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Honolulu rail CEO offers new hope to repair gap between rail wheels and track

                                Lori Kahikina, interim CEO of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation
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Lori Kahikina, interim CEO of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has granted a temporary exemption to allow welders without Hawaii licenses to make temporary repairs to fix the rail project’s too-narrow wheels and too-wide track junctions — and to train local welders for long-term maintenance of the planned 20.2-mile rail line.

No Hawaii welders or companies are licensed to retrofit the manganese track crossing junctures called frogs and no local welders — or hui of welders — bid on the work earlier this year.

So the new plan is to bring in specialized welders from the mainland who don’t have a Hawaii license, Lori Kahikina, interim CEO and executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” livestream program today.

Bids are due on Friday.

HART’s trains are currently outfitted with wheels that are half-an-inch too narrow at the frogs, which forces each train to slow to 5 mph from 55 mph.

The temporary welding fixes to the frogs are designed to build them up to allow the trains to run at operational speed with the current, narrower wheels, and keep the trains on schedule to arrive at each of the planned 21 stations every four to five minutes.

Building up the frogs is designed to accommodate both the current wheels and new, wider ones being designed by rail operator Hitachi Rail Honolulu, Kahikina said.

The hope is to get the larger wheels designed, manufactured, imported to Honolulu and installed within 18 months, she said.

Just under a year after taking over as HART’s interim leader, Kahikina told Spotlight Hawaii that she is “humbled” to have accepted a contract to become the permanent CEO and executive director, starting Jan. 1.

Her annual salary will be $275,000 with options for bonuses. Kahikina will earn more than the mayor but, unlike her predecessors, she will not be the city’s highest paid employee, she said.

Similar positions on the mainland pay $325,000 to $430,000, Kahikina said.

She will have a two-year contract with an option for a third year, Kahikina said.

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