Find accurate information, and dispel rumors about the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, by checking the Rail FAQs.

Rail FAQs

The purpose of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project is to provide high-capacity rapid transit in the highly congested east-west transportation corridor between Kapolei and UH Mānoa, as specified in the O‘ahu Regional Transportation Plan (ORTP) (O‘ahu MPO 2007). The Project is intended to provide faster, more reliable public transportation service in the study corridor than can be achieved with buses operating in congested mixed-flow traffic, to provide reliable mobility in areas of the study corridor where people of limited income and an aging population live, and to serve rapidly developing areas of the study corridor. The Project will also provide additional transit capacity, an alternative to private automobile travel, and improve transit links within the corridor.

Construction of the Project’s first segment, from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium, is completed. Comprehensive testing is currently being performed in this segment of the Project and anticipated to be turned over to the City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS) by early next year for operation. Construction of the second segment from Aloha Stadium, past the Airport to Middle Street, is nearly completed and expected to be turned over to DTS in early 2025. The “City Center” section of the Project, from Middle Street along Dillingham Boulevard and through downtown Honolulu to its temporary terminus at the Civic Center Station, is estimated to be complete by 2031.

On September 30, 2022, it was announced that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) accepted HART’s 2022 Recovery Plan. The Recovery Plan was required by the FTA to document HART’s plans for the completion of the rail project within the amount of funding that is forecast to be available. With the approval of the Recovery Plan, HART is now eligible to receive the remaining $744 million in federal funding under the Full Funding Grant Agreement.

The next step will be to amend the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) based on the Recovery Plan scope and financial plan. Completing an amended FFGA will be the first funding-related milestone upon which the FTA will release $125 million in withheld funds.

The accepted Recovery Plan includes:
A temporary rail terminus at the Civic Center Station, located at the intersection of Halekauwila Street and South Street, and deferral of the Pearl Highlands Parking Garage. The FTA is currently conducting an environmental reevaluation of the truncated scope.

HART remains committed to completing the full scope of the project to the Ala Moana Transit Center in a subsequent phase of the project.

The destination of reaching Ala Moana is important because of the location of the Ala Moana Transit Center, the City’s largest bus transit center. More than 1,500 daily bus routes pass through Ala Moana Transit Center, where rail riders will be able to easily transfer to frequent bus service and continue their trips to Waikiki, UH, Hawaii Kai or elsewhere.

Ala Moana is also the Locally Preferred Alternative as approved by the Honolulu City Council. Despite the proposed plan to have a temporary rail terminus at the Civic Center Station, the overall goal of reaching Ala Moana Transit Center does not change.

The goal is still for the rail project to reach Ala Moana Transit Center. When the temporary rail system terminus is at the Civic Center Station, enhanced bus service will be provided to get riders to their final destinations. The City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS) operates TheBus and Handi-Van and will also be operating the rail system. Frequent bus service will be available for rail riders at both the Downtown Station and the Civic Center Station, some with direct bus service to Waikiki, UH and to the Ala Moana Transit Center, where connections to other buses can be made.

It is interesting that, in the original ridership forecast for the Project, only 10 percent of the anticipated rail passengers were expected to have Kakaako or Ala Moana as their final destinations – meaning that 90 percent of the anticipated passengers would have exited rail before, or at, the Civic Center Station or would have boarded a bus at the Ala Moana Transit Center to get to their final destinations. Boarding a bus at the Downtown Station or the Civic Center Station will provide very comparable transit service to those passengers whose travel extends beyond Ala Moana.

There are several reasons that a street-level rail system would not be feasible at this point of the Honolulu rail project, including:

  • One significant reason is that the rail system is powered via a “third rail”, which is literally a separate rail that runs alongside the tracks. The trains receive electricity from the third rail, which carries 750 volts of electricity. Having a street-level system would require significant barriers to protect the public from the dangers of the third rail, which is currently achieved with the elevated guideway system.
  • Another reason that a street-level system would be problematic is that the trains are expected to have approximate 6-minute headways (the time between trains) during peak hours of operation. That means, for a street-level system, certain intersections all along the route would need to be closed to traffic and pedestrians at least every 6 minutes for a train to pass. This would create additional traffic congestion on our streets that is avoided with the elevated guideway.

The planned 1,600-stall parking garage at the Pearl Highlands station will be deferred due to the excessive cost of building it at the originally planned location. However, HART and the City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS) are committed to working together to find an alternative location for a garage. Several potential options have been discussed but much more research will need to be done before a plan can be developed.

