Friday, March 22, 2013

Honolulu Rapid Transit (HRT)

Nuʻuanu Valley was the first of the valleys to undergo residential development because it was convenient to the town (when most people walked from town up into the valley.)

In 1888, the animal-powered tramcar service of Hawaiian Tramways ran track from downtown to Waikīkī. In 1900, the Tramways was taken over by the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Co (HRT.)

HRT initially operated electrically powered streetcars on tracks through Honolulu streets.  Power came from overhead wires.  Its “land” component included investments into the construction and