The rail project got on track — literally — Tuesday afternoon when the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation ran a train along a portion of its guideway.
In the first of many tests, HART pushed the four-car train from the Rail Operations Center behind Leeward Community College to the future site of the West Loch Station in Waipahu.
HART began the clearance test — which ensures that the cars don’t hit anything while on the tracks — at around 7 a.m. The rail tracks didn’t actually supply the train with any power, however, as none of the rail’s substations have been built yet. Instead the HART cars were pushed about 4 miles from LCC to an area above Farrington Highway near the Don Quijote store before coming to a stop for a press conference around 2:30 p.m.
Each train will need to go through the same procedure before being allowed to hold any passengers, said Claude Phillips, a HART safety engineer. HART will power the lines in its next test planned for this summer to see how well the cars run unassisted.
Before the train crawled the last few feet of its first test Tuesday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell joined Hart CEO Krishniah Murthy and Honolulu City Council members Brandon Elefante and Joey Manahan in touting the rail’s benefits while downplaying the controversy over the $10 billion project.
“Young folks 20 or 30 years from now will hop on this train and not think about the controversy or question why it was done but just be grateful it was done,” Caldwell said. “Life is going to be very different in very positive ways. We just need to get through the conflict and problems we have today.”
During the media event in the middle of the rail’s tracks, Caldwell reiterated that he supports extending a half-percent county surcharge on the general excise tax to finish building the over-budget project. He said that he was talking with legislators about the need for a special session to finalize a rail funding source.
“It’s the least painful way. It’s the proven way … No one’s questioning it as a funding source,” Caldwell said of the GET surcharge.
State legislators could not come to a decision last session on how to fund the project, and adjourned in May leaving rail’s financial future in limbo. The Federal Transit Administration, which is contributing $1.55 billion to the project, wants to know Honolulu’s plan for finishing the work.
“No response is a good response for now,” Caldwell said regarding the FTA. “We are getting closer to hearing a response from the FTA, which may not be a positive one.”
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell