The general public got its first chance to visit a city rail station Saturday ahead of initial limited service projected to start 10 months from now.
City officials estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 people turned out to tour the nearly complete Halaulani station at Leeward Community College in Pearl City as part of the open house held by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.
Youngster Chad Colburn and his brother Champ, sister Caylor and cousin Elias Fergerstrom were most impressed by the “front seat” in the train parked on the tracks.
John Lopinto of Kailua wanted to see if the train would have window vents for fresh air, and ended up having a critical discussion with former Mayor Mufi Hannemann over the merit of the rail system.
Alton Nadamoto came to view a station that might be part of a new route to work for him near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport perhaps in 2023 when a second group of stations is expected to be added to initial service.
Lady B, traffic reporter for iHeartRadio Island 98.5, welcomed the crowd from a DJ tent.
“So Halaulani facts: 8 minutes to Halawa,” she announced. “This station is only 8 minutes to Halawa, 13 minutes to the airport station, 25 minutes to downtown station and 29 minutes to Ala Moana station. There also is a Handi-Van pickup and drop off. So cool.”
Halaulani at LCC is one of nine stations along a 10-mile stretch from East Kapolei near the Salvation Army Kroc Center to Aloha Stadium in Halawa that HART anticipates having ready for use with fully tested train operations in October so that public passenger service can begin in December.
Recently, Mayor Kirk Caldwell raised concerns about HART’s timetable for introductory service. But HART officials said they are far enough along with construction and testing that gives them strong confidence that people will be riding rail in December.
The city agency has previously held public events to board rail cars where trains are stored, but Saturday’s event was a first for a station.
HART chose the Halaulani station in part because it is 97% finished and LCC offered plenty of parking.
About 30 HART staffers helped explain features, including artwork at the station and racks on trains for bikes, luggage and even surfboards. Another 20 personnel representing contractors and train operators also helped.
In the station, there were enlarged route maps, a video of the train running and a mock-up of a fare machine. The city also distributed Holo smart transit cards that can be loaded with money and swiped to ride the bus or rail.
Davin Ortega, a retired police officer who lives in Mililani, visited so his 6-year-old son, Ryken, could have an up-close view of the train that he’s seen before from afar on the elevated tracks.
“He’s been asking since he was 2,” Ortega said of his son. “He just loves the train.”
However, Ortega doesn’t anticipate riding the system, except maybe to try it one time after the full line to Ala Moana Center is open, which HART anticipates will be in late 2025.
Debbie Garcia brought her grandchildren, the Colburn siblings, and one of their cousins out of curiosity.
Garcia said she might ride the train to a University of Hawaii football game at the stadium, but mostly just wanted to see the train and station.
“All of us were curious,” she said.
The coolest thing the Colburn siblings and their cousin said they saw was the single seat at the end of the train. The seat is for passenger use. A driver could sit in the seat and access controls under a sealed panel, but the system will be operated electronically without drivers.
Nadamoto, who lives in Kapolei and works at the airport, said he might ride the train three days a week to work. He came to Saturday’s event to pick up a Holo card and see the station and train.
“I just wanted to see inside,” he said.
Jay Sevilleja is a more eager but longer-term prospective rider. The Ewa Beach resident said he would like to ride rail weekdays with his wife and oldest child as an alternative to a 3-hour, round-trip car commute to work in Kaimuki that includes taking his wife to work in Iwilei and dropping his son off at school in Kahala.
Sevilleja said he thinks a rail and bus combination would be better than driving.
“Just to avoid the traffic,” he said. “It’s just a beast.”
Added his oldest child, Matthew: “We are going to ride that. It’s beautiful.”
Lopinto, a critic of Honolulu’s rail project, had a different view.
The former New York resident, who said rail systems are good in general, engaged Hannemann in a discussion in which he called HART’s $9.2 billion project an imprudent investment that ballooned from a $3.7 billion initial cost projection.
“It’s the wrong system for the wrong economic cost relative to the population,” Lopinto said.
Hannemann defended the system, saying that benefits include providing an alternative to nightmare commutes for people living in the most traffic-congested parts of the island while also spurring transit-oriented development with affordable housing.
“The people on this side of the island — the majority of folks are just excited that this is finally going to come to pass,” Hannemann said. “It’s awesome.”
Andrew Robbins, HART CEO, said he received a lot of good feedback and that the turnout was good for a day that featured passing showers and the Punahou Carnival.
“We’re getting a lot of oohs and aahs,” he said. “We’re very happy with the turnout and enthusiasm.”