Rail cars move along guideway for first time as funding questions linger

Honolulu’s rail project took a step forward Tuesday when cars moved along the elevated guideway for the very first time.

The train didn’t move very fast. It had to be towed, because the system is not yet powered up by electricity.

Rail officials wanted to test it to make sure it clears any structures in its path.

The train was tested along a three-mile stretch of guideway, from the Rail Operations Center in Pearl City to the West Loch station in Waipahu and back. Engineers walked alongside the train to ensure the as-built structures met all criteria.

Rail officials say the train and the tracks passed the test, but this is just the first of many more.

“The plan is to energize these tracks sometime in mid-summer, and then we would do the preliminary new testing later on, and hopefully by mid- to later 2020, this will be in operation, so that’s the plan,” said Krishniah Murthy, interim CEO, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

HART says it has been working with Hawaiian Electric to resolve any issues to power up the rail project, so the next phase of testing will go on as scheduled.

“We’ll be testing for things like speed, brakings, door openings, communications, and all of that,” Murthy said.

Reaction to the project as a whole is mixed.

“I think it’s a waste of time,” said Elizabeth Edwards, who works in the area, “because they can’t finish it all the way, you know, and it took up a lot of traffic and time. A lot of people’s businesses closed down because of it.”

“I’m excited. I can’t wait,” said Xana Starr. “It’s different seeing it than the talk about it, but I think it would do good for us.”

More tests are planned in the months ahead despite questions about how to offset some $3 billion in funding still needed to complete the project all the way to Ala Moana Center.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is still counting on state lawmakers to come to an agreement and hold a special session to put together a funding bill.

“I think when people see what we’re doing here, it just brings home the reality of rail and how important it is to get it all the way to Ala Moana,” he said.

The mayor says he is in touch with state lawmakers and, so far, they are not any closer to a resolution.

Both Caldwell and Murthy say they have not heard from the Federal Transit Administration, which will want answers soon on how the rest of the project will be funded.

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