Planning permission for new transport infrastructure can be difficult to obtain, but few projects have been in planning as long as the Honolulu Rail Transit Project, which is finally due to break ground in March after more than forty years in planning.

The 32km elevated railway will travel over commercial districts, beaches and farmland, across Honolulu to East Kapolei. It will be suspended 40 feet in the air, be 30 feet wide and have 21 stations. The engineering and technology for the semi-automated railway is all standard, but environmental and funding concerns have hampered the construction of the line over the decades.

The first phase of the railway is now scheduled to open in 2015, with the full line opening in 2019. Honolulu Rail Transit estimates that its 80 vehicle fleet will carry more than 116,000 passengers per week. Those 116,000 are people that city planners are hoping will be using the railway instead of their cars. Mobility are the main environmental challenge in Honolulu – according to reports there has been a surge in population growth in Hawaii recently, which combined with tourism, regularly results in gridlock on the roads. The mass transit system is needed to ease this urban congestion. However, is an elevated railway line still the best solution?

It is difficult for any environmentalist to argue against mass transit systems in urban areas, but an elevated railway is going to spoil some views. It’s a battle between aesthetics and urban congestion, and it seems like the drivers stuck in traffic jams have won. However there is a last ditch Federal court action over the environmental assessment still to be decided on before construction starts.

During the depths of winter in Europe though, it’s nice to know that the building of new railway lines can be contentious anywhere, even in exotic locations where you would only expect straw skirts and sunshine.

A full report on the Honolulu Rail Transit Project can be read at the New York Times.



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