In the meantime, DTS will add additional and enhanced bus service from North Shore and Central Oahu locations that will enable passengers to board the rail system at a planned bus transit center that will be built directly adjacent to the Pearl Highlands Station.

HART has, and continues to be, diligent in searching for ways to reduce the funding shortfall – and ultimately to get the Project to Ala Moana. Some ways that the shortfall is being addressed:

  • Internal Cost Reductions: HART continues to look for ways to reduce its internal costs, including ways to improve efficiencies of internal processes, eliminate redundancies and better manage costs. An example is a 2021 streamlining of the organizational structure that will save $150–200 million over the remaining life of the project.
  • Efficient Construction: Ways of reducing construction-related costs are also being evaluated. An example is the decision to implement a shift of a section of the guideway route along Dillingham Boulevard from the middle of the street to the mauka side, thereby eliminating the need to relocate certain utilities. This “mauka shift” will save approximately $150 million.
  • Risk Mitigation: Risk reduction actions have been implemented, and are evaluated on an on-going basis, which will reduce future costs of procurement. A good example of risk mitigation is the work by HART to get the utility designs completed and approved before awarding the two recent utility relocation contracts. This work will save construction costs and also shorten the work schedule, adding to the construction savings. In the past, HART had awarded contracts without approved final designs, which is a considerable risk to the contractors proposing on the construction work.
  • Seeking New Funding:
    In addition to the Recovery Plan, HART continues seeking new revenue sources for the Project.

The Mauka Shift refers to a plan to move a section of the rail guideway from the center of Dillingham Boulevard to the mauka side of the street. This mauka shift saves time and money for the Project by eliminating the need to relocate certain utilities.

Currently there is a complex web of electricity, water, sewer and fiber optics lines that run under Dillingham Boulevard. There are also two 138-kilovolt power transmission lines above ground on either side of Dillingham Boulevard. On the makai side, there are also 12- and 48-kilovolt power lines. For HART to move all of these power lines underground would be extremely difficult as there is not enough room to provide the clearances needed to service existing utilities. Moving the guideway to the mauka side of the street eliminates the need to bury all of the power lines on the makai side and avoids the need to move other existing underground utilities, thereby improving the Project schedule and reducing costs by approximately $150 million.

“City Center” is a term used to describe the last construction in the third segment of the Rail Project, comprised of the Dillingham Boulevard, Iwilei, Downtown, and Kakaako areas. The “Utilities Relocation” project refers to the relocation, or movement, of existing underground and above-ground utilities along the rail alignment to prepare for the City Center Guideway and Stations and the future location of the guideway columns.

The City Center Guideway and Stations construction work, a design-build and contract award, is to be procured and anticipated to be awarded in 2023. Once the utility relocation work is completed in these areas, the City Center Guideway and Stations construction work will begin.

The City Center Utilities Relocation project will consist of (3) three separate contracts:

  • Downtown Utilities Relocation: This project involves utilities relocation work from Kaaahi Street to Cooke Street, along Nimitz, and ends at Coral Street along Halekauwila Street. The contract was awarded to Frank V. Coluccio Construction Company (FVCCC), and the roadway work began in August 2022. Completion is expected in 2024.
  • Dillingham Utilities Relocation: This project involves utilities relocation work in the Kalihi-Palama area beginning on Kamehameha Highway between Middle and Laumaka Streets to the corner of Dillingham Boulevard and Kaaahi Street. The contract was awarded to Nan, Inc., and a Notice to Proceed was issued in October 2022. Actual construction is expected to begin by the end of 2022. Completion is expected in 2026.
  • Ala Moana Utilities Relocation: This project will involve relocating utilities from Cooke Street in Kakaako to Kona Street near the Ala Moana Transit Center. Procurement for this work will begin at a later date.

The current schedule projects a system completion date of 2031.

About the utilities relocation construction work:
The major scope elements for utilities relocation include storm drainage, sanitary sewer, water main, gas/fuel, electrical and communications infrastructure, and roadway improvements.

Yes, steel plates will likely be used in some areas. For example, HART’s contractor for the Downtown Utilities Relocation, Frank V. Coluccio Construction Company (FVCCC), will place cold mix asphalt around the edges of the steel plates to provide a smoother transition. Also, FVCCC will tack weld multiple road plates together to avoid an abrupt edge to help minimize the noise from vehicles driving over steel plates.

