Rail job creation behind schedule, but thousands to be hired

Published: Jul. 31, 2012 at 10:10 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 1, 2012 at 1:55 PM HST
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The amount of rail jobs is growing and rail contractors are looking to hire.  With that in mind hundreds of people show up looking for career opportunities at a job fair specifically for rail and Hart maintains within two years there will be 4,000 people working on the project.

Main rail contractors like Kiewit, Parsons Brinkerhoff and Ansaldo Honolulu JV were all there talking with interested applicants.

"Everything from laborers to lawyers to construction engineers to folks doing outreach and customer service," said Dan Grabauskas, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) CEO.

In April there were 528 rail jobs created.  Grabauskas says right now there are 1,400 people working on the rail transit. That includes city employees and all contractors.  Of them HART estimates 60 percent are local and 40 percent are jobs are out of state.  When peak construction begins in about 18 to 24 months 4,000 people will directly be working on rail.

"We want local jobs, but if we want local folks employed we really have to reach out and so this is the first of I hope several that we are going to do," said Grabauskas. "There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of workers we're going to need to be employed to do them."

Those workers and potential workers have had to be patient for those jobs to arrive.

"The original schedule has slipped so some people have said the peak should be right about now but everyone knows the project has been slow to start," said Grabauskas. "I'd say give the project a little bit of time. We've literally just started the column construction, we're literally just breaking ground on the maintenance and storage facility next week."

Ansaldo Honolulu JV is entering the mix.  It will build the 40 trains with two cars each.  Then it will operate and maintain the system.  There are 13 people working in Hawaii now and the company will hire 10 engineers by the end of the year.

Next year it will hire construction supervisors. Some of those technicians may be hired locally, then sent to the mainland for training and then move back to Hawaii to oversee the work.  Of the thousands of Ansaldo employees working on Honolulu's contract about 300 will be local workers by 2016 when the first phase of the train is expected to be running.

"These are career jobs. Jobs that can help pay mortgages, buy houses and put kids through college. You can join us now as a specialist in the design phase, follow us into construction and then be part of the maintenance and operation team," said Enrico Fontana, PhD, Ansaldo Honolulu JV Project Manager.

The train's cars will be built in California and Pennsylvania with final assembly in Hawaii. Considering the relatively few cars Honolulu is buying, Fontana says it wasn't an option to build a factory on island and do all the work here.

"Since we are not building so many trains and we are building them over almost 10 years the actual impact on creation of local jobs is pretty small so we didn't see a great opportunity of job creation nor a cost effective solution," said Dr. Fontana.  "The most important will be the technicians to maintain and operate the trains later on."

Then there are the indirect jobs which brings the total up to 10,000 jobs which opponents don't buy.

"Economically you can create indirect jobs, so if that rail guy went and bought a burger the guy who flipped the burger now has a rail job really you have to stretch the truth a lot to come up with the 10,000 peripherally involved in the project," said Panos Prevedouros, PhD, University of Hawaii Manoa Professor and rail opponent.

Panos Prevedouros says taxpayers are paying for people to work which helps the few, but takes money away from the majority.

"It costs you and I and everybody else all these monies for those 100 or 200 local people to find those jobs. These are not productive jobs. We tax ourselves to create make work projects. That doesn't move the economy forward," said Prof. Prevedouros. "It's eating from the same pot."

Although that's a tough sell for the unemployed hungry for a job.

"I need a job so I came down. There are lots of jobs here. I really need a job," said Dennis Vea, Waianae.

"I think it's a good idea for the next generation and I hope to be a part of that," said Jamarel Stokes, Honolulu.

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