Limited electricity outages won't strand rail passengers


POSTED: Friday, January 16, 2009

Readers like Roger D. Van Cleve (Letters, Jan. 11) who wonder how power outages would affect Honolulu's proposed rail transit system will find their questions answered on the project's blog,, and in our newsletter's January issue, which will be in mailboxes shortly.

As our newsletter relates, the most likely occurrence is a limited power outage in one or multiple areas along the East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center route. Because trains will draw power from many different points along the route, limited outages should not affect service; if power fails in one area, the system will use electricity from another area to continue moving trains and passengers.

We also are planning for the unfortunate event of a major outage along the route. This would stop train propulsion. In that event, modern rail cars will brake safely as they stop. Trains and stations will remain well lit, with backup batteries providing lighting for several hours. The system's operations center will communicate with passengers via the public address system and intercom and relay updates on the situation.

If power is restored within a short time, trains will start moving again. With a prolonged outage, the operations center will direct passengers to exit the trains and walk a short distance to the nearest station on a clearly illuminated path on the guideway. For those unable to exit rail cars, help will be provided by emergency responders and transit staff.

Passengers will be met at the train station by a coordinated response from first responders and city transportation workers.

Ultimately, prevention and preparation are the keys to ensuring rider safety. Project engineers are developing comprehensive safety policies and procedures with Honolulu's police, fire and emergency services. Research is one of our most important tools; we are closely studying the best practices from other areas. For example, later this month our city's first responders will discuss these issues with a leader from San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit system who has extensive experience in fire, rescue and disaster planning.

Passenger safety is and always will be a priority with Honolulu's rail transit system.


Jim Dunn is design manager at Parsons Brinckerhoff. Harvey Berliner is interim safety and security manager for the City and County of Honolulu.