There are Many Reasons to Reject Rail
One of our supporters, Dennis Callan, wrote this piece for Civil Beat and gave us his permission to reprint it here. It’s an excellent summary of why rail is not the solution for Honolulu.
There has been a truck-load of ink spilled on this topic but never, ever, have ALL the arguments been assembled in one place. One Place. There has not been a place or time when all the arguments have been collected in one composition.
This critical issue has so many dimensions to consider that we need a summary at this time to properly state the case. The tragedy is that opponents say “too noisy, ugly, expensive” or “too …” but singling out one aspect, like financing or corruption, is not enough. It narrows and cheapens the argument.
TRAFFIC & ALTERNATIVES
Rail will not solve our traffic problems. City and FTA admit that congestion will be worse with rail than now. Cheaper, more effective alternatives could be implemented quickly, benefitting all, but were never properly studied by city.
More express buses are needed now: one express lane could provide four times the passenger capacity than rail, at higher speed, with seated passengers. Future cars will be computer-guided, self-driving, making better use of lanes, safely fitting more vehicles into existing roads. Other solutions include telecommuting, ridesharing, added lanes, modified work & school hours.
ENVIRONMENT & LAND USE
20-mile, elevated, massive concrete slab would be an eyesore. The train would have lower energy-efficiency than future cars and current buses. Archaeological and historic sites will be disturbed and existing neighborhoods disrupted.
Transit Oriented Development is unlikely, e.g. Portland, still waiting for development 25 years later. Resulting low-density Leeward sprawl encouraged by rail will further increase congestion and destroy farmlands. Feds have stated “Waipahu, Pearl City, and Salt Lake communities may not be very adaptable to redevelopment.” A better planning option is to increase city-center population.
This is the most expensive per-capita rail project in US history. Construction was $2.7 billion in 2006, now $5.3 billion and climbing. Historically rail has had average overrun +40 percent from initial estimates. Operation and maintenance during the next 20 years will total over $6 billion. Combined this will cost each family of four $48,000, which we don’t have.
We cannot afford it, especially considering needed improvements for sewers, $5 billion; water, $5 billion; and roads, $2 billion. Subsidy for operation & maintenance of rail and bus in 2023 estimated at $285 million/year.
Transit use would only increase from current 6 percent to 8 percent, benefitting just 2 percent while using half our transportation budget. Inflated claims of 116,000 daily require a 100 percent increase in transit riders, which has never happened anywhere.
Existing residential pattern is low density, not suited for rail. Very few (perhaps 2 percent) will walk to rail; time-consuming bus-to-rail transfers always discourage ridership; parking available at only 3 of 21 stations; city claims 60 percent will transfer by bus, which is a four times higher than national average. The first rail segment starts in farmland with full route not open for 20 or 30 years. Riders would be uncomfortable with 80% standing, some for 41 minutes. Average train speed is only 27 mph, stopping every mile.
$500 million foreign payments to build the trains will export employment. Rail technology requires importing specialized workers. Bus transit alternatives would create local jobs. Traffic relief, not job-creation, should be main justification.
Train has no drivers, no police, and security is not in budget. Honor system for fare collection is unreliable. Trains are old-fashioned, obsolete technology, with rigid alignment that cannot be modified for changing conditions.
The public has been subject to years of misleading ads by government, paid with tax money. Our city administration is irresponsible to proceed now, issuing $300 million in contracts in the face of lawsuits and the upcoming election, without guarantee of Federal funds. If rail is not approved, new construction will have to be torn down (“cheaper” city claims).
Arrogant politicians have been intolerant of criticism, and unwilling to listen to alternate opinions. Biased studies were conducted by the same city-contracted planner, Parsons, who recommended Bus Rapid Transit in 2003 and dismissed rail. Major polls show public now opposed to rail. The 2008 election was rigged by big $$ on misleading ads, and promises of reduced congestion and lower price. Rail benefits special interests: bankers, developers, politicians, unions and planners with ties to rail. We need real solutions.
Editor’s Note: Dennis Callan co-founded Stop Rail Now in 2008. He has learned about mass transit during the past 30 years leading tours to Europe and elsewhere, riding metro rail in 62 different cities, nearly all of which are larger and more densely populated than Honolulu. He has been opposing the Honolulu rail for 35 years.