Rail’s next stop: a signed $1.4 billion core systems contract with Ansaldo.

More than six months after the city first announced it intended to hire the Italian trainmaker to design, build, operate and maintain its rail cars and track system, it’s now just days — or maybe even hours — away from sending a contract to the commpany.

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu told the HART Board of Directors Thursday morning that his team has completed its due diligence review of Ansaldo’s financial capacity and determined the company is still qualified to do the work despite swirling questions about parent company Finmeccanica.

Those questions haven’t died down at all in recent days but instead intensified as the deal with Ansaldo moved toward completion.

Honolulu City Council member Tom Berg‘s resolution asking for a re-bid of the contract was heard by the Budget Committee Wednesday, complete with testimony from Bombardier executive Andy Robbins explaining how his company was treated unfairly when it was disqualified from the running. Berg also attended the HART meeting. He testified against moving forward with Ansaldo and had a staffer distribute a letter from Sumitomo to Hamayasu.

In that letter, dated Wednesday, Sumitomo Vice President Gino Antoniello pointed to recent reports that Finmeccanica is proceeding with plans to sell its interests in both Ansaldo STS and AnsaldoBreda. He said none of the entities is financially stable, and reminded Board members that Ansaldo could still face massive fines for failing to obtain its contractor’s license before making its bid. (Civil Beat reported that could cost as much as $560 million.)

“In sum, significant and material changes have occurred since the notice of award of the contract to Ansaldo. Those changes suggest that a basis for the award no longer exists,” Antoniello wrote. “We therefore request HART to reconsider the award to Ansaldo.”

Finmeccanica also stepped up its game in the closing hours. It too sent a letter to Hamayasu Wednesday promising to back Ansaldo — even if it sells its stake in the Honolulu joint venture.

“We therefore confirm that AnsaldoHonolulu JV has the financial and technical capacity to carry out the subject project and we would like to reiterate our position that Finmeccanica ensures the compliance by AnsaldoHonolulu JV of its contractual obligations under the Core Systems Contract, regardless of any change in ownership or financial capacity of the partners of the joint venture, namely AnsaldoBreda and Ansaldo STS,” Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi wrote in the letter, which was provided to Civil Beat by HART.

Finmeccanica had made that promise verbally during a conference call a month ago that put Finance Committee Chair Don Horner at ease.

But pressed by multiple Board members about whether that promise is legally binding, Hamayasu said no.

“I don’t think I should speak to this as a legal matter, but I certainly take this as a moral obligation,” he said.

That wasn’t satisfactory to all members.

“They’ve made a promise. Let’s make sure that promise is properly incorporated into a contract so that promise becomes binding. It’s a guarantee,” Vice Chair Ivan Lui Kwan said.

He wasn’t the only one to raise questions.

Damien Kim, business manager and financial secretary for the local chapter of the International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers, said he wants a list of Ansaldo’s subcontractors to ensure the city maximizes the creation of local jobs.

Buzz Hong requested a third-party legal review of the bond guarantees that will come back from Ansaldo with the signed contract. Board Chair Carrie Okinaga confirmed that there’s an existing contract with outside counsel that will allow a review before the contract is executed.

And Keslie Hui said that while he agrees the procurement process was followed properly, he sees the HART Board’s role as including a responsibility to make sure the project gets done on time and on budget.

Ansaldo will have 20 days after it receives the contract package to return a signed contract and bond paperwork, which members agreed was an important guarantee for the project’s financial security. After that, HART will have 30 days to review everything before executing the contract.

The HART Board of Directors will meet next on Oct. 27.

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