At a mayoral forum on Sept. 9, Kirk Caldwell said that Hawaii will be the first state in the country to have a driverless rail system, or automated rail transit, following an international trend toward the newer technology.

“There’s only five driverless rail systems in the entire world right now,” Caldwell said at the University of Hawaii event. “We’ll be the first in the country. First in the country.”

Caldwell was responding to a question about the cost of operating and maintaining the Honolulu rail project.

But did he get his facts right?

The Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Cities both reported in July that there are no driverless metro systems in the U.S. apart from short airport lines and “people movers.”

“People movers” are automated rail systems that only run in small areas. For example, the Detroit People Mover in Michigan operates in downtown Detroit and the Metromover in Miami runs only in greater downtown Miami. Each runs for fewer than five miles.

In contrast, the proposed Honolulu rail system will have 21 stations and run for 20 miles from East Kapolei to Ala Moana.

If you don’t count automated “people movers” and airport systems, it looks like Hawaii would be the first state to have a driverless rail system.

But what about the other part of Caldwell’s claim?

Caldwell’s campaign said it isn’t sure whether or not the candidate was right to say there are only five automated rail systems in the world.

“I think he may have misspoke,” said Glenna Wong, the campaign’s spokesperson. “We think it’s up to 20… but even 20 worldwide, that’s not very much.”

The campaign didn’t know where Caldwell got his original number.

Driverless rail systems can be found in several international cities in Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa, including Copenhagen, Vancouver, and Dubai.

Ansaldo STS, the company that has been contracted to build Honolulu rail, said in a press release that Honolulu is its 10th driverless rail project in the world.

Other cities that have driverless rail systems include: Uijeongbu, South Korea; Nuremberg, Germany; and Algiers, Algeria.

BOTTOM LINE: Caldwell tried to make Honolulu rail look like it’s on the cutting edge of rail systems by saying that it would be the first automated system in the nation and only the sixth in the world. It’s true that there are no driverless rail systems in the U.S., unless you count airport trains and “people movers.” But as Caldwell’s campaign acknowledged, there are more than five driverless systems in the world. Civil Beat finds Caldwell’s statement to be MOSTLY TRUE.

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