A recent effort by Honolulu rail officials to hire licensed welders who might help fix one of the transit system’s most basic problems, in which the train wheels don’t align properly with the track crossings, has come up empty. 

The solicitation for the contract failed to secure any bidders by a deadline set last month.

It’s not clear how that affects the larger effort to finally get passenger service going from east of Kapolei to Aloha Stadium, a milestone that’s already hit numerous delays. Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation officials declined on Monday to discuss the matter.

All they would offer is that HART has put the welding contract back out to bid, still hoping to award it.

HART rail guideway car photo op Farrington Hwy Waipahu Sugar Mill1. 30 may 2017
A recent effort to hire licensed welders to help fix rail’s track problems failed to attract any bidders. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But the timing of the welding solicitation itself raises some questions. HART still hasn’t determined the best and proper way to fix the wheel alignment problem, which was discovered during system testing last year

The rail agency still isn’t sure whether it can avoid replacing the affected crossings, also known as “frogs,” altogether. HART hired a third-party consultant earlier this year to analyze the alignment problems and to provide recommendations for how to repair them so that the trains can run safely.

The final report from that consultant, railroad industry firm TTCI, has already been delayed a couple of times. HART originally hoped to have it by August. Now, the agency expects it to be done in November, according to spokesman Joey Manahan.

In the meantime, however, HART has proceeded with attempts to award a contract for welding modifications and repairs to the frogs that would allow the driverless trains to pass over those crossings safely at speeds greater than 5 mph.

It’s not clear how that preemptive work reconciles with a final TTCI recommendation that has yet to be completed, as HART won’t discuss what it’s doing. 

However, in a June briefing before City Council members, HART Interim Executive Director Lori Kahikina did describe the agency working on a parallel approach in which it would make temporary changes to the track while waiting for TTCI’s verdict. Those changes would allow trains to continue running amid testing while work crews gradually replaced their faulty wheels, she told the council members.

If TTCI ultimately determines that the frogs need to be replaced, that could delay an interim opening by another year or two, Kahikina has said.

HART declined to discuss the situation, Manahan said Monday, because the welding contract is still in procurement.

HART could still discuss the matter if it chooses, said Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, an advocate for open government in Hawaii.

“There’s nothing that would preclude them from discussing something that is in procurement simply because it’s in procurement,” Black said. 

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author