All trains not created equal

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa used her freshman essay in Politico to praise Washington’s Metro system and compare it to the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project, which yesterday received the green light from the Federal Transit Administration to begin construction — possibly as soon as March.

Hanabusa wrote:

Anyone who argues against the virtues of public rail should come to D.C. and experience a well-planned mass transit system. It makes my commute to Capitol Hill easy — as I reflect on the thousands of Oahu drivers stuck in daily gridlock. Honolulu has its own rail project planned, and we are about to break ground in partnership with the Federal Transit Administration. It is a system sorely needed — and long overdue.

After riding the Washington Metro for eight years, I totally agree with her assessment of its merit. But it’s an apples and oranges comparison; the D.C. Metro is a far different system from what is proposed for Honolulu.

The Metro serves nearly all of the major suburbs in the district, Maryland and Virginia and delivers you to within a couple of blocks of anywhere you might work in the city’s business and government districts. The subway is also convenient for most trips around the city during the work day.

When I lived in Arlington, VA, for instance, I caught a city bus across the street from my townhouse that took me to the Pentagon in 10 minutes via an HOV lane. From there, it was a 10 minute Metro ride that dropped me a block from my office near the White House. Day trips to the Capitol were a snap. I wouldn’t have thought of driving.

But after our family moved out near Dulles Airport and my office moved further from the subway line, it became a different story. I had to either take the bus on a circuitous ride to the nearest Metro station or drive there and look for parking. Either way, it could take a half hour if traffic was bad. The train ride to the city took another half hour.

When my company offered parking in our building for $80 a month, I was back in the car in a flash.

The 20-mile O‘ahu line from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center will be more like my second experience for most commuters, who won’t live within walking distance of a train station and will have to either take the bus, drive or catch a ride to the train.

Once they arrive in town, if they work in Waikiki, at UH or somewhere else outside the downtown-Ala Moana corridor, they’ll have to find transportation from the train station to their final destination, making for a total of three separate car, bus or train rides that will take well over an hour. The system won’t be nearly as convenient as the D.C. Metro for day trips around the city.

It remains to be seen how many commuters will find this to be less of a hassle-factor than simply braving the traffic and driving.

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16 Comments on “All trains not created equal”

  1. The Washinton Metro wasn’t built all at once. Like the proposed system in Hawaii, it had core routes built first and then was extended later. The University of Hawaii and Waikiki extensions are included in the EIS were always planned. Also, many of the those convenient places to shop, work and live that are so convenient to the Metro route got built after the line went in. It’s called transit oriented development and it really does happen.

    Another lesson to be learned in DC is what happened (or didn’t happen) in Georgetown. That area fought the Metro and successfully kept it from going through their area because it would “destroy” the “ambiance” of their district. Now, however, they are whining for an extension of the system because they now realize that it works and not having it is hurting their restuarants and businesses.

  2. Richard Gozinya Says:

    The fundamental difference is that the Washington Metro doesn’t start in an empty field and end at a shopping Mall.

    A 20 mile route costing $5.5 billion, that’s like $50,000 a foot to take you where you don’t want to go.

    Forgive me but this thing just brings out the snark in me.

  3. WooWoo Says:

    There are also 5.4 million people in the DC metro area. A lot of things make sense at 5 million that don’t at 1 million.

    Let’s do apples-to-apples and talk about elevated steel-on-steel rail systems in 1 million population metro areas that meet pre-construction ridership targets.

    I came to the conclusion that the rail proponents (Mufi back then) were plain lying when I researched ridership numbers in cities with similar population size as Honolulu. I invite anybody to do their own research; it doesn’t take more than 10 or 15 minutes on the internet to determine that the projected ridership numbers are complete fabrications. Metro areas of comparable size do not have ridership levels anywhere close to what they are projecting for Honolulu.

  4. David Shapiro Says:

    Colleen herself is a good example of the difference. In D.C., I’m sure she lives close in near the subway line and the Metro takes her to about a 9-iron from her office in the Cannon Building. It’s a great solution for her.

    But if she was still in the Legislature when O‘ahu rail was running, do you think she’d give up her car, find a way from her Ko Olina condo to the nearest rail station in East Kapolei and then trudge from downtown to the Capitol upon her arrival in Honolulu? No chance.

  5. shaftalley Says:

    it looks like once the original construction is completed,more lines willbe added to other neighborhoods and nearby communities.when funds become available.

