Hawai‘i federal judges look like poster kids for rail suit

There’s more than a little irony in the decision of all of Hawai‘i’s  federal judges to recuse themselves from presiding over an environmental lawsuit seeking to stop the $5.3 billion O‘ahu rail project.

The judges stepped aside because eight of the nine of them signed a letter in 2008 asking the city to reconsider the rail route, expressing security concerns about an elevated train whizzing down Halekauwila Street right past the windows of their chambers.

The mass recusal throws the lawsuit filed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano, state Sen. Sam Slom, businessman Cliff Slater and others to Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The irony is that the judges might be one of the best examples of the plaintiffs’ claim that city officials gave illegally short shrift to alternate proposals in their headlong rush to ram the project through on an accelerated schedule.

Federal buildings have been one of the most worrisome targets of terrorist attacks since the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Hawai‘i judges made a reasonable argument that running the train so close to the Honolulu federal building posed unacceptable risks.

They received an arrogant and insulting response from the city to the effect that there are easier ways to blow away a judge than from a train, typical of the hostility toward reasonable concerns raised by responsible people that threatened any delay in the project.

If the Hawai‘i judges won’t be wielding the gavel, they might make interesting witnesses.

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19 Comments on “Hawai‘i federal judges look like poster kids for rail suit”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Despite attempts at positive spin,today’s story of the Hawaii poll on rail shows that the community is not in support of the project. Shoots,it’s a dead heat on the percentages pro/con but with a near 5% margin of error and darn near everyone thinks it cost a lot more than what we’re being told.

    The longer it goes on,the more this project starts to smell funny and I don’t mean humorous. Has anyone started a pool on the chances of rail actually being built? Do we think the Feds will cough up $1.55 billion given that paltry level of support and a comprised financial plan that depends on stripping Bus funding, magic revenue growth and backloading of capital costs into the operating budgets of future years?

    I’ll take the under.

    Problem is, millions have been spent already and billions committed in contracts for future work and yet the community support can’t exceed the margin of error. That’s bad. Even if it is terminated now,the choo choo will have scroo scroo’d us, the taxpayers.

  2. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Frankly, I am willing to spend up to 100 BILLION dollars on a mass transit system because it will provide a viable & realistic alternative to internal combustion vehicles pouring massive amounts of greenhouse gases into theatmosphere, compelling us to send our young adults to fight oil wars in distant lands to secure the petroleum to fuel these vehicles, putting a wide range of places that will be destroyed by fossil fuel drilling or mining, and pushing off have to deal with these issues on to our grandchildren’s great-granchildren. Better to pay slight increases in taxes now than forcing them to deal with environmental devastation & descrution.

    for those of you who oppose fixed-rail mass transit, what realistic options that can be put into effect by 2020 do you have to offer that will address my concerns? We’ll still be dependent upon oil to create four-wheeled private vehicles even if they run on electricity produced by non-fossil fuels.

    On a related subject – look at the major split(s) within the broad environmental movement here in Hawai`i. Everyone is in agreement that we – all of us around the world – must get off fossil fuels and reduce the world’s population signficantly.

    However, just addressing the first issue here in Hawai`i, some Greenies oppose biofuels, others oppose windpower, and still others go after solar arrays, nuclear power, and wave power or seawater temperaturechanges to address these iisues.

    And then there are those who oppose Smart Growth and other planning concepts which would allow home-based businesses and a wide range of business/economic activities in traditional suburban communities in order to cut down on the need for long commutes. Why should folks in Kapolei have that option while others living in Kailua have to get into their cars or on slow, often crowded buses to get to a decent job.

    If we lose this federal funding – and it will be snapped up by other cities/states within weeks – we are doomed to suffer the consequences. There will be no other options for mass transit anytime soon.

    I’m curious – how many people besidesme actually carry around a monthly bus pass in your wallets?

  3. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Whoops! descrution = destruction

    Sorry for the words which wind up being collapsed into each other. I don’t see that in writing my comments. Maybe I should do it in off-line and then cut & paste.

  4. Kolea Says:


    You loudly proclaim you are “willing to spend up to 100 BILLION dollars on a mass transit system” and then get frustrated that people do not take seriously your views on the costs and benefits of Mui’s Train?

