HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - HART’s CEO said Wednesday that trains will be ready for passengers between Kapolei and Aloha Stadium by October 20, and suggested fans of University of Hawaii football games could be among the first enthusiastic customers.
“Wouldn’t that be great for people to start to understand how they can leave their car at home and use the rail system to get to and from a UH football game?” Andrew Robbins, head of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said at a news conference.
But the city Transportation Services Director Wes Frysztacki quickly threw cold water on Robbin’s suggestion. He explained that while HART’s job is to deliver the project after certified safety approvals to the city for operations, there will still be much to do on the city’s part before it takes paying customers.
“We have to make sure the system is safe, certified, approved and that people can get to those station sites safely,” Frysztacki said, adding, “The more important variable is that we need to make sure we have the budget to operate the system.”
Frysztacki said his department is still working with Hitachi, the operations and maintenance contractor, to determine what it will cost to run the first ten miles of the system and submit those figures to the Mayor and City Council for the next budget year, which starts in June.
“If the system is really ready to be used in October then we can talk about perhaps taking some of that budget and applying it to earlier service but I think we are a few months away from that determination,” Fryzstacki said.
Robbins responded, “Its our intent to have it ready to ride in October 20th that is our intent and the city will take it from there.”
Robbins said under his administration the project is now “stable” and has stayed on schedule for three years, that the first ten miles and nine stations are 86-96 percent complete and safety testing is ahead of expectations.
The news conference Wednesday took place at the Leeward Community College rail stop, where Robbins said HART will host a Trains Community Day on February 8, giving the public the first chance to visit a rail station and explore a train parked on its rails.
No non-HART or contractor employees will be able to actually ride the trains until safety certification is complete.
Robert Beadle, project director of Hitachi Rail Honolulu, said the company is in the process of hiring the first 145 employees of the operation, which would need to be hired and trained before trains can take on passengers.
He said Leeward Community College has a training program for rail technicians.
Eventually the 20-mile system will have about 200 employees. The automated system does not have human drivers or conductors.
The next major step toward completing the entire system is awarding of what is called the “P3 Contract” ― for public-private partnership ― which is being delayed again until May. Robbins said that was at the request of bidders who wanted more time.
He said the two-month delay, which will also delay release of additional federal funding, will not affect the overall schedule to complete the entire line by 2025, and will also not affect the project’s cash flow.