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Honolulu rail repairs could take up to 2 years, HART CEO says

Honouliuli Rail Station at Ho'opili
Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation
Honouliuli Rail Station at Ho'opili

It may take up to two years to fix the rail project's track and wheel issues that were discovered during routine testing in late 2020.

That's according to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Lori Kahikina during a webinar hosted by the Hawaiʻi Society of Business Professionals.

Earlier this year, HART announced inspectors found the wheels of the train don't properly fit with the track's crossings — also known as frogs.

Kahikina then told the Honolulu City Council that HART would have to delay the start of interim service of the rail line — primarily because the issues would not only impact the arrival times of trains, but they also pose a safety issue.

Kualakaʻi Station’s center platform construction on May 3, 2018.
Andy Stenz/Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation
Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation
Kualakaʻi Station’s center platform construction on May 3, 2018.

HART then hired a third-party consultant, railroad industry firm TTCI, to analyze the defects and provide possible solutions.

Kahikina says according to the firm's preliminary report, there are two options.

One is to replace the frogs.

"It's not as easy as people might think, just to swap out these tracks... It's much more difficult," Kahikina said. "And then there's communication. Once you take out this track, the testing that Hitachi has been doing has to start all over again."

Kahikina says if HART decides to go with this option, it could cause longer delays than originally anticipated.

"This has to be manufactured in the mainland, and shipped here," she said. "The problem that we're having is a supply issue. Hitachi estimated it would take two years just to manufacture the frogs, ship it here, and then install it."

Another option is replacing the train's wheels. Kahikina says although it is a quicker fix, it comes with its own challenges.

"We can swap out the wheels, but we would have to do a temporary fix, a weld, to fill that gap," she said.

Earlier this year, HART published a request for proposals (RFP) for contractors that could accomplish the task. But Kahikina says the agency hasn't received any bids.

"As far as we know, there's nobody here, locally, that is certified to do that type of welding — it's manganese," she said. "So we're trying to find somebody in the mainland that can do this type of work, come here, and actually train the local contractors."

Kahikina says while the welding contract would be quick and a temporary solution, it is critical the contractor train local workers. She says it's crucial for the long-term maintenance of the rail line.

If HART decides to replace the wheels of the trains, and the agency is able to find a contractor, Kahikina says the agency could transfer the first 15 miles of the rail line to the city as soon as April or May 2022. However, it is up to the Honolulu City Council to determine when interim service begins.

She says she expects to get the consultant's final report by Nov. 1.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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