HART says it plans to finally hand over an 11-mile segment from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium for the city to operate “within the next few months.”

Honolulu still has no firm date for the grand opening of the first segment of the rail project, but officials now expect the public will be able to hop aboard within the next six months.

But if the public is a bit skeptical, that is understandable.

That partial opening of the rail line — also known as the interim opening — has been delayed time and again over the years as the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation grappled with construction problems, cost overruns and other issues.

To give a couple of examples, way back in the fall of 2015, HART predicted interim revenue service for a portion of the rail line would begin in mid-2017. It didn’t.

The first 10-mile segment of the rail line from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium should open to the public in the ‘June-ish’ time frame, according to to the city’s transportation director. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022)

And shortly before Christmas in 2021, Mayor Rick Blangiardi told interviewers on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program that he wanted the interim opening to happen by last August. No such luck.

But HART Executive Director Lori Kahikina told the agency’s board of directors on Thursday the rail authority plans to finally hand over the first 11-mile segment of the system from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium for the city to operate “within the next few months.”

The interim opening this year will include only the western end of the $10 billion rail project. The entire 19-mile system including the last eight miles of the transit line through the Honolulu city center is not scheduled to open until the spring of 2031.

Repairs are underway to fix cracks in some concrete piers that support westside rail stations on the first 11 miles of the system, and trial running of the trains has been going on since August.

The goal is to enter a “system demonstration” phase in the next couple of weeks that should last 45 to 60 days, Kahikina said.

Assuming all goes as planned, city Department of Transportation Services Director Roger Morton told the HART board on Thursday that the earliest the public could go for a ride on the system “would be in the June-ish time frame.”

He later added, only half joking: “My definition of June-ish includes July.”

The city is tentatively planning a “soft opening” of perhaps four days, followed by a grand opening with some 300 invited guests including dignitaries from Washington, D.C., and the Federal Transit Administration. A contractor is being hired to help with tents and seating and such, Morton said.

That would be followed by a “free weekend” in which Oahu residents would be invited to take a free ride to sample the system, he said. “We want to make this a fun opening, and we are planning a series of promotional events,” he said.

He also said he wants to host some news reporters on the rail line to garner some positive press as well as free advertising to attract riders.

The city’s 2022 rail recovery plan projects that operating and maintaining the rail system will cost $103 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1. By comparison, operating the TheBus system is expected to cost $264 million that year, not including the cost of the The Handi-Van system.

Projected fare revenue for rail alone that year was not available, but fare revenue from TheBus and rail combined is expected to total $77 million that same year, according to the recovery plan.

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