Island Heavy Rail Calamity: San Juan Repeats in Honolulu

Panos Prevedouros, PHD
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BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD – Tren Urbano (or City Train) in San Juan, Puerto Rico is a perfect comparison with Honolulu’s heavy rail:

  1. Both are heavy rail systems with a very high cost per mile of rail line.
  2. Both are systems on similar tourist/agriculture/military island communities.
  3. Both are under Federal Transit Administration oversight.
  4. Both received US federal funds.
  5. Both have the same lead planner, Parsons Brinkerhoff.

I have written in the past about Tren Urbano:

Recently, Cliff Slater of has developed a documented 2-page summary of the consequences of Tren Urbano such as:

  • Huge escalation of construction costs (+74%).
  • Huge escalation of combined bus and rail operation and maintenance cost after the line was opened (+250%).
  • Downgrade of Puerto Rico’s bond ratings.
  • Dramatic decline of total transit ridership (bus and rail) because the Tren cannibalized their bus. This is happening to TheBus now.
  • It is now more than five years since its opening and Tren has not reached 50% of its opening year forecast ridership! (See link above where I provide comparisons that show HART ridership estimates are 2 to 4 times too high.)

Now all these terrible transit and financial outcomes occurred in San Juan where population is much higher, and average income and car ownership is much lower than Honolulu’s (see 2000 data below). The Tren (like history) is repeating itself in Honolulu. The irresponsibility of current elected officials and certain candidates is truly bewildering.