$27 million for rail safety feature

Published  6:12 PM HST Sep 26, 2013

City rail officials went before the city council on Thursday to explain why they approved spending millions for a safety feature that was not part of the original plan. The new design is for a physical barrier that would prevent riders from falling onto the tracks.

City rail officials said the original rail design did not include platform guards because of the expense. But they have changed their minds, saying the safety feature is worth the $27 million price.

Video clips were shown to city council members by rail authorities explaining how important creating a platform gate is. The first clip was of a man in Boston, stumbling then falling onto the track. The train stopped just in time.

"To us, saving a life and maintaining our system to operate at a very efficient and safe level -- to us, the cost really shouldn't be the issue," said Brennon Morioka, deputy executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.
The new platform screen gates would be about five feet in height, made of aluminum and plexiglass.
The original plan was to have a detection system that would warn the control center if someone or something fell onto the track. However, Rose Pou, who is visually impaired, said she feared falling without the physical barrier.

"The detector is not going to help me if I trip or anyone trips and falls into the train tracks," said Pou.

The rail platforms are tilted down for drainage reasons, making accidents possible. More video clips showed a mother letting go of a stroller with her baby inside for a second, allowing the stroller to roll onto the track. Luckily, there wasn't an approaching train. Another clip showed a different mother similarly letting go of her baby in a stroller. She tries unsuccessfully to stop the approaching train. Both babies only had minor injuries.

"Even if you have a stroller that might start rolling by itself, the actual barrier will prevent anything from going in because the doors won't open unless the train is actually there," said Morioka.

It will cost more than $1 million per rail station to include the physical barriers. $658 million is left in the rail projects contingency fund.

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