  6. Michael Says:

    This is the actual route of the Rail.
    Take away the plane symbol and put a rail
    in place.

  7. Michael Says:

    Only if it looks this good in reality.

  8. zzzzzing Says:

    Dave, that’s what opponents have been pointing out all along – apples to oranges… or in our case, lemons. I’ve read the comments & one stood out more than others: The Rail may fail, but the players who pushed for it (unions, landowners standing to make huge profits & politicians) will take their money & run – leaving the rest of Oahu’s citizens holding the costly, money-sucking bag.

  9. Doug Carlson Says:

    What constitutes “walking distance?” I lived in Annandale, VA when I worked on Capitol Hill and you’d visit our office, Dave. It was a 10-minute walk from our townhouse to the nearest bus station, and I walked it in all kinds of weather. From there it was maybe 20 minutes by bus to the Pentagon for a switch to the Metro for the ride to the South Street station across from the Cannon building. We had one car and two adults who needed to be out and about. One of us took public transit and did just fine. Do you suppose there will be one-car families on Oahu who live within a 10-minute walk of a rail station who might find rail perfect for their needs? Of course there will.

  10. ppcc Says:

    Lawsuits stopped the SuperFerry and Mufi/Apo’s failed trans Pacific garbage shipment from Oahu to Washington State. I don’t know what the statute of limitations of filing a lawsuit against Oahu’s rail project, which will probably focus on the flawed rail EIS, but I would assume the optimum time to file a rail lawsuit is at the very last minute just before the first day of construction is to begin.

  11. Dave Says:


    Is there a reason you can’t write a column like this for the Star-Advertiser? They seem to have gotten a little rail happy since Sean left.

  12. David Shapiro Says:

    No restrictions on me at the S-A. I just did a rail column 12/15.


  13. Dave Says:

    Thank you. I can’t believe I missed it. You are hands down my favorite columnist over there.

  14. ppcc Says:

    Why doesn’t ANY local media asks Hanabusa to defend her statement and ask her does she think that the commuters who creates weekday gridlock traffic on Oahu are the SAME that causes traffic tie ups in DC? Everyone knows, including Hanabusa, Carlisle, Carlson, etc., on Oahu it is the private school/ college commuting crowd that causes gridlock traffic whereas in DC and most other big cities it is the working commuter that causes traffic problems. Every morning, local news provide GPS based data drive times throughout the Oahu morning commute almost every weekday of the year and FACTUALLY validates this premise. With Mufi/Carlisle/Parson’s Oahu rail line starting from an empty field in Kapolei and ending at Ala Moana Ctr, the school commuting crowd will NEVER use the train/bus/walk for their school commute as it will easily DOUBLE their commute time. Talking about how the Oahu train will eventually reach UH and Waikiki is pure BS as it is NOT budgeted in the $5.5 (actual $8++) BILLION price tag that has been presented to the public.

    Also if Hanabusa, Carlson and others what to praise other rail lines, how come no local reporter brings up the 4 mile Las Vegas elevated train, built by Parsons/Bombardier, the same companies that will build Oahu’s elevated train, that is only 7 years old and is now bankrupt to the tune of up to $1 BILLION dollars? Also why doesn’t a reporter ask our elected officials to comment on how the 7 yr old Las Vegas train already has repair and maintenance costs that approaches $100 million? Las Vegas can be hot and cold which affects the life of a rail system but it does not even come close to the tropical salt-air environment that permeates the entire Oahu rail line and the havoc it will cause on an electrified “steel on steel” rail line with plenty of exposed electrified parts. Yes, Oahu had a rail line decades ago however that train was self-propelled, steam driven and not an electrified rail system.

    What is the point of presenting facts that refute the appropriateness of the rail if the local media NEVER asks followup questions by our elected officials when they make statements that are completely irrelevant to the true “worth” of Oahu rail project?

    I agree, thanks Dave for providing a place to post differing opinions, without being CENSORED, NOT because of use of personal attacks, swearing or fabricated information, rather because of biased system administrators who have a not-so-hidden agenda dictated by special interest (ie $$$$$$)

  15. shaftalley Says:

    proponents of the railroad point out to those critical of the project that they had their chance in the voting booth.and lost.could voter fraud be a possibility that opponents lost?were there mail-in ballots sent out to voters?there has been questions raise about possible irregularities of mail-in.we will never know.

  16. David Shapiro Says:

    It was a legal and proper election and there was no evidence whatsoever of fraud.

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