Monday, December 5, 2011

Rail Project Eyes Cost-Cutting Alternatives that Would Reduce Station Size, Improve Frequency

The page-one headline in the morning paper today (subscription) was ripe for misinterpretation if read too quickly. Leaving out the “on” in the headline – City explores ways to save on rail project – leaves an altogether different impression.

Unfortunately for opponents, the piece is about city efforts to save money, not the whole project. The story says the city is exploring how reducing the maximum number of cars on trains from four to three could result in shorter rail stations – 180 feet for three-car trains, or 60 feet shorter than platforms for trains with four cars.

The Star-Advertiser quotes Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, as saying the train-length issue is part of an ongoing “value engineering” effort to evaluate costs and reduce them when feasible. Shorter stations could reduce costs, he said.

More Frequency
Also under consideration is a turnaround at Leeward Community College that would allow some ewa-bound trains to head back into urban Honolulu rather than go all the way to the last station in East Kapolei. Hamayasu said that could result in shorter headways, or time intervals between trains, in the most densely populated neighborhoods along the 20-mile route.

Service frequency would have to be increased if a three-car system were to provide the same level of service and overall carrying capacity as a four-car system. As it is, the headways during morning and afternoon rush hours will be only three minutes, but since the trains will be automated and without drivers, the headways could safely be reduced even further.

The story notes that with more frequent service and shorter trains, the system might lower costs by requiring fewer rail cars.

LTE Forum
Today’s letter-to-the-editor feature focuses on change and a Honolulu resident’s concern about what it’s doing to our “paradise.”

Tall buildings, rail are not island style (Star-Advertiser, 11/8)
“Soon we’ll be saying, ‘Remember when we could see sky and ocean?’…. Donald Trump blocked out a big hunk of sky and water toward Diamond Head. Hilton’s new building by the Ilikai created a complete wall where Ala Moana curves toward Kalia Road. Two more buildings are planned. When the Waikiki wall is complete, expect the Kakaako wall…. Who imagines rail when thinking paradise? Rail is a money pit and eyesore, making streets claustrophobic. Buildings 650 feet high around rail stations don’t scream island life….”

The writer is at least partly right: Honolulu today isn’t the town of James Michener's novel, and it isn’t what it was at Statehood in 1959 either, when Aloha Tower was the city’s tallest building. Time changes all things, even “paradise.”

Rail will meet the transportation needs of 21st century Honolulu, which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. High-rise buildings are here to stay, and more are on the way – maybe two dozen more in Kakaako, according to media reports. Buildings as tall as 650 feet are envisioned to provide housing that’s both affordable and conveniently located near a rail line that will be only a small fraction of their height.

Many Honolulu residents believe paving paradise to create new highway lanes would be even more objectionable than the elevated guideway, which the writer opposes. Despite the project’s impacts that are acknowledged in its environmental impact statement, grade-separated rail was selected as the best – and least-objectionable – way to provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel through our ever-growing city. That’s what this and future generations will require, even as we recall the paradise earlier generations once knew.

This post has been added to our “aggregation site” under the heading LTE Forum.

1 comment:

Sharon H. said...

Being a "veteran tourist" in many areas of the world,this article naturally caught my attention. Just speaking from the vantage point of a several times visitor to your beautiful Hawaiian Islands, the first thing one notices after landing in Oahu is the horrendous congestion getting to your hotel.What a disappointment! You DON'T see the beautiful, much anticipated views, but only the scenes you left behind in Chicago, Detroit or wherever! It seems that the idea of a state of the art grade-separated rail system would be the ideal solution to the problem(which is only going to get worse!) This works in other countries. The first one that comes to mind is the rail system in Switzerland. It was speedy, dependable and allowed people to see the beautiful scenery while traveling to their next destination. Also there is something to be said for transportation which arrives and departs EXACTLY on time. If it is scheduled for departure at 12:02, you could count on it leaving at exactly that time(whether you were on it or not!) Just felt compelled to put in my "two cents" for whatever it is worth. I look forward to "riding the rails" next time I am in Hawaii! Thanks! Sharon H.,Missouri