The local agency overseeing Honolulu rail and a safety expert it hired are curiously at odds over whether that consultant actually submitted its final report on the transit project’s wheel and track problems.

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation spokesman Joey Manahan said via text last week that the report from rail research and development firm TTCI “is not yet received” and that the agency now expects to get it “in the November time frame.”

It was one of the few details HART would share for a Civil Beat story regarding HART’s recent struggles to award a contract for welding work to help fix the issues with its track crossings, or “frogs,” where the Hitachi Rail-manufactured train wheels are too narrow to function properly. 

After that story was published last week, however, TTCI contacted Civil Beat to say that it did in fact deliver its report on the wheel and track crossing problems to HART.

HART rail guideway car photo op Farrington Hwy Waipahu Sugar Mill1. 30 may 2017
Crews inspect a driverless train on the track above Waipahu. HART will not clarify whether it has actually received a report on how to solve the interface problems. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“TTCI has been working closely with our partners at HART to ensure that we are meeting their needs for this project,” the Colorado-based company said in a statement Friday. “In this case, TTCI delivered our report on schedule without compromising quality.”

Asked Friday to clarify the status of the TTCI report, Manahan simply replied via email: “Your story is all wrong.” When asked what details specifically needed correcting, Manahan responded, “We will provide you the correct information.”

He followed up a day later with another email stating, “Thank you for the opportunity, but HART will not be responding.”

UPDATE:  HART Interim Executive Director Lori Kahikina clarified the report status during the agency board’s public meetings on Thursday.  TTCI submitted an on-time draft report in September, but a final version that addresses HART and the city’s questions and comments is due later, she said.

She called the exchange with Manahan a “miscommunication between us and Civil Beat.”

A High-Stakes Report

Local crews discovered the snafu with the trains’ steel wheels and the frogs last year when they noticed unusual wear-and-tear on the track at those crossings, according to HART officials.

At stake with the TTCI report — and the recommendations it provides — is whether HART and the city might avoid more costly repairs and an even longer delay to launch interim service.

Rail officials hope they can solve the wheel-frog interface problem by replacing the wheels, not the frogs. 

If the report compels them to replace the frogs, it will be far more expensive and could delay interim service to Aloha Stadium by another two years, according to Kahikina. 

In a June briefing to City Council members, Kahikina said the company, a subsidiary of the Association of American Railroads trade group, was paid about $160,000 to do the analysis.

“They’re very well-respected in the industry … and they’re going to be doing their analysis of the speed through the crossovers, the frogs,” she said.

Honolulu City council member Joey Manahan speaks during Mayor Caldwell’s press conference on a rail plan held at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport parking garage.
HART spokesman Joey Manahan, pictured here in 2020 when he was a City Council member: “HART will not be responding” to whether it received a report from TTCI as that company asserted. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Currently, the trains must slow to 5 mph in order to safely pass through those crossings, rail officials have said. 

At those speeds, trains will be delayed arriving at stations. It’s a fundamental problem that needs to be fixed for Oahu’s elevated transit line to work properly, they say.

If TTCI determines that the trains can only go as fast as 20 mph through the crossings “then that’s not going to work, so we will have to swap out the tracks,” Kahikina said in June. “It really hinges on that report, (and) if we can go 20 miles per hour or 40 to 50.”

HART originally expected the report in August. However, Kahikina told the agency’s volunteer board that month that “there was a delay in getting some key information” to TTCI on the wheels’ designs, so it asked for two more weeks. 

“Everyone’s just anticipating the results because it’ll give us some good recommendations,” she said at the board’s August meeting.

TTCI declined to answer follow-up questions, including when exactly the company delivered the report. “We are not at liberty to discuss any further details related to this contract,” TTCI Corporate Communications Manager Stephanie Abeyta said in an email Wednesday. 

Abeyta further declined to provide a copy of the report since it had been commissioned for HART.

Manahan did not respond to a request Monday to provide the report.

HART board Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. 

Civil Beat, meanwhile, submitted a public records request for the report with HART on Monday.

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