New defect could further stall rail
Honolulu’s rail system could face further delays if Hitachi Rail Italy can’t fix a newly discovered glitch in its train cars before tests scheduled to start next year, project officialssay.
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Honolulu’s rail system could face further delays if Hitachi Rail Italy can’t fix a newly discovered glitch in its train cars before tests scheduled to start next year, project officials say.
The latest defect to hit Oahu’s elevated rail project affects the hollow metal beams that help form the bottom of the trains’ car shells, according to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s Deputy Director for Core Systems Justin Garrod, who briefed the rail agency’s board on the matter Thursday.
Hitachi first told Garrod and HART in mid-November that a mold used at its Italian-based factory to form those beams, known as “aluminum extrusions,” didn’t work properly, he explained. It left voids inside the beams where the metal parts that support it were supposed to fuse together and created what rail officials consider to be an unacceptable quality issue.
Hitachi discovered the problem during routine testing of separate, welded components, Garrod said. So far, the firm has created 27 Honolulu car shells in various stages of assembly — all with beams made from that mold, he added. That includes the four-car train that Hitachi delivered on Oahu in March amid great fanfare by local elected leaders and officials.
HART officials had heralded that train’s on-time arrival to the island as a bright spot for the rail project as it faced significant cost and schedule challenges.
Hitachi officials are now running inspections to grasp the extent of the problem, how many beams they would have to replace — and whether there’s even a “repair procedure that can be performed” to remove them, Garrod said. Each car shell has four beams made from the defective mold, he added.
Hitachi already ran inspections and didn’t find defects in the other molds used to make beams for the car shells, he said.
Hitachi also accepted liability for the defects, Garrod said. Enrico Fontana, project director for Ansaldo Honolulu JV, part of the venture creating the cars, did not respond to an email Thursday seeking comment.
Meanwhile the company plans next month to start building new car shells for Honolulu with a defect-free replacement mold while it deals with the shells it’s already built, Garrod said.
However, it’s not known yet whether the defect-free train cars will get to Honolulu in time for extensive testing ahead of rail’s planned interim service opening, scheduled for 2020. HART officials say they’ll need some 18 months to test the first cars by themselves, then an additional year of testing to ensure they work OK with the rail system’s signaling and power systems.
“This is a brand-new system, a newly designed train. Whenever you bring a new train and a new signaling system, there are unknowns,” Garrod said, explaining the need for that much time.
Right now the aluminum-beam defects are a quality issue, but if left unchanged they could eventually be a safety issue over the cars’ 30-year life, Garrod said.
He added that the city won’t put any cars in service with the faulty beams.
“For HART, we will not accept a train with these defects in it,” Garrod said. “Over long periods of time those defects may stretch and form cracks and, over the life of this vehicle, break down the material. Not today, but sometime in the future.”
Garrod said he probably won’t know until March how the issue will affect rail’s schedule, if at all.
“Similar to shims and tendons, this is a highly complex technical issue that we’ll need to work with Hitachi (to) collect all of the various detailed technical information,” he said.
The “shims” are plastic pads used to help keep the rail tracks level that have already started cracking, and “tendons” refers to steel strands used to help keep the elevated guideway in place that have already snapped in some places along the rail line’s western half. HART officials said Thursday that they’re still working to resolve those matters with construction firm Kiewit Infrastructure West.
He added that HART and other technical experts will examine Hitachi’s facilities in the coming months. Of the 27 car shells already built, seven were in Italy, 16 were undergoing final assembly at Hitachi’s Pittsburgh, Calif., plant, and the final four were in Honolulu’s first four-car train.
The entire system is eventually supposed to run 20 such four-car trains.
Carshell NCR Overview by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd