Honolulu’s Skyline opens for service

July 3, 2023
The 11-mile first phase of the project will connect riders between Kualakaʻi (East Kapolei) Station and Hālawa (Aloha Stadium) Station with two additional phases planned to extend the rail line.

Honolulu’s mostly elevated autonomous rail system, Skyline, officially opened for service on June 30. The first phase of the project will shuttle riders along an 11-mile segment and serve nine stations between Kualakaʻi (East Kapolei) Station and Hālawa (Aloha Stadium) Station.

A ceremony to mark the opening of the rail project included speeches from local, state and federal officials, transit stakeholders and residents who have been anticipating the start of service.

“Skyline presents an unprecedented opportunity to connect passengers to our central and leeward cities and the distinct beauty and character they each possess,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi.

The smiles and joy of the project’s opening day were hard won. The project took years of planning, 12 years of construction, incurred delays, cost overruns and leadership turnover and the threat of losing federal funding before a project recovery plan was developed and approved.

In a tweet following his inaugural ride on the system, Mayor Blangiardi added “you cannot overstate the word historic, you cannot overstate the word iconic, you cannot overstate the word transformative.”

To celebrate the opening of Skyline, all transit services will not charge fares through July 4. Customers will need a HOLO card to board transit.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) oversaw construction of the project and transferred control to the city and county of Honolulu in early June 2023. HART will continue working to build the next phases of the project, which includes the Airport Extension planned to open in 2025 that will connect Aloha Stadium with four additional stations to Middle Street – Kalihi Transit Center and the City Center Extension that will open in 2031 and add six stations to Civic Center.

Rail cars

Hitachi Rail responsible for manufacturing the railcars used on Skyline, including the design and construction of the vehicle’s subsystems, testing and commissioning of the entire system prior to revenue service, and the company will operate and maintain Skyline’s core systems.

The overall fleet is comprised of 20 four-car trains, each equipped with capacity to hold up to 800 passengers. Total train length is 260 feet, with open gangways between cars to allow passengers to move freely using all available space. Trains are also air conditioned, featuring Wi-Fi for all passengers, as well as space for bicycles, baby strollers, luggage and, with this being Hawaii, surf boards. Trains are also fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), with dedicated spaces for wheelchairs allowing free autonomous movement for disabled passengers embarking on and off the trains.

“We’re delighted to have delivered Honolulu’s largest ever infrastructure project, which will have a major impact reducing congestion and emissions on the island. Reducing car journeys by up to 40,000 a day, once the full system is complete, this will make a huge difference to travel in Hawai’I,” said Hitachi Ltd. Executive Vice President Energy and Mobility Alistair Dormer.

Hitachi Rail explains this is the “first true mass transit GoA4 (Grade of Automation) system” to begin serving riders in the U.S.

“The initial opening of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project is a momentous achievement, and Hitachi Rail has been an instrumental partner in reaching this goal of delivering the first fully automated driverless commuter rail system in the country to the community. The HART Team is extremely grateful to have earned the trust and support from our stakeholders to work collaboratively in the interest of the taxpayer to deliver the first installment of the state’s largest capital improvement project and infrastructure investment in its history,” said HART CEO Lori Kahikina.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.