Rail transit has been a vision of Hawaii’s most forward-thinking leaders since the 1960s. With each prior attempt, the cost and impact has risen owing to inflation and property values. The project under construction today officially began in 2007-2008 when Honolulu voters approved the project and the creation of HART and the Legislature authorized the half-percent GET surcharge to fund rail construction. After several lawsuits that delayed the project by three years – and increased the cost – actual construction commenced in 2012. In five years, more than half of the project has already been completed. The first half of the system is expected to be operational by 2020, and the full system by 2025.

Route, Trains & Stations

The elevated rail line will have twenty-one stations and run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, and will pass through West Oahu communities, through Waipahu, Pearl City and Aiea, past Aloha Stadium to Honolulu International Airport, then through Kalihi, downtown Honolulu and Kakaako. The line will use 128-foot light metro train cars carrying about 200 passengers and each train will have four cars and capable of carrying up to 800 passengers. The trains will operate with up 12 departures per hour, or every five mintues, during peak travel times and every 11 minutes during off-peak times. Daily ridership by 2030 is projected to be more than 115,000 people per day.


Physically, the Honolulu system will have a good deal in common with rapid transit systems such as the SkyTrain in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Copenhagen Metro and the Docklands Light Railway in London. Like these, and virtually all light and heavy rail systems in North America, the technology employed for Honolulu’s rail transit is steel wheels on steel rails. This so-called steel-on-steel technology was selected because of its durability and its proven track record, including oceanside cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the system will be that the trains will be fully automated and driverless. This will be a first in the U.S., and will dramatically reduce operating costs.

Budget and Finance

The 2012 estimate for Honolulu’s rail transit system was $5.2 billion, with $1.55 billion coming from the federal government. The balance was to be funded by adding a half-percent surcharge onto the General Excise Tax collected on Oahu. This additional half-percent tax has been in place 2007; it’s estimated that approximately a third of the amount collected is paid by non-residents. Delays cause by lawsuits and a dramatic statewide increase in construction costs has driven rail transit’s budget significantly higher. It is now estimated to be $8.7 billion. The state Legislature has extended the term of the half-percent GET tax once, and is now considering a longer extension or using other funding options.