    Please follow my “back of the envelope” calculations for a moment. Oahu has a population of (give or take) a million people, from infants to folks in nursing homes. Your “100 BILLION” works out to $100 Thousand for every man, woman and child. For $100 Thousand, everyone of us could have a completely electric car, along with a personal rooftop photo-voltaic home-charging system.

    You make sweeping statements about the environmental benefits of Mufi’s Train” which do not withstand scrutiny. The “fossil footprint” of Mufi’s Train is greater per passenger mile than if folks used today’s hybrid cars. The small number of commuters Mfui’s people claimed would use the train cannot justify the cost, even at significantly less than the $100 BILLION you are willing to spend.

    Didn’t you just write in another post that you expect to be living under a bridge in the near future? If we are stuck paying for Mufi’ Train, a lot more of us will be forced to find similar accommodations. If we look at the Train as one big overpass, I guess it will at least provide us shelter from the rain.

    (Maybe THAT’S your reason for supporting the Train proposal so uncritically?)


  5. WooWoo Says:

    What Kolea said.

    CWD’s attitude towards this is useful for illustrating a common fallacy often found on the political left. The idea is decide what you want to accomplish (mass transit, end homelessness, provide healthcare for all) and find ways to pay for it regardless of the cost.

    But as Kolea points out, cost matters. I don’t oppose the idea of rail. I oppose the fact that we have selected the most expensive and monolithic design possible. As far as I can tell, this just ensures more shipping and construction industry jobs and profits… Which of course gets recycled as campaign donations.

  6. Michael Says:

    “Business is War”

    You can build alot of “canoes” with the cost of planning and building Rail. Rail if built will only go in circles. A canoe can be used to go Island to Island. Take consideration to fix our “canoe” first before going in circles and not making ends meet.

    It is not francis’s rail but an Idea by the Late Mayor Frank Fasi. Years ago when the population of Oahu was less than what it is now and the total of a million was with all Islands combined. mufi had a dream but did not know how to make it come true. he is still dreaming. Thinking of ways to attract Japanese Tourists to Hawaii. he has no idea on how.

  7. Kolea Says:


    You know I love you. But I am at least as “left” as CWD, so I dispute this provides a good example of widespread fallacious thinking “on the left.”

    I also happen to support universal, single-payer healthcare, one of your examples. In that case, I think single-payer is actually significantly LESS expensive than our current system while providing better results.

    There tends to be a default bias among progressives and environmentalists to favor “mass transit.” But we also have to reconcile that with our understanding of the RealPolitick which governs our political process, distorting the “planning” process in favor of maximizing campaign contributions and rewarding ones political and business associates.

    E.F. Schumacher famously wrote a popular book, “Small is Beautiful.” It may have oversold the idea of “small,” it it most definitely did succeed in convincing me that we need to consider the scale of “solutions” in evaluating projects. Not all HUGE projects are bad, If that size is appropriate for the probelm it is trying to solve.

    Mufi’s Train idea, distorted by otehr, non-planning, non-transportation criteria, is overbuild, over-large and overly expensive. It just happens to be the formula which provides the most jobs, the largest profits for contractors, engineers, architects, etc., and the greatest opportunity for wringing campaign contributions for those who control the award of contracts , the placement of terminals, the leasing of shop space in those terminals, the award of development rights near those terminals, etc.

    By the logic of our corrupt campaign financing system, Mufi’s Train is the logical conclusion. But any second year planning student can tell you it is NOT logical as a “transportation” solution.

    I don’t expect to convince you, but it might just be possible for one to SIMULTANEOUSLY believe in expanding social justice and being committed to practical economics.

  8. WooWoo Says:


    It sounds like we line up fairly closely on the issue of rail. I echo your statement that rail, as presently conceived, is not an optimal transportation solution. It has, however, repeatedly proven that it is an optimal electoral solution at the mayoral level.

    I actually also agree with you on the concept of expanding “social justice” while being committed to “practical economics”. I quote because the devil is in the semantic details. To put it in my own words, I’m all for helping those in need, but I don’t want my money flushed down the toilet. I am happy to pay more in taxes to support programs that work and make a true positive impact on people in my community. I am unwilling to pay to support ineffective programs that exist year after year for political or patronage reasons.

