There were smiles and cheers at Kapolei Hale Thursday as the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation unveiled a mock-up of a railcar that will run along the 20-mile elevated system.
"For the people of Honolulu, for the first time they can actually come by and see what the train is going to look like," said Dan Grabauskas, executive director of HART.
The model that's being showcased is about half the length of an actual railcar, which will stretch 256 feet in length. However, at 10 feet wide and 14 feet tall, it's close to the real thing. Grabauskas said in the next few months, HART will unveil what the interior of a railcar will look like. Currently the inside of the mock-up resembles a theater.
"We've got a video that we're running on a continuous loop that's educational about the project, and about the alignment and about the railcar, so people can kind of be educated about what it's going to look like," said Grabauskas.
Each railcar is expected to hold close to 600 passengers, and trains will be aligned in a four-car configuration, with a total of 20 four-car trains. Enrico Fontana, managing director for railcar builder Ansaldo Honolulu JV, said railcars would begin arriving at a plant in California by the end of 2015, with testing in Honolulu taking place the following year.
"In 2016 you will be able to see this train running on the fixed guideways for testing and getting ready for the actual passenger service," Fontana said before a drape was pulled off the replica.
Despite the feel-good nature of Thursday's event, challenges remain for the $5.3 billion project.
According to the project's August report, the latest monthly report available, there is major concern by the Project Management Oversight Committee about the $415 million to $443 million left in the project's contingency fund.
The report says, "the PMOC is concerned whether there is sufficient contingency remaining, given the status of the project."
"Those reports are very valuable to us to point out where we need to be, focusing our attention to avoid costs," said Grabauskas.
Grabauskas says HART is keeping a keen eye on the project's bottom line, and the contingency fund is a bellwether for how the project is doing. He says once claims for change orders are settled with contractors, the project's financial footing will become clearer.
Honolulu Councilman Ikaika Anderson told KITV4 he doesn't like to respond to hypotheticals, but said the council would have to reexamine the rail project if supplemental funds fall short.
"If in fact our contingency continues to be drawn down at a greater than expected pace, we will have to do a reassessment," he said.
HART expects to begin erecting a section of the elevated guideway across the H1 Freeway near Leeward Community College by mid-year. By then 100 rail columns should be built, with a total of 220 columns by the end of the year.
"Beginning in a couple of months people will start to see some activity and then in June we'll actually start creating the guideway, the actual guideway that will go over the H1 and H2," said Grabauskas.
Grabauskas says the section that spans the H1 near the H2 should be completed sometime in October.
Meanwhile, the project is falling far short of the 10,000 direct and indirect jobs supporters projected. As of October, there were 919 direct jobs as a result of the rail line. Of those, 248 are construction jobs. The transit authority says job numbers will increase substantially to about 4,000 as 21 stations and the guideway start being built.