Honolulu Rail Transit: What is the Status?

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) is currently constructing a new, driverless, urban light metro rail system along the south shore of Oahu. The Honolulu Rail, which began construction on February 22, 2011, is expected to link key employment centers, tourist destinations, and residential communities – and offer an alternative public transportation method besides Oahu’s only option of the bus.

The System and Stations

The 20-mile rail system includes 21 stations:

  1. East Kapolei (Kualaka‘i)
  2. UH West Oahu (Keone‘ae)
  3. Ho‘opili (Honouliuli)
  4. West Loch (Ho‘ae‘ae)
  5. Waipahu Transit Center (Pouhala)
  6. Leeward Community College (Halaulani)
  7. Pearl Highlands (Waiawa)
  8. Pearlridge (Kalauao)
  9. Aloha Stadium (Halawa)
  10. Pearl Harbor Naval Base
  11. Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
  12. Lagoon Drive
  13. Middle Street
  14. Kalihi
  15. Kapalama
  16. Iwilei
  17. Chinatown
  18. Downtown
  19. Civic Center
  20. Kaka‘ako
  21. Ala Moana Center

It is expected to take 42 minutes to ride from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center and 16 minutes to ride from the Honolulu Airport to Ala Moana Center.

Each station will have these enticing features:

  • Stairs, escalators, and elevators
  • Roving attendants
  • Restrooms
  • Bicycle racks
  • Ticket vending machines
  • Closed-circuit TV security cameras
  • Safety lighting
  • Compliant with ADA laws

There are a number of educational institutions along the rail: UH-West Oahu, Leeward Community College, Honolulu Community, and Hawaii Pacific University. HART says a rail extension could be constructed in the future to link the Ala Moana Center stop to UH-Manoa.

The rail system will be powered by environmentally friendly electricity. The plan is for the rail to be powered by alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind and biofuels. The Rail Operations Center (ROC), located between Waipahu High School and Leeward Community College, is a 43-acre LEED certified building where the trains will be maintained.

The rail will be integrated with the city bus system with a single system-wide transit card, called Holo Card, making transitions from the station to a workplace or entertaining option easier.

The Trains

The new Honolulu Rail Transit trains are advertised as having top-of-the-line features, including the following:

  • Fully automated and driverless
  • Air conditioning
  • Free WiFi connectivity
  • ADA compliant, with priority areas for wheelchairs
  • Bicycle, surfboard, stroller, cooler, and luggage allowed on the trains
  • Visual display boards
  • Audio announcements
  • Closed-circuit TV security cameras and call boxes in each train vehicle
  • 30 miles per hour average speed, with a top speed of 55 miles per hour

There will be a total of 20 four-car trains, with 17 trains in operation during peak hours, and eight trains during non-peak periods. A four-car train has a maximum capacity of 800 passengers, with 188 seats in each four-car train.

Frequently Asked Questions about Honolulu Rail Transit

When will the Honolulu Rail be finished?

HART Honolulu says that the first 10 miles of the rail will be open in the first half of 2021 – from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium – and will run at limited times. 

The second opening of the Honolulu Rail will be to the Middle Street Transit Center, which is expected no later than 2023. This second opening will include stops at Pearl Harbor and the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. 

The entire 20-mile system is planned to be open no later than 2026. By then, the rail is expected to run from Ala Moana Center to Kapolei. 

As of mid-July 2020, construction of the Honolulu Rail continued near the airport. Stations near the Ewa end of the rail were being completed, and utilities were being relocated for the rail through Kalihi, downtown, and in the Ala Moana area. 

57% of the overall project, including the full 20 miles and 21 stations scheduled for December 2025, was complete as of writing.

Did COVID-19 affect HART Honolulu’s plans for the rail?

Early during the coronavirus pandemic in Spring 2020, Governor Ige and Mayor Caldwell said the Honolulu Rail Project was “essential infrastructure,” so the Honolulu Rail Transit construction continued without interruption. 

HART’s Safety and Human Resources teams added safe working practices for construction workers or office staff to continue moving forward on completing the Oahu rail. About 80% of office staff worked from home, aiding physical distancing at HART. Additional PPE was given to rail construction crews, and HART Honolulu conducted site compliance checks to ensure safe working conditions and regulations were followed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Honolulu rail construction continued as planned throughout the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew Robbins, Executive Director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) since September 2017 said, “…the cost of the work for the project remains within the Federal Transit Administration approved budget, which is more stable than ever before. To date, COVID-19 has not changed that fact.”

“HART and its partners constructing the Honolulu rail transit system are committed to keeping all project participants safe, which contributes to our mission of delivering a world-class rail system to the people of Oahu and Hawaii,” Robbins added when speaking of COVID-19’s minimal impact to the rail’s construction on Oahu.

When will the Honolulu Rail run? What is the planned operation schedule?

When the trains are in full operation, they will run 20 hours per day, from 4 a.m. to midnight. During peak travel times, like rush hour, the trains will arrive at the stations about every five minutes. During non-peak times, they will arrive about every 11 minutes. The Honolulu rail trains will travel a top speed of 55 mph and an average speed of 30 mph.

In 2030, HART estimates 121,000 passengers will ride the rail every weekday, and about 55 percent of these passengers will walk or bike to a station. They also except the Honolulu Rail to remove 40,000 car trips from Honolulu’s crowded roads, reducing gasoline consumption by 16,000 gallons. 

The Honolulu Rail may transform the way residents and visitors to Oahu move around the island, but we will have to wait until it opens – possibly at the end of this year – to witness its impact.

Who is paying for the construction of the Honolulu rail transit?

$1.55 billion of the construction costs for Honolulu Rail are being paid for with funds from the Federal Transit Administration. Another large percent is being paid for by tourists making purchases on Oahu via the 0.5% General Excise Tax (GET) surcharge. The rest of the Honolulu rail transit is being paid for by all Hawaii residents and businesses through a 0.5% GET surcharge.

HART Honolulu is also using short-term bonds to finance the rail construction, which will be paid back using federal funds and the GET surcharge revenues.

What is HART Honolulu?

HART stands for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and they are a semi-autonomous public authority responsible for planning, constructing, operating, and maintaining Honolulu’s rail transit. HART has a 14-member board composed of the Department of Transportation director, the Honolulu City Department of Transportation Services director, and 11 volunteers from the community (three appointed by the Mayor, three by City Council, three by the State Legislature). The voting members then appoint the fourteenth member to the board. 

HART employs hundreds of workers and business partners to construct the rail and is ultimately responsible for its completion. And residents and visitors to Oahu hope HART will complete construction on the first section soon, so rides on the Honolulu rail can begin within the next few months!