May 18, 2021

Systems Design and Rail - Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet?

Publicly-funded Rail seems to be a way to spend money and never get anything done. Honolulu's rail project plagued with wheels too thin and tracks too wide.

No one does proper systems design, anymore.

Or how can you buy rail cars that won't run on the tracks you specified?

The costs went from $5 billion to more than $12 billion, and the schedule has slipped 11 years.

The trains built for Honolulu's troubled rail project have wheels that are too narrow for the track, and solving the problem will lead to more issues or more delays.

Replacing the wheels will add too much weight to the trains. Replacing the tracks would push the timeline back a year.

The problem is at frogs and switches. (click thru for an image of a frog in this context.)

How the hell do you specify train cars without respect to the tracks, or tracks without respect to the cars? They both have to work together.

Oh, and there are other problems with the switches. Bad welding, cracks caused by sandblasting. It seems you don't get much for $12 billion today.

Hat tip The Antiplanner and Honolulu Rail Disaster Gets More Disastrous, in which it is noted...

The saddest thing is that no one in the transit industry seems to be capable of learning from experiences like this. Instead, people like the CEOs of Los Angeles and San Jose’s transit agencies, who have overseen new rail construction leading to transit ridership declines, get rewarded for wasting taxpayers’ money by being given cushy jobs in the Biden administration.


  1. In the 21st Century, the future of travel is 19th Century technology!

    1. I'm pretty sure the Victorians would not have built or purchased train cars that would not run on their tracks.

  2. Yet here in Florida, Brightlines is going full forward on privately funded mass transit, and they're building a high-speed-rail double line in combination with the Florida East Coast from Miami to Cocoa, and building a single rail with the potential for double rail from Cocoa to Orlando to Tampa.

    Amazing what private funding can do.

    1. Private funding means people actually care about budgets and schedules.


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