Work will take place during two shifts on Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm and 6:00 pm to 5:00 am.

Businesses and community meetings are held monthly for the public to attend and learn more about HART’s ongoing projects.

Dillingham Utilities Relocation
Update meetings held every fourth Thursday of the month

Downtown Utilities Relocation
Update meetings held every second Wednesday of the month

Airport Guideway and Stations Construction
Update meetings held every fourth Thursday of the month

Meetings on holidays are subject to change; dates will be posted on HART’s website at HonoluluTransit.org before the meeting date.

For more information about joining a meeting or receiving the latest traffic impacts in an area, visit HART’s website.

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A hammerhead is a cement “cap” that is built on the top of the rail guideway columns at the location of the rail stations. The hammerhead extends from the guideway column and supports the rail station platforms.

About the cracks in the hammerheads
Cracks in some of the hammerheads were first noticed in December 2018. The Engineer of Record subsequently inspected the cracks and determined the cracks were due to shrinkage, a common occurrence with concrete. A follow-up inspection occurred in 2020.

In early 2022, the hammerheads were inspected again, in anticipation of turning the first operating segment of the Project over to the City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS). The inspection was performed via drone and the cracks appeared to have widened. In July 2022, more thorough inspections were conducted and measurements of the cracks were taken. 

Next step to address the cracks in the hammerheads
There are four groups of structural engineers involved in determining the cause and the seriousness of the cracks. Currently, independent analyses are being performed. Findings from the analyses are expected in October 2022. Based on the conclusions reached, the original Engineer of Record will determine what remediation is required, which will be independently validated by third-party engineering consultants.

Trial Running began on August 29, 2022, and is the final series of testing before the rail system is ready to be put into operation. During testing, trains will be operational and moving along the tracks from Kualaka‘i (East Kapolei) Station to Hālawa (Aloha Stadium) Stations—24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Trial Running is an intense and rigorous testing phase of all aspects of the trains, stations, communication systems, and train control systems and operations personnel. This is the last phase of testing before the rail system is ready to be placed into service for the public.

As part of the comprehensive testing of all aspects of the operations, Trial Running will include the simulation of many normal and emergency operating scenarios. Trial Running also includes a System Demonstration phase, wherein the system will be operated as if it was open to the public. A 98.5 percent system service availability, averaged over a 30 consecutive day period, must be achieved.

Upon completion of Trial Running, HART expects to transfer Operating Segment 1 to the City’s Department of Transportation Services (DTS) for the opening of service. It is anticipated this turn-over to DTS will occur in 2023.

The trains are powered with electricity that is transmitted through a contact rail, known as the “third rail.” The third rail has 750 volts of electricity, about 100 times more powerful than electricity in a home, flowing through it at all times and is extremely dangerous.

The “third rail” is LIVE and ENERGIZED—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, the public should avoid contact with the rail tracks at all times.

Anyone attempting to access the tracks is at extreme risk of death.

  • In late 2020, it was discovered that there was a misalignment of the wheels and rails in the double-crossovers (also known as “frogs”) due to the wheels being too narrow. As a precaution, speed restrictions were put in place for all trains traveling through the double-crossovers. An independent industry expert was engaged to evaluate the situation and recommend a solution. The recommendation, that was agreed to by HART, DTS and HDOT, included a short-term solution of performing a weld of the double-crossovers to fill the gap caused by the narrow wheels. The longer-term solution is to replace the wheels. The welding work has been completed and approved. The first replacement wheel-sets for the trains will be on-island in the fall of 2022. All trains will eventually be fitted with the new wheels.

  • It was also discovered that the track gauge in certain areas of the double crossovers was too tight. The tracks have been adjusted and the gauge issue has been resolved. Based on the work that has been performed, tested and approved, the speed restrictions for the trains has been lifted and normal testing operations are underway.

Benefits of the elevated guideway include an exclusive right-of-way, free from street-level hazards such as cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other modes of transportation along the east-west corridor. Grade separation is also necessary to maintain and support the goal of having a consistent and reliable schedule because train vehicles are not subject to street-level congestion, which can cause delays. An elevated guideway also minimizes the “transit footprint” of the system by minimizing the land that would be needed to build a street-level system in the midst of current traffic lanes.

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Project Status

Overall project completion % is based on the full 20 miles and 21 stations scheduled for 2031

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