughout the construction and operation stages.  However he knows a project this size and cost at $5.3 billion will hit problems.

"There are going to be challenges and those challenges occasionally cost money our job is to mitigate those, to be creative and come up with alternatives if we can.  If not to be open and transparent with you throughout the process," Grabauskas testified before the HART board.

He says he has a track record for turning problems around.  In Boston he dealt with Ansaldo Breda, the financially troubled company Honolulu has picked to build its rail cars.

"I came into that and we were able to negotiate with Ansaldo Breda in 2005. They made some corrective actions. They put their A team on the project. I personally was involved in the process to approve and select some of those folks and two years later we had the full complement of cars that we had agreed to," said Grabauskas.  "We will be watching and making sure they do deliver what we are paying for. I'll make sure we get the A team."

Some people, including Amar Sappal a former Honolulu rail chief years ago, testified against hiring a mainland person over someone who knows Hawaii. He and others testified in support of Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu, who has been leading the rail team.

Grabauskas being from Boston doesn't pretend to be an expert in Hawaiian culture, especially iwi kupuna, which are ancestral bones buried throughout Hawaii, which are undoubtedly going to be discovered during the construction phase.

"I don't say that I understand it. I say that I've learned so far to respect it and I look forward to learning more about it. It would be presumptuous of me to say I understand the culture from a few readings but I'm open and anxious to learn more about it and to make sure that what we do in this project is respectful of the culture here," said Grabauskas.

The HART meeting revealed the three top finalists for the top job.  One of whom was Larry Miller with the Vancouver Sky Train.  The other was Hamayasu who was passed up for the position.  Yet Grabauskas plans to keep him on board even though their introduction was a bit awkward.

"We sat down for our first meeting for a couple of hours. Sure it was a little uncomfortable for both of us at the beginning but we ended up sharing a few laughs by the end. He has a dedication to the project. I have a dedication to the project. His strengths and my strengths, I talked about a partnership between the two of us, that's how I really view this," said Grabauskas in regards to Hamayasu.

He also says you will not meet a more honorable person than Hamayasu. As for his exact role, it has not been determined yet but it will be a senior position.

Grabauskas will leave behind the Massachusetts winter and get to work in Hawaii in April.

"It's not all about the weather it's about a really exciting project and I'm humbled to be a part of it, a small part of it," said Grabauskas.

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