CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Members of the Independent Technology Selection Panel revealed their choice of the steel-wheels-on-steel-rails technology at a news conference yesterday. Panos Prevedouros, left, spoke while Ron Tober and Kenneth Knight looked on.
Panel picks steel transit system
A panel's pick, while expected, will face scrutiny as it moves into the political arena
» Steel rail companies
STORY SUMMARY »
The best mass transit option for Honolulu is a train system that uses steel wheels on steel rails, a city panel of transportation experts decided yesterday.
In a 4-1 vote, the panel chose that option for the $3.8 billion project, rejecting monorail, magnetic levitation and rubber tires on concrete.
The recommendation now goes to the City Council where the immediate reception was mixed. Some councilmembers said steel on steel makes the most economic sense, while others complained that the panel's selection was predetermined, rubber-stamping Mayor Mufi Hannemann's preferred choice.
Hannemann has said he wants to break ground in 2009 on a 20-mile mass transit system from West Oahu to Ala Moana Center.
The lone dissenter in yesterday's panel vote was University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, who argued that a rail system will have little impact on traffic congestion.
Panel Chairman Ron Tober said a steel-on-steel system will save the city money in the long run.
"We're not going to eliminate traffic congestion by any of these alternatives," he said. "We can do some things to reduce the growth in future traffic congestion or allow it to continue to grow at the rate that it has in the past."
» The City Council will discuss selecting the fixed-rail technology at its Transportation Committee meeting Thursday morning.
» The city administration is preparing its draft environmental impact statement, hoping to include the technology pending the City Council decision, for federal review in June. The report is scheduled for public release in September.
FULL STORY »
A panel of experts selected rail as the technology for the city's $3.8 billion fixed-guideway system yesterday, saying it is the most reliable and would be the least expensive long-term option for the city.
Four of the five panel members agreed steel wheel on steel rail was the best choice because it is the most commonly used mass transit system -- giving the city a competitive advantage when seeking bids -- has lower operating costs and can be more easily expanded in the future.
"If we were to select something that is widely available, it's not only competitive initially, it's competitive in the long term," said Henry Kolesar, a panelist and the group manager with the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. "Honolulu, I'm sure, will be expanding their system, and sticking with the low-risk, proven technology is in the best interest of Honolulu."
In the largest public works project in the state's history, the city would build a 20-mile elevated system from Kapolei to Ala Moana starting in late 2009 with plans to later extend it to the airport and University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Mayor Mufi Hannemann had long favored rail, but he proposed a panel of experts to consider four options -- rail, a rubber-tire bus system, monorail or magnetic levitation. The City Council, which has the final say on funding, will take up the technology selection with its own bill.
For the past week, panel members toured the island and evaluated information submitted to the city from 10 companies. In a meeting lasting about two hours yesterday at Mission Memorial Auditorium with brief comments by a handful of Oahu residents, panel members voted 4-1 to recommend rail.
Of the four technologies, the city received the most number of responses -- five companies, most of which are the largest providers in the world -- on rail. The panel did not select a company, which is done in a later procurement process. It is likely these companies would submit proposals.
Panel members rejected a monorail or magnetic levitation system, saying those technologies are not as common and have not been proved to work in other urban areas.
The other option, a rubber-tired bus on concrete, would not be appropriate for Honolulu because it has lower capacity and cannot be expanded as easily, several panel members said.
The lone dissenter, University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, proposed a bus system on managed lanes, meaning the elevated system would have its own lanes and connect to current roads. However, this was not a part of the city's four technology options and was ruled out.
Prevedouros favored his second choice, the rubber-tired bus system, because it would cut down on electricity use and be quieter than rail. This was also rejected by the other panel members.
Ron Tober, the panel's chairman and former leader of several U.S. rail transit operating systems, said initial costs to build rail are higher, but its operational costs are lower.
"I do believe steel wheel on steel rail will save you all money in the long run," said Tober, who added that the companies did not provide sufficient cost estimates for Honolulu's system.
Toru Hamayasu, the city's chief transportation planner, said rail as the chosen technology will not increase the city's costs for the project. Of the estimated $3.4 billion to $3.8 billion cost, about $200 million is budgeted for the technology. After inflation and interest, the total cost comes closer to $5 billion.
Prevedouros, long opposed to the city's preferred fixed-guideway system, questioned the need to spend billions of public money on a system he says will have low ridership and little impact on traffic congestion, which was stated in an earlier study by city consultants.
"We're not going to eliminate traffic congestion by any of these alternatives, including the managed-lanes alternative," Tober acknowledged. "We can do some things to reduce the growth in future traffic congestion or allow it to continue to grow at the rate that it has in the past."
Haunted by a decision by the 1992 City Council to block a mass transit system after federal funds were secured, several city and federal government leaders were pleased the panel moved the project forward.
"The principal thing for me is that the city needs to be committed to the full transit system," U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who has helped secure federal funds, said Thursday. "Whatever happens (with technology selection), I'm going to help make the project happen. ... Let's get going."
The earliest the City Council could approve its technology selection bill is mid-April. It would then go to Hannemann to sign into an ordinance.
"I think it's important for the public's confidence as well that their elected officials take this up and have the public hearings to make that decision," said City Councilman Todd Apo yesterday.
"That's their call," Hannemann said Thursday. "I just want them to make sure it's a timely decision so that we can factor it into our (environmental impact statement) ... and to keep us in line for competitive federal funds."
STEEL RAIL COMPANIES
Five groups submitted information to the city about the steel wheel/steel rail technology. The city's Fixed Guideway Technology Selection Panel used the information yesterday to pick the technology for Oahu's mass transit system. They are:
ALSTOM Transport: Ranks second worldwide in the urban transport market, according to its Web site, with services in more than 60 countries.
AnsaldoBreda Transportation Inc.: Created by the merger of two Italian companies, it has fleets operating in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Bombardier Transportation: Canadian manufacturer that built New York's subway cars. It also built or supplies systems in England, Turkey and Portugal.
Mitsubishi-Sumitomo: A consortium of two companies, it provided part of Manila's rail system. Separately, both firms have extensive rail experience.
Siemens Transportation Systems Inc.: Built or supplied transit systems in San Diego, Boston, Houston, Denver, Bangkok and Singapore, among others.