    As far as single payer goes, I do not share the opinion of many on the right that it will be the end of the world. I think that it will eventually happen. What we will have in a few decades is a system analogous to our current education system. We’ll have crappy public hospitals dominated by strong nurse and doctor unions that poor and middle class people will go to. As the governor negotiates with the unions, people will ask, who represents the patient? What are the consequences for poor performance when govt hospitals are the only game in town for most people? I’m sure we’ll eventually see a “hospital choice” movement and “charter hospitals.”

    And the rich will go to private clinics and hospitals like how they send their kids to private schools now.

  9. Richard Gozinya Says:

    In a preview of coming attractions, it was announced today that the price for preparation of the rail project’s environmental impact statement mushroomed from $86 million to $156 million.

    Scroo scroo’d by the choo choo, again.

  10. el guapo Says:

    1) Take the $150 million for the EIS
    2) Buy plenty more electric buses (to satisfy CWD)
    3) Build a baseyard for the buses in Ewa or Kapolei with a roof like the one at Oceanic Cable, using PV panels
    4) Roll back the bus fare to a quarter, or better yet, free. Harry Kim made fares free on certain Big Island routes a few years ago.
    5) Put even more buses on the road, the cheap or free fare will obviously attract more riders with today’s gas prices.
    6) Continue the 0.5 GE tax to support the cheap fares. Everyone on the island benefits (even the tourists), not just the people who live along a rail route. It really annoys me that everyone has to pay tax for the rail when most of them won’t use it.

    This will cost less than Mufi’s rail and we don’t have to wait 10 years for the benefit.

  11. zzzzzz Says:

    el guapo, I think you’re on the right track, but I’d prefer to see the 0.5% GET train tax replaced by a gasoline tax, which would also contribute to reduced traffic.

  12. WooWoo Says:

    Great suggestions, Guapo. I also like zzzz’s idea to tack it on the gas tax. The argument for GET is that tourists pay a chunk of the GET.

  13. Kolea Says:

    el guapo,

    Dude, you’re undermining my position. I have been dropping hints I could increase Honolulu’s mass transit ridership much more than Mufi’s Train and could do it for less. I was trying to position myself for a contract which would give me 20% of the sasvings upon demonstrated proof.

    You have now released the bulk of my common sense suggestions and ruined my business plan!

    Auwe! You can make it up to me. I cannot afford to pay the current bus fare. I’ll be the one hitchhiking by the side of the road. Do me a favor and pick me up. (I am the one even mas guapo.)I actually favor a small charge for the bus rather than making it free. Mostly as an easy way to track ridership. Maybe a quarter.

    Portland has free mass transit in its Downtown core. Once people park their cars in the morning, they can get around quickly and easily. It reduces traffic effectively, which, ironically, makes it a much more pleasant place for taking a short walk.

  14. WooWoo Says:

    El Guapo para Mayor.

  15. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    It should be obvious that I was exaggerating by using the $100 BILLION amount since the mass transit system will not even come close to $10 billion. What I was trying to emphasize that there are some social, political & environmental factors which cannot be decided just on the basis of how much they cost.

    I support a comprehensive train system circling the entire island as well as at least one track across the Ko`olau & Wai`anae mountain ranges as well as through central O`ahu. Best case scenario for that happening will probably be around 2150 – assuming, of course, that the Pacific Ocean is not lapping up against Alewa Heights.

    The proposed train system has a a major benefit besides removing greenhouse-gas-emitting internal combustion vehicles off the roadways: Long after the construction equipment has been removed, there will be a continuing significant AND positive economic impact remaining – housing and employment near the train stations.

    Again, let me be really clear on my position: If I had been in charge, I would not have chosen the elevated system design nor would I have eliminated the concept of light rail.

    However, it became apparent perhaps five years ago that my choice was to go with the concept selected by then-Mayor Hannemann or to forget about putting in a (real) fixed-rail mass transit system.

    That was a simple choice for me to make since the anticipated population on O`ahu by 2023 is 1.4 million people with probably at least 1.7 million internal combustion vehicles – cars, trucks, buses. I doubt if there will be more than 100,000 non-petroleum-fueled vehicles on O`ahu’s roadways by then.

    Re raising gas taxes or the GET: Without providing alternatives to internal combustion vehicles, people will pay higher taxes and spend less money on other items.

