Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fixing the Basics on Rail for Hawaii's Pro-rail Politicians

Full article in Hawaii Reporter. It closes as follows:

If Hawaii's pro-rail politicians are really interested in improving transit in the county of Honolulu, they may begin their education on the history of elevated rail in sunshine cities by simply reading about Miami's Metrorail, and San Juan’s Tren Urbano. Here are a few highlights for Metrorail and Tren Urbano.

Miami’s Elevated Heavy Rail: They got 80% Federal funds but still they run out of money due to cost overruns. (Honolulu gets only 30%).  Ridership forecast was about 200,000 riders (Honolulu's is about 120,000 riders).  When the first segment of the single line opened ridership was only 10,000.  In 1990, six years after opening, it reached only 25% of its forecast ridership or about 50,000! They too ordered trains from Ansaldo and there were allegations of conflicts in the procurement.

San Juan, Elevated Heavy Rail: They got 50% Federal funds but still there was a 74% escalation of construction costs (+74% over budget!)  There was a huge escalation of combined bus and rail operation and maintenance cost after the line was opened. Combined costs shot up by +250%!  There was a downgrade of Puerto Rico’s bond ratings and new taxes were enacted to pay the debt. There was a dramatic decline of total transit ridership (bus and rail) because the train dismantled their bus. It is now more than six years since its opening in 2006 and the train has not reached 50% of its opening year forecast ridership!

Bottom line is that trains are like wind mills. Their theoretical capacity is high and the promises for power and ridership are full of hype.  Once installed reality kicks in and they prove to be only ~25% productive...

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