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Rail transit rolls forward with stops for questions

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Last week on First Friday, I decided to forgo my usual reader mailbag format. So this week I’ll answer questions regarding that “third rail” of Honolulu transportation issues, rail.

I often get asked a lot of the same questions from readers and folks on the street. If you have more (as I’m sure many of you do), email them my way, and I’ll try to answer them in the near future.

QUESTION: How long will Ansaldo Honolulu be responsible for operating and maintaining the trains? Will they train local folks for these jobs?

ANSWER: Ansaldo Honolulu will operate and maintain the rail system from 2019 through 2024, and the city has the option to extend the contract through 2029.

Executives from Ansaldo Honolulu said although the trains will be built out of state, most of the local jobs to operate and maintain the train will be based here. These jobs include everything from freight services, electrical engineering and janitorial services to security, glazing and uniform supplies.

Q: When are Gov. Ben Cayetano, Cliff Slater and state Sen. Sam Slom filing the lawsuit to stop rail they announced more than a month ago?

A: The suit was filed yesterday in federal court, seeking an injunction against the rail project because it allegedly violates federal environmental laws by not adequately assessing cultural and historic sites — including native Hawaiian burial grounds — along the 20-mile route.

Those filing the suit include Cayetano; Walter Heen, a former state judge, state and city lawmaker and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee; Hawaii’s Thousand Friends; Slater, chairman of Honolulutraffic.com; and the Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation, of which Slom is president. Their lawyer, Nicholas Yost, is a nationally prominent environmental attorney.

Q: How much would it cost to ride the rail? Will it be affordable? Will there be discounts for students and seniors?

A: I still get asked this one a lot, so it bears repeating.

Nobody really knows exactly how much it will cost to ride the rail system. Those prices will be set by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, a 10-member board that takes over the city’s Rapid Transit Division this July.

The idea is to have the prices and functionality mirror how TheBus system operates. Bus transfers should work, and there will likely be special fares for students, riders with disabilities and seniors.

Q: Is federal funding for Honolulu’s rail reduced or eliminated now that Congress eliminated financing for high-speed rail this year?

A: Nope. Honolulu’s rail project will be funded through a completely different funding source, the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts Project Planning and Development program, which funds new transit projects.

Q: How can you stay objective on the topic of rail transit?

A: Easy answer. Because it’s my job.

Gene Park can be reached at gpark@staradvertiser.com or on Twitter as @GenePark.

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