The “Rail” World, San Francisco

The “Rail” World, San Francisco

In a recent episode of E Hana Kakou, Grassroot President Keli’i Akina interviewed LaVonda Atkinson, the now-famous whistle-blower on the San Francisco Rail project. Atkinson’s experience offers some important lessons for Hawaii. Not only in terms of how our Rail project has the potential to overrun costs and timelines in a way that the taxpayers never imagined–though that is a serious concern. But also in the example she provides as a symbol of integrity and accountability in government. In 2012, Atkinson began working as a cost engineer for San Francisco’s Central Subway project. This was a plan to add a two mile extension (at the price of approximately $ 1 billion per mile) to the existing fixed rail line. Although federal rules require projects that receive more than $20 million in federal funds to have a qualified cost engineer on the project in order to fulfill reporting requirements, at the time that Atkinson joined the project, there had not been a cost engineer on board for more than two years. What is a cost engineer? In short, it’s someone who is trained to do financial cost analysis of complicated projects and fulfill the complex reporting requirements needed by the government. At the time she began her work with the San Francisco rail project, Atkinson, who studied at UC Berkeley, had been doing cost analysis for 18 years, often for large federal agencies like NASA or the Department of Defense. She says that she noticed problems with the integrity and the accountability of the project within the first two weeks of starting there. The managers had set up a special module in...

In Pursuit #7: Up and Down on Rail

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii is proud to announce the release of the seventh research paper in our “In Pursuit” series of policy analysis. The Honolulu Rail project was rushed through on the series of half-truths and unfulfillable promises that tend to characterize most attempts to extract large amounts of money from the public before they realize what’s going on.  As the Grassroot Institute has been a long-time opponent of the Rail project, it should be no surprise that we offer it as an example of government overreach.  However, you may be interested to see how completely the Honolulu Rail fails the ↑UP/↓DOWN analysis....

HART’s Job Estimates Are Wrong

by Panos Prevedouros Back in 2009, UHERO provided some rail jobs estimates that said employment will start with 300 jobs, and at the peak of construction, there may be 2,000 jobs, but at that time UHERO did not know that a $1.4 billion contract to build the rail cars would go to Ansaldo Breda in Italy.* However HART testified at City Council that the rail will create 4,000 to 17,000 jobs. These estimates are flat out wrong if people believe that these are Hawaii-based jobs. Here is why: Material costs are not jobs and most materials like steel, concrete and glass will be imported, thus those jobs are not local. Finance charges are not jobs. Equipment and outside purchases are not jobs in Hawaii. These will be a huge portion from trains, escalators and elevators to ticket machines, tickets, bolts and nails. Also many large and “linear” infrastructure projects like the rail are of a “copy-paste” nature, that is, the people who build the first mile will also build the second mile, etc. There are no 10 groups of workers building 10 separate miles. In sum, a very large portion of the $5.3 Billion pie is not labor related. The part that is labor is not very large for Hawaii because (1) a portion of the labor is outside Hawaii or imported expertise, and (2) Linear infrastructure does not need a large number of workers. Therefore UHERO’s estimate that the maximum likely number of jobs is around 2,000 is the best answer. This makes Rail smaller in terms of jobs than Hilton Hawaiian Village. Of course the Village is...

Honolulu Rail: Designed to Fail

by Panos Prevedouros Randal O’Toole, economist and author of several books on transportation and urban planning was in Honolulu last week where he spoke on two distinguished panels in Kapolei and in Honolulu. He summarized his opinion about Honolulu’s rail in this eye-opening Designed to Fail article. A few highlights: Honolulu rail … will have the high costs of heavy rail and the capacity limits of light rail. Honolulu rail … has too few seats so bus riders question whether people will be willing to stand for 20-minute trips. Honolulu rail … was planned to go to Kapolei, which has about 35,000 people, but the city decided it didn’t have enough money to go that far. Between East Kapolei and Honolulu the rail line will pass through Waipahu (33,000 people), Pearl City (48,000 people), and by Pearl Harbor Naval Base (its 20,000 people work right on the base). The rest of the rail line goes through light industrial and commercial areas. So the rail line will serve, at most, about 15% of the residents of Oahu and probably no more than 20% of the jobs. That means no more than about 3% of workers will both live and work on the rail line. Honolulu rail … ridership projections are questionable and average at 110 passengers on board the two-car trains at any given time. US light-rail cars carry an average of 24 people, and the most crowded in San Diego carry just 37 people, 110 is highly optimistic. Honolulu rail … proponents argue that the project will relieve congestion, but even the final environmental impact statement says that, at...

Hannemann’s Hit Piece Disrespects Thousands of Hawaii’s Citizens

by Jamie Story By now, most Honolulu residents are aware that Mayor Mufi Hannemann purchased more than $20,000 worth of newspaper advertisements under the heading, “Getting Real on Rail.” The ads contained accusations and mischaracterizations of me, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, and a number of those who question the financial and environmental viability of the mayor’s rail plan. First, it is important to know what prompted such an expensive personal attack from the mayor. Earlier in June, I wrote a letter to the editor clarifying some aspects of the recent Brookings Institution study on carbon emissions, which did not produce evidence as favorable towards rail as the mayor claimed. Since then, a mostly civil debate has taken place between both supporters and opponents of the proposed train. Yet rather than use his advertisement to respond to the factual criticisms raised by the Grassroot Institute and others, Mr. Hannemann chose to demagogue those of us who refuse to blindly follow his plan. First, Mr. Hannemann claimed that “far from representing thousands of people from many diverse groups,” the rail questioners are simply “four people using smoke and mirrors.” That’s funny, since nearly 30,000 people have signed the petition calling for rail to be placed on the November ballot. The ad also implied that we are part of a vast conspiracy of organizations that “support the automobile, bus, highway construction, urban sprawl development and petroleum industries.” But the Grassroot Institute’s skepticism of rail has nothing to do with an affinity for cars or urban sprawl. Rather, we represent taxpayers who are concerned about the use of $6 billion—upwards of $6000...