PROGRESS OR NOT? HART CEO Dan Grabauskas believes the city will prevail and the project will be built
Dan Grabauskas

One of the most controversial decisions by the city’s rail authority was to award a contract to build the elevated steel on steel rail trains to the financially troubled Italian company Ansaldo.

The city’s HART CEO Dan Grabauskas maintained in a University of Hawaii student forum this week that the company was the best choice to design, build, operate and maintain Oahu’s $5.2 billion system.

But the Washington DC Metro operators have a different take. Their Ansaldo rail cars have been plagued with brake, lighting and air conditioning problems.

A Washington Post article on April 9 said the transit agency has decided to replace the Ansaldo rail cars at a cost of $889 million years ahead of schedule.

In addition, the DC Metro will contract with Kawasaki to provide the new rail cars, instead of having the Ansaldo’s failing cars repaired or refurbished.

According to the Washington Post, Metro board member Tom Downs called the Ansaldo rail cars a “fleet full of dogs,” and he maintained the chronic breakdowns were “killing” the agency.

Panos Prevedouros, PHD, a professor of Engineering at the University of Hawaii and an outspoken critic of the 20-mile elevated rail project, appeared in a forum with Grabauskas and two others at the University on Tuesday.

During the more than 2-hour forum on rail, Prevedouros notes that Grabauskas extolled his confidence on Ansaldo for the trains that he ordered from them, and then just hours later the Washington Metro announced their opinion and action about their Alsaldo-Breda rail cars.

Panos Prevedouros, PHD

International news reports in recent weeks have highlighted other troubles Ansaldo is facing because of one of its major investors, Finmeccanica.

Finmeccanica Chairman and CEO Giuseppe Orsi is being held in prison in Milan after he was arrested February 12, 2013, on a warrant that alleges he bribed officials in an effort to secure a 560 million euro Indian contract.

According to Milan news reports, the alleged bribes occurred in 2010 when Orsi headed company’s helicopter unit, AgustaWestland.

Depending on the outcome of the case, and the Indian government’s own probe, Finmeccanica could lose the $753 million contract. Meanwhile the company is facing other money troubles, according Reuters, which noted July 6, that Finmeccanica lost $2.85 billion in 2011 and hopes to sell off Ansaldo STS.

“It is obvious that Grabauskas and the HART Board will say anything to excuse the inexcusable decision to buy troubled rail cars from a troubled rail car company in a troubled country on the other side of the planet,” Prevedouros said.

“At least DC and Rome are connected with direct flights so if a critical part breaks down it can possibly be received within a day. It’ll take twice as long or longer for the same replacement to occur in Hawaii and at a larger expense.”

Prevedouros said while perhaps there was nothing unlawful in the procurement choice of Alnsaldo, the criteria for the choice were flawed.

“That is because no current decision maker in Honolulu ‘speaks rail.’ Many more mistakes to come due to the built-in cluelessness at HART and City Hall,” Prevedouros said.

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