Honolulu’s rail faces possible delay after defect found in rail cars

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Could the Honolulu rail project be delayed again?

That’s what the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is trying to figure out after a defect was found in rail cars.

The issue lies within aluminum beams that make up the structure of the rail cars. We’re told the manufacturer has stopped production and 27 rail cars could be affected.

So what’s being done to address the problem? HART says it first learned of the defect last month and was officially notified on Dec. 1. HART also says it will not accept any cars from Hitachi until it is certain there are no defects.

We’re told the issue lies within an aluminum beam found in the floor of the rail car frame. The rail cars are manufactured at a Hitachi factory in Italy.

HART says the defect happened during a process called aluminum extrusion.

“What happens in aluminum extrusion is aluminum gets heated up, pressed through this mold, and there are multiple seams within this extruded part that fuse together when it comes out on the other side in beam form,” said HART deputy director of systems Justin Garrod. “What we’re finding are defects where parts of the seam didn’t fuse.”

So what needs to happen next?

“Do a survey of the car shells that have been constructed, understand where the defects are, and then determine whether or not there’s a repair procedure that can be performed to remove and replace the defective material,” Garrod said.

Production has stopped in the meantime and all of the cars will be inspected, but that’s not an easy task. The cars have to be taken apart depending on the stage of production.

Of the 27 cars being assembled for Hawaii, four are already here in Honolulu. It’s not yet known if those cars are affected.

What could have happened had the problem gone unnoticed?

“You’re talking about some sort of structural failure,” Garrod said. “HART will not put a vehicle in passenger service with any of these defects. We just won’t. We won’t do that.”

HART says its too early to tell if this will delay the project.

We also learned that HART will not be paying for any repairs or replacements for this issue. Hitachi has taken full responsibility.

HART hopes to have more answers by early next year.

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