Reason: Light-Rail to Nowhere: Honolulu, Hawaii’s Train Boondoggle

The OTS credit union serviced employees and their families of the city's TheBus
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The Bus – Honolulu

In 2011, officials in Honolulu, Hawaii began construction on a controversial 20-mile rail project partly because of almost $1.8 billion in federal subsidies to President Barack Obama’s home state. The project’s total cost estimate stands at $5.3 billion, but if other similar projects are any indication, the final price tag will increase dramatically before anyone even gets to buy a ticket. What’s playing out in the Aloha State is happening all over the country.

“This rail project is our bridge to nowhere”, says University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth. “We are convinced that it will be billions of dollars over budget and we think they will try to get the federal government to bail them out.”



Former Gov. Ben Cayetano

Hawaii has some of the worst congestion and roads in the country and studies consistently rank its major city, Honolulu, among the worst cities for traffic. The INRIX Index has estimated that Honolulu drivers waste an average of 58 hours in traffic every year during peak travel times.

Yet there’s no reason to believe the Honolulu’s rail project will do anything to improve traffic congestion. In fact, it’s likely to divert resources from more-affordable solutions.


“The one thing about these projects [is that] they are very inviting politically,” says former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Along with Cliff Slater of and University of Hawaii’s Roth, Cayetano has filed a federal lawsuit against the rail project that’s held up construction.

They claim the city misled the public about the total cost of the project and didn’t deliver fully on a required review of alternative solutions to a rail line.


Panos Prevedouros, PHD, professor of Engineering at the University of Hawaii

Panos Prevedouros, one of the state’s leading transportation experts, says the rail plan that the feds approved will siphon off state funding for the area’s bus system.

The project’s own report, which Prevedouros says is filled with overly optimistic estimates of rail ridership, still shows that Honolulu’s congestion will be worse in the future with rail.

“The point of doing any cost effective type of analysis is out of the window,” says Panos, “the benefits are not there.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ordered an expedited hearing for the federal rail lawsuit on August 15th.

Go here for Reason Foundation analysis of mass transit.

Produced by Sharif Matar. Camera by Matar and Zach Weissmueller.

About 8 minutes.






  1. To pro-railers, when Mufi declared his run for governor, he began hiding behind promoting rail for these trips.

    ."…Kobayashi said of 30 trips Hannemann took between June of last year and July of this year, several were to neighbor islands. They are trips Kobayashi believes the city should have been told about.
    “I used to think it was when he was out of the state and I was told no, it’s when he is out of the city, for transparency and so we know when he is not here,“ …also raised questions about Hannemann co-mingling his official stateside travel with campaign activities citing a fundraiser in Denver and in Pittsburgh…"

    Rail is also Mufi's con.

  2. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The rail is not about traffic solution, it is about development totally and absolute. If the city really cared about all of you sitting in traffice for hours everyday they would have put a cap on building more houses out there, which adds approximately 120,000 more cars to your commute each day. That is 60 thousand homes with an average of 2 cars each. I've told the city council that while they belly ache about the problem the other hand is feeding the problem but no one will listen. We have an infrastructure that is decayed and yet they rubberstamp building permits and even exempt developers from building codes that you and I have to comply with. The politicians received huge campaign donations from labor unions and developers in exchange for permits to build even on land that provides 40% of our fresh produce. Do they care how we will feed our families in a shipping strike or natural disaster, the answer is NO. The bottom line is they are getting richer at our expense while we are being squeezed out of Hawaii for more affordable places to live. Its not too late to stop corrupt politics but it will take all of us in a collective effort to take back government and put it back in the hands of the people. Start by holding every politician accountable to us. By the way, the rail will be obsolete by the time its completed because traffic will be that much worse and we will all die still paying for it. Wouldn't you rather see our money spent on more meaningful solutions. Alternatives have been on the table but you can guess where the forces that be hid it.

    • Rail, especially just 1 line, will never be a solution to traffic. But it can and does have an impact, especially as one expands the system to cover more areas. In Portland, OR. which currently has 4 major light rail lines with another under construction, if LRT went away drivers there would spend an extra 3.476 million hours in delays. And they would incur an extra $75.5 Million in expenses due to wasted fuel and lost productivity.

      Which is why they're still expanding their rail system, because it does have an impact!

      • Whether you or I commit to ride it is irrelevant. We are but 2 people out of thousands. We're not going to swing the tide one way or the other. But the simple reality is that people will ride it, even if you won't. People in cities across the country have done so, despite people like you asking for commitments and predicting that people won't ride. The number of rides taken on trains in this country has more than doubled since 1973 from 1.921 billion rides to 4.423 billion rides taken..

        Besides, you have NO idea what I will or won't do as you don't know me. I've traveled extensively across our great country and Canada as well. And in multiple cities I've used the local trains as they are the most cost effective way to move around and generally the most expedient too.

      • I don't care to know you, all I want is for one pro-railer commenting here to vow to ride this loser. IS that to much to ask? Walk the talk?
        BTW You're style seems to be from the railpolitic website….but so what, eh?
        Congress funds 1.3 billion of the 7 billion plus needed for this con job.
        Even Mufi stated this @ his website;
        Mufi was the one who neglected Oahu's roads, sewers, & infrastructure for personal contracts, to pay you?
        Here's the facts at;….

  3. In thinking about light rail you need to look at places like Moscow Russia. Their subway system is the best anywhere. Fast trains every 10 minuets and they connect to everything such as long distance train stations and shopping centers. Honolulu has problems that Moscow does not have. Basalt, high priced land, high energy prices. Russia also has a good bus system but it does not go everywhere. The private taxi vans take up the slack. These are vans where people load up sharing the ride much light hotel shuttle vans. I think if you are going this route you need park and ride at one end and taxi vans at the other end. I would make everything electric where possible.

  4. I think that you guys should put more pros and cons about the rail, facts and not just opinions.

  5. Everyone needs to understand this solution is not for the existing development or people over 50. The practice will be a solution for a development of people yet to be born

  6. Here is how this could be a solution here in Honolulu, Next time you walk to your car notice the little rings that most cars have already inplace on the front and rear of the vehicle to assist in towing or in this case anchoring the car to

  7. Here is how this could be a solution here in Honolulu, Next time you walk to your car notice the little rings that most cars have already inplace on the front and rear of the vehicle to assist in towing or in this case anchoring the car to

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