Ansaldo unveils rail concept

$400 million of $1.4 billion approved for train design, construction, control systems, operation, maintenance

 UPDATED 10:03 PM HST Mar 07, 2013
HONOLULU -

Ansaldo Honolulu JV, the company that signed a contract with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation for the city's rail project's core systems, unveiled its train concept for Oahu Wednesday. Although the colors on the rendering may change, the train "shell" is now set. 

"We'll be reaching out to the public to talk about color schemes and some of the other interior design parts," said HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas. "We're going to make this fun."

Meanwhile, HART's Finance Committee approved $400 million of the $1.4 billion contracted for Ansaldo to proceed with the design, construction and delivery of train vehicles, the train control systems and the operation and maintenance of the rail system after installation. Grabauskas had been prevented from issuing a notice to proceed until Ansaldo presented the company's financial status to members of the HART board.

Ansaldo Honolulu JV is a joint venture between AnsaldoSTS and AnsaldoBreda, and according to financial statements provided Wednesday, both companies are on solid financial footing.

"We're very proud to say that it was another strong year of delivering quality results to our shareholders in 2012," said Joseph Pozza, Vice President of Administration for AnsaldoSTS

However, recent heavy losses by Finmeccanica of Italy, the parent company of AnsaldoSTS and AnsaldoBreda, has cast a cloud over Honolulu's proposed rail line. in 2011, Finmeccanica reported losses of $3.06 billion, and just last month, CEO Giuseppe Orsi was arrested on bribery charges related to a helicopter deal with India.

Despite the black marks against Italy's second biggest industrial employer, Grabauskas told reporters he's satisfied the rail project's core systems contract will be executed as promised.

"I remain very confident that we've got a great team of companies to deliver a great product," he said. 

Ansaldo says Honolulu will have the first driverless rail transit system in the U.S. The company already has four such train systems operating in Denmark, Italy and Saudi Arabia, with an additional five systems pending completion.

The Honolulu contract was awarded to Ansaldo in March 2011.  The contract calls for the delivery of the first 16 vehicles in 2014, and for the remaining 64 vehicles in 2018.  Each train car is expected to have 96 seats, a number which must still be approved by HART through a change order. The original concept called for 76 seats per car.

The first 10-mile section of the $5.3 billion transit system from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium is expected to open in 2017, a full year behind schedule. That's mainly due to a construction delay resulting from a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in August, 2012.  The high court said earth digging operations could not proceed until an archeological inventory survey of the entire 20-mile route was finished.

Grabauskas said he expects construction to resume in September, once AIS reports are issued by the State Historic Preservation Division, as well as the Oahu Island Burial Council.

Still, there are a variety of pitfalls facing the rail line that could push the final price tag higher. 

According to the project's January progress report, risks to the project with a 90 percent chance of occurring include the following:

- AIS delays could result in additional costs

- Limited geotechnical information could push costs higher

- The Hawaii Department of Transportation may require the replacement of all existing traffic signals with new equipment

- HART may require changes to baseline documents resulting in formal change orders

- And there may be insufficient utility company resources available to meet the construction schedule

Grabauskas told KITV4 the risk assessments are a guide, and are not set in stone. "It's not a predictive list," he said. "It doesn't say this shall happen, it says that we identified this may happen unless we take some action."

Grabauskas added that HART's original estimate of $84 million in added costs related to construction delays is coming in at 25 to 60 percent less than expected. Meanwhile, the project still has contingency funds totaling $700.1 million.

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