Steel picked for transit
The City Council has its say, and it is the same as the mayor's
In a process that has dragged on for five months, a City Council committee selected rail yesterday as the technology for the city's $3.7 billion mass transit system.
The Council's Transportation Committee voted 4-1 to reverse an earlier decision to include a bus or magnetic levitation system for the 20-mile elevated route from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
The Council is expected to vote on April 16 on the bill that would then go to Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who will likely sign it into law, ending the debate on the system's technology.
"I continue to be very convinced that modern steel technology is the way to go," Hannemann said.
Councilman Todd Apo, who had proposed exploring magnetic levitation for Honolulu, said he continues to be intrigued by the idea, but said the Council needs to select a proven technology when spending public money.
"I agree that steel-on-steel is the best selection," Apo said.
Councilman Charles Djou, the lone dissenter and critic of the system with fears it will cost too much, proposed keeping the three technologies.
"We would get a more robust number of bids," Djou said. "Locking us into steel-on-steel, with an older technology, isn't necessarily the best way we should be going."
The committee's decision falls in line with a recommendation made in February by a panel of experts hired by the city. The panelists, made of transit experts, concluded in a 4-1 decision that rail would give the city the best competitive advantage when soliciting bids.
"I still stand by my decision," said Ron Tober, the panel's chairman and former leader of several rail operations in the United States. "I didn't learn anything today that would change my mind. I learned things that reinforced the conclusion we had made."
For nearly eight hours yesterday, the committee listened to last-minute presentations by companies that build the four technologies the city considered.
Several suppliers, including big-name companies like Bombardier and Alstom, recommended rail over the other options -- comparing it with a rubber-tire system -- for Honolulu, saying it would accommodate the projected ridership and is cheaper to maintain.
According to Chuck Wochele, vice president of marketing and business development for Alstom, a rubber-tire technology would be a little quieter than rail because there is less friction but would also require more power consumption, making it more costly to operate.
His competitor, Andrew Robbins, vice president of project development for Bombardier, said the two technologies generally produce the same level of noise, though rubber tire might be louder at faster speeds.