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Judges withdraw from hearing rail suit

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All of the judges in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii have recused themselves from presiding over a federal environmental lawsuit seeking to stop the rail project.

The case has been reassigned to Judge A. Wallace Tashima, a judge in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The recusal order said the Hawaii court "could be construed as having an interest in the outcome of litigation."

Most of the judges wrote a letter in 2008 opposing the rail route’s proximity to the courthouse, saying that it posed a security risk. The letter was addressed to the Federal Transit Administration.

The judges at the time who signed the letter were Helen Gillmor, Susan Oki Mollway, Michael Seabright, Samuel King, Alan Kay, Barry Kurren, Leslie Kobayashi and Kevin Chang. Judge David Ezra recused himself from signing the letter.

The lawsuit was filed this week by rail opponents Cliff Slater, former Gov. Ben Cayetano and state Sen. Sam Slom.

Also this week, a Denmark railway company, DSB, has ordered its lawyers to figure out how to get out of its contract with AnsaldoBreda, one of the parent companies of the winning rail car bidder for Honolulu’s system.

Danish newspaper Politiken reported that Denmark ordered 83 trains from AnsaldoBreda in 2001, but only 42 have been delivered, many of which have extensive technical problems.

AnsaldoBreda and Ansaldo STS, both of Italy, are the parent companies of Ansaldo Honolulu, the contractor selected by the city to build, operate and maintain the rail cars for the $5.3 billion system.

The award is under protest, filed by the two losing bidders, Bombardier Transportation and Sumitomo Corp. of America.

"DSB doesn’t believe that the DSB trains will ever run in the way they envisaged and certainly not to the extent envisaged," said Transport Minister Hans Christian Schmidt in the Politiken report. "So we have to find out whether we can expect them to run properly."

Lorenzo Reffreger, vice president of sales and marketing of AnsaldoBreda, declined comment yesterday.

The news comes just as City Councilmen Breene Harimoto and Ernie Martin returned from fact-finding trips in Denmark and Los Angeles, testing out AnsaldoBreda rail cars and interviewing officials in those areas.

Harimoto said the City Council will release a trip report sometime next week.

He said he inquired about the award-winning Copenhagen Metro in Denmark, a system Ansaldo Honolulu officials have promised they would mirror, and not the same system used by DSB.

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