    For those of you who hold strong anti-rail positions, I suggest that you attend the Wednesday, May 18, O`ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization’s public meeting on Transportation Vulnerability Due to Climate Change from 5 pm to 7 pm in the State Capitol Auditorium.

  16. WooWoo Says:

    CWD, I feel your passion but it doth carry you too far.

    Yes, cost must not be the ONLY factor, but it must be an important factor. While I understand that your 100B figure was hyperbole, your point is still that you feel so strongly that you don’t really care about the cost.

    I understand that it is important for everyone to do their fair share to combat climate change, but how many cars we have on Oahu is completely irrelevant to sea level change. That will be determined by china, India, and brazil.

    Your comments make clear that you are more interested in a climate change solution than a transportation solution. This is not in line with what the voters of Hawaii want. They want a transportation solution. The voters do not want to spend $5k per family for a greenhouse gas mitigation project. I understand that you do, but I don’t.

  17. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Climate change impacts cover a lot more than rising sea levels. More violent storms, drought – and the impacts on both crops and potable drinking water – invasive species both animal & vegetable are just a few of these impacts.

  18. Kolea Says:


    Even if trying to mitigate climate change were to be our top priority, Mufi’s Train does not make sense by that goal. Light rail would have had a much smaller fossil fuel footprint and you say you preferred that solution. But once Mufi insisted on heavy rail, the merits of the project by your “carbon footprint” standard declined significantly.

    An electric train MIGHT be more energy efficient than a swarm of individual cars depending (in rough terms) upon the efficiency of the power plant, the transmission and the actual weight of each vehicle per passenger. You also have to factor in the energy it takes to get people to and from the train terminus.

    A heavy electric train, fully loaded, would probably be more energy efficient than if those same people were to drive conventional cars and with low occupancy per car. But for people to rely upon the train, it also has to be convenient, meaning it has to come frequently and at the times they need rides, which leads to the train running often, and probably at low occupancy. How many partly full trains does it take for th energy-efficiency nod go to personal cars?

    If we are to take seriously the goal of reducing the carbo footprint for transportation, how do the numbers look if a significant number of people switch to hybrid cars which might bet double the mpg of their current cars? What would it cost the state or city to provide enough incentives for that switch and would those dollars be a better investment than a train which is stuck to a specific, fairly limited route?

    Your support for the train also seems to rely upon an assumption the electricity will come from “green sources.” I think some skepticism is advisable here. HECO is already claiming there is a limit of how much energy can come onto the grid from alternative energy sources. Photovoltaic installations on Maui are already being held back because the electric company claims they have maxxed out the ability of the circuits to rely upon unsteady sources like solar.

    A mix of alternative sources: wind, solar, Ocean energy, geothermal, perhaps OTEC, can provide a more stable source of energy onto he grid, but until that mix develops, the train will undoubtedly run primarily on electricity from fossil fuels.

    Kapolei was SUPPOSED to be a Second City, providing not only housing, but jobs for the folks living in that housing and reducing the need for so much commuting. That was a better “Energy Plan” than building a heavy train to bring the residents in to jobs in the city. “Green” and “semi-Green” and pseudo-Green alternative energy sources will not be enough to significantly reduce climate change unless we actually reduce our energy-intensive lifestyle.

  19. Larry Says:

    If we, the people, had a chance to plan this, we might have come up with something different.

    News stories indicated (as predicted by many) that development at the far west end will mushroom. That was the plan, it’s really developer oriented transit anyway. More houses, many more cars. More traffic. More traffic affects those who don’t live near the tracks as well as the few who will be able to ride.

    As long as they don’t need a bathroom, of course. Or as long as they have no mobility issues when the escalators are out (and long escalators are more trouble-prone than shorter). (why? try getting into an elevator on a wheelchair in the midst of a rush-hour crowd).

    It’s a sign of our times, I think, that citizens can be at odds with their government, at any level. Or rather, that our government acts in other than the best interests of its citizens. I suggest the train is being built for the profit of the city government’s constituents–developers, architects, engineers, unions–who invest via campaign contributions that keep the politicians in office.

    What is best for us has not been primary for a long time.

    Oh, I haven’t kept track of it, but doesn’t the city still need a waiver of some kind from the federal folks to put the tracks near the federal building? Does anyone know the status of that?

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