Mayor gets look at Tokyo monorail
Honolulu officials hear a business pitch from company officials
TOKYO » Like a preacher giving a sermon, Masakazu Ishikawa touted the virtues of monorail technology to Mayor Mufi Hannemann and members of the City Council.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua is traveling with Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the Honolulu delegation and will be filing reports from Japan all week.
Tokyo Tama Intercity Monorail
» Distance covered: 16 kilometers (about 10 miles). Plans call for a 93-kilometer line.
» Completed: Jan. 10, 2000
» Construction cost: Between $90 million and $135 million per kilometer
» Capacity: 415 passengers per train. There are 15 trains with each train having four cars.
» Number of stations: 19
Hitachi's monorail man told the group during a one-hour minibus ride to the suburb of Tama yesterday that he has but one wish when he travels to Hawaii each year.
"I wish there were a monorail in Honolulu," said Ishikawa, general manager of the Straddle Type Monorail Department.
To try to make that wish come true, Hitachi Ltd. and two other giants of Japanese industry -- Mitsui & Co., and Kajima Corp. (owner of Hawaiian Dredging & Construction) -- are joining forces to pitch the construction of a monorail in Honolulu.
"By putting in a monorail system, it makes the entire city a lot more efficient and accessible," Ishikawa said.
Hannemann and Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz, Rod Tam and Todd Apo toured the Tama monorail command center, located beneath condominiums, which one Mitsui official said was an example of homes being developed near transit stops.
After the tour, the group took a 30-minute ride on the monorail.
One of the questions that Hannemann has asked the companies interested in developing a rail system in Honolulu is whether they have come in on schedule and on budget with previous rail projects.
Construction cost for the Tokyo monorail system was between $90 million to $135 million a kilometer, Ishikawa said. He said that is high because of the cost of doing business in Japan. A financial analysis would have to be done to estimate the cost of construction in Hawaii, he added.
Hannemann said he was at first concerned that this project took four years longer to finish than the original four-year construction time line.
But he found that the reason for the delay was that the government did not have its funding in place when construction began.
"The story is very clear on this one here. They had a plan to complete it in four years, and it took them eight years not because of any technical difficulty. It had to do with financing; the money wasn't there when they were ready to begin," Hannemann said.
He said that information validates his contention that the 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to fund mass transit approved this past summer must be collected on time to avoid any delays. Opponents have said they do not want the tax to be levied until a more concise plan is approved by the City Council.
It was the second tour of a rail system in Japan during the week for Honolulu's elected officials who will eventually decide what kind of mass transit option would be best for Honolulu.
During yesterday's tour, Ishikawa tried to dispel the concern that monorail structures block view plains and are ugly.
"The structure is actually streamlined. They can have a lot of shrubbery and greenery around so it almost appears as if the monorail is running through a park," Ishikawa said through interpreter Paul Yonamine, who is Hannemann's senior adviser.
Ishikawa also tried to counter the notion that rail projects are noisy. The monorail runs on rubber tires to cut down on noise, he noted.
Ishikawa said that the monorail is so quiet that pigeons hanging out on the rail sometimes do not know the train is coming.
"It leads to a lot of pigeon deaths," Ishikawa said, sparking laughter on the bus.
If a monorail is approved for Honolulu, Hitachi would build the rail cars while Kajima will build the infrastructure and Mitsui would oversee the entire project.
Hitachi and Mitsui have worked together on several monorail projects in Asia and the United States, including a proposed $1.6 billion monorail project in Seattle, which has been criticized for its cost, route, and the tax imposed to pay for the project.