Expert says elevated rail is best choice for Oahu


POSTED: Saturday, June 20, 2009

A former government official in Canada who helped to build the Vancouver SkyTrain said he thinks Honolulu is making the right decision in developing an elevated rail system.

; Dan Doyle, former deputy minister of British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation, said the SkyTrain has significantly increased efficiency, reduced the need for motor vehicles, and enabled the city to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

“;Without those rail lines, we would not be able to do it,”; said Doyle, now executive vice president of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Doyle, interviewed by telephone, is scheduled to be among several guest speakers at the city's Rail Transit Symposium 2009 at the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall on Tuesday.

The public event, sponsored by the city, takes place from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Hannemann administration has cited the Vancouver SkyTrain as an example of a successful rail system that could serve Oahu with its resident population of about 905,000 residents and daily visitor average of about 87,000.

The SkyTrain system, which began carrying passengers in 1986 as a 13-mile rail line, serves the greater Vancouver area with a population of 2 million.

Critics of Honolulu's planned $5.4 billion, 20-mile system have raised questions about building a rail system in a slow economy, blocking views by constructing it on elevated rails, and the potential ridership.

Doyle said ridership on Vancouver's system has gone up 349 percent and helped to bring in people to attend events at the football and hockey stadiums.

“;You'd be surprised how little parking we have at both facilities,”; he said.

Doyle said while some critics say now is not a good time to spend money to build, Vancouver has been busy and looks like it will be able to take advantage of a lower construction costs.

“;We were getting two to three bids. Now we're getting 17 to 18 bids,”; he said.

Doyle said Vancouver's decision to go to an elevated rail system has meant it can move passengers quickly, sometimes at more than 80 mph, without stopping for vehicular traffic.

“;That was a huge blessing,”; he said.

Doyle said he was doubtful a ground-level rail system would be able to achieve anything close to the speeds of the SkyTrain.

Other speakers at the city's symposium include Chatham Olive, past president of the Sierra Club Charlotte chapter who was an advocate of the LYNX commuter rail system in North Carolina, and Joni Earl, the chief executive officer of the Sound Transit rail system in Seattle.

Rail spokesman Scott Ishikawa said while the city is still gathering information about the cost of the symposium, he knows it will cost much less than the nearly $60,000 for a 2007 annual meeting about rail.

Additional information about the event may be obtained at honolulutransit.org or by calling 566-2299.