Inaugural rail ride unites longtime supporters with next generation of leaders

Rail leadership used Friday’s event to bring together many of those who worked decades for the rail system with those who must deal with the future...
Published: Jun. 30, 2023 at 6:16 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rail leadership used Friday’s event to bring together many of those who worked decades for the rail system with those who must deal with the future of the project.

The first train after the opening ceremony was jammed with politicians and employees of the city, state and contractors.

Near the of the first car, Gov. Josh Green embraced Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi as he spoke to a reporter.

“This guy is going to have the train running on time,” Green said, “Which is great.”

There were cheers as the car accelerated.

City Transportation Services Director Roger Morton worked for Mayor Frank Fasi in the 1970s while Fasi was first championing a raised guideway rail system for Honolulu, with the support of the Congressional Delegation led by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“We need to recognize these champions of the system that are unfortunately gone from us right now,” Morton said. “But they are both of them fully responsible for where we are today.”

Special Section: Honolulu Rail

Sitting nearby on a front-row bench was Fasi’s widow, former Honolulu First Lady Joyce Fasi and her son Frank, Junior.

“I am just blessed to be able to ride it,” Joyce Fasi said. “I wish he were here, he’s got a picture in here. He would have been very pleased, but it could have happened 50 years ago.”

Ed Hirata served as Transportation Director under Fasi, former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Gov. John Waihee, all rail supporters. He looked tired but happy after the ride.

“Wonderful, to finally go through with it so I am really happy,” Hirata said. “It’s been that long and it’s taken a long time but I am glad it’s finished. The costs would have been a lot lower if we started sooner.”

After many years of polarizing debate, damaged political careers, cost overruns and delays, there was still caution about the future, which now may depend on the performance of these trains.

Asked about potentially extending the excise tax for rail or other support from the state, Gov. Green said, “We will wait until that comes, of course, because I really want people to be optimistic about the completion of this phase first, then we will see about how the whole state feels about this rail.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said‚ ”One of the mistakes we’ve made in the past is to get ahead of ourselves so we’ve got his leg completed and operational, people should start using it and then we got to get the next leg and the next leg and the next leg.”

The current chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, Colleen Hanabusa, is also a former member of Congress. She said it’s still not clear the public is ready to invest in extending the system beyond current plans.

“The next big political ask for rail is going to be Ala Moana and beyond — if there is a political appetite for that,” she said. Whether there is that appetite, especially to invest money, will depend on this generation of leaders, and the next.