Friday, September 12, 2008

Rail Project Presentation Hits the Key Points

We had an opportunity to give a presentation on the rail project to a group of realtors two days ago at Ryan’s in Ward Centre. Here are the highlights for Yes2Rail's broader audience. All of this information can be found in the Alternatives Analysis (AA) that was prepared for the City by professionals in numerous transportation-related fields.

Accommodating Future Growth

Oahu is projected to have 200,000 more residents, 100,000 more jobs and 750,000 more daily trips in 2030 than in 2005. The great majority of that growth will come from within, not from in-migration; i.e., the current population is having kids, and those kids will have kids.

Of special note: More than 90 percent of that growth will occur within Oahu’s urban core and the corridor for Honolulu’s fixed guideway project.

The Alternatives

As most who have followed this project already know, the AA closely examined four alternatives – the No Build option (no transit improvements); Transportation System Management (expanded bus service); Managed Lanes (buses and cars on toll lanes), and a Fixed Guideway.

In December 2006, the City Council selected the Fixed Guideway alternative, with an initial alignment from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, with an Airport Spur to be added; eventually, the service will be extended to UH Manoa and Waikiki.

Critical Choices

The AA details why the three alternatives were deemed inferior to the fixed guideway. An expanded bus service would be subject to the anticipated increase in traffic congestion that can be expected due to the population’s growth. That congestion would slow buses, increase their operating costs and negatively affect service reliability. The bus system already is approaching capacity.

HOT Lanes (toll roads) would actually increase congestion at critical points along the route – at the entry points where cars and buses bound for town would be funneled toward those lanes, and on Nimitz Highway where town-bound vehicles would enter the surface traffic mix again near Pacific Street. The situation would be reversed in the evening for ewa-bound traffic.

In addition, toll lanes contribute to the cost of commuting by increasing tolls until fewer drivers are willing to accept the higher toll; that’s how they are “managed” to achieve swifter travel times. But as noted immediately above, time that might be gained while traveling along the lanes would be lost at both ends of the lanes. And from an environmental perspective, car and bus traffic uses more energy per passenger mile traveled than a rail system.

Technology Alternatives

The “modern rail” technology has been selected over the other technologies because it is offered by multiple suppliers, is widely used, its noise is easily mitigated and it has the lowest life cycle costs. Of the 62 New Start Projects funded in the past 16 years by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), 56 have been rail systems. The “rubber tire” and magnetic levitation technologies were disadvantaged for a variety of reasons – their proprietary suppliers, uncertain futures, higher life cycle costs and/or higher energy use.


We told the realtors that just as “location” is the key word in their industry, the key word in moving people through an urban area is “mobility” – true freedom of movement through a densely developed corridor. Oahu residents traveling between downtown and the island’s Second City in and around Kapolei have no true mobility today. It’s not possible to arrive at their destination with predictable reliability due to traffic congestion, accidents on roads and the freeway, weather conditions that make driving hazardous and slow, etc. Grade-separated transit – what Honolulu’s system will be – is the only modern transportation mode that guarantees a time of arrival. HOT lanes and bus transit certainly can’t do that. (You can read more about Mobility in recent posts here and here.)

Reducing Future Congestion

With 200,000 more people on Oahu by 2030, traffic congestion obviously will increase. But…and this is important…congestion will be 11 percent less in 2030 with the rail project than without it, and congestion with rail transit will be less than with the HOT Lane alternative. It’s all in the Alternatives Analysis.

Economic Effects

Direct employment to build the rail system will be 4,700 constructions jobs per year, and 37,700 person-years of employment over the course of the project. When indirect employment is considered, the totals rise to 11,300 jobs per year and 90,400 person-years of employment during construction.

Private investment near the 19 rail stations will likely be a significant contribution to the local economy. Transit-Oriented Development encourages livable, walkable communities that take advantage of transit access. TOD planning is already underway; Waipahu residents have been engaged in workshops for several months discussing how they’d like to see their community utilize the space near Waipahu’s future transit station.

Operating Details

Honolulu’s rail system will operate 20 hours each day from 4 a.m. to midnight. The time between trains will vary from 3 minutes during the morning and evening rush hour, 10 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight and 6 minutes for the other time blocks during the day. The train will reach 55 miles per hour between stations, achieving that top speed on 12 segments between them.

The system will be integrated with TheBus, park-and-ride facilities at some stations and bike and walking paths. The cost will be the same as riding TheBus and TheBoat, with transfers usable among all these modes.

Source of Funds

The system is projected to cost $3.72 billion, including contingency funds and interest costs, in 2006 dollars. Of that total, $3.020 will be funded by the GET surcharge – one-half of one percent – that’s been in effect since January 2007 and will continue to 2022, and $700 million will be in FTA New Starts funds.

Operating & Maintenance Costs

Building the rail system is a way to save on transit O&M costs. The per-passenger-mile operating cost for rail is 40 percent less than for bus O&M costs, which are growing as bus speeds decline. Furthermore, O&M costs of a bus + rail system as Honolulu’s will be are less than the cost of carrying the same number of riders on a bus-only system.

Staying Informed

The project’s website –  – is an excellent source of factual information on Honolulu’s future rail system. “Honolulu on the Move” is on `Olelo’s channel 54 at 6:30 p.m. each Monday, and you can call the project hotline for more information: 566-2299.

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