UPDATED 8/30/11 12:01 a.m.

Editor’s Note: Four well-known opponents of rail published an opinion piece in the Aug. 21 edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Civil Beat has identified seven claims worthy of a closer look. This is one of those Fact Checks.

One of the primary complaints lodged against the rail system is the visual blight that will be created by the stations, which critics say will block view planes and change the landscape of Honolulu.

In their Aug. 21 op-ed, four well-known opponents made the following statement:

Some of the stations would be 10 stories high. One AIA member described the stations as “aircraft carriers in the sky.”

Asked for support documents, one of the piece’s authors, Cliff Slater, provided the following statement to Civil Beat:

The “aircraft carriers in the sky” bit is from Sean Hao in the Advertiser and Ian Lind on his blog:

“They’re expected to be about 300 feet long, 50 feet wide and most will be more than three stories tall. To critics, they’re aircraft carriers in the sky.”


Ian Lind has a similar quote:


“I’m not anti-transit,” one AIA leader told me, “but I’m anti-stupid things.”

“He described the stations planned along the 20-mile elevated route as “gigantic aircraft carriers in the sky.””

“There are many, many stairways up and down, escalators, walkways, concourses,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

The “ten” stories high is a typo that crept in somehow and I missed it. Someone may have been thinking of the future Ala Moana Station in the “planned extension.”

However, you might note that one of the stations, a side-platform with concourse, is the Downtown station which we clearly marked as being six stories high.

The images above are from the FEIS, page 2-22. Given the relative measurements it would appear that 6 to 7 stories (Pearl Highlands may be higher) is the right number.

Bear in mind that the cross-section in Fig. 2-11 is the ideal layout drawn to minimize the likely height; real life stations tend to be larger than ideal plans. Ground levels will make a difference, roofs are rarely absolutely flat, and if the underside is the usual 16-18 feet high then the person in the image must be at least 8 feet tall.

“All fixed guideway stations would have similar design elements. The stations would provide one, two, or three platforms 300 feet long and be a minimum of 12 feet wide to accommodate passenger demand beyond 2030. Center platform stations would have a minimum 30-foot-wide platform. All platforms would be high level (at the same level as the vehicle floor) to provide level boarding for all passengers and to accommodate wheelchairs.” DEIS, p. 2-20.

Let’s take the claims one at a time.

First, there’s the idea that some stations will be 10 stories high. Some means more than one. And while the height of a story varies with ceiling height and thickness of floors, it’s generally assumed that one story equals 10 feet. That makes 10 stories equal to 100 feet.

Appendix B of the Final Environmental Impact Statement has profile views for the entire route, and compares the height of the rail stations against ground level. Here’s an example of the East Kapolei Station:

Source: Appendix B of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. Click here for larger view.

Using those schematics for all 21 stations, Civil Beat came up with the following estimates for the height difference between the existing ground or pavement level and the rail line. When in doubt, we rounded up to the nearest five-foot increment to give opponents the benefit of the doubt.

Stop # Station Estimated Height
1 East Kapolei 45 feet
2 UH West Oahu 30 feet
3 Hoopili 50 feet
4 West Loch 35 feet
5 Waipahu Transit Center 30 feet
6 Leeward Community College 5 feet
7 Pearl Highlands 65 feet
8 Pearlridge Center 35 feet
9 Aloha Stadium 30 feet
10 Pearl Harbor Naval Base 40 feet
11 Honolulu International Airport 55 feet
12 Lagoon Drive 30 feet
13 Middle Street 50 feet
14 Kalihi 35 feet
15 Kapalama 35 feet
16 Iwilei 35 feet
17 Chinatown 35 feet
18 Downtown 45 feet
19 Civic Center 40 feet
20 Kakaako 30 feet
21 Ala Moana Center 35 feet

Source: Civil Beat analysis of FEIS Appendix B

The city points out that the Pearl Highlands Station is planned to be above a stream and isn’t really 65 feet above the ground. The airport station is also atypical because it needs to go above the existing freeway, the city said.

It should be noted that the “top of rail” is defined earlier in the appendix as “the elevation of the top of the running rail on Eastbound Track.” In other words, it doesn’t include the additional height of the “overhead canopies” at all stations that will shield riders from sun and rain while they wait for the train.

But even if the canopies were 20 feet above the station floor, no stations could be accurately described as being 10 stories high.

Slater followed up with Civil Beat Monday to explain that the 10-story number came from a possible extension to the line to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He pointed to Appendix A of the Draft EIS, which shows that a third-level rail line for the proposed future extension would be installed above the Ala Moana Center Station, approximately 85 feet high.

Bottom line: The claim about multiple stations being 10 stories high is categorically false. And blaming the error on a “typo” isn’t an excuse that Slater would accept from the city.

As for the suggestion that stations will be aircraft carriers in the sky, the op-ed and Slater are careful to say that others have made those claims and they were merely repeating them.

Slater said the Draft EIS envisioned trains up to 300 feet in length, but the Final EIS had the maximum length at 240 feet. Center platform stations will be 30 feet wide, and side-platform stations could have up to three platforms, each at least 12 feet wide.

(Some of the pages and figures Slater cited in his response to Civil Beat matched up with the Draft EIS, not the final version of the document, which is the city’s current plan.)

That pales in comparison to aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy has three classes of carriers, and all of them are considerably larger than even the largest Honolulu rail station.

The Nimitz class is the most common, with 10 different ships. It’s 1,092 feet long and 134 feet wide at its widest point — the “beam.” (The flight deck is 252 feet wide.) Nimitz class carriers are more than four times as long as rail stations, and three or four times as wide.

Read opponents’ response to this Fact Check: Click here.

Here are the related Fact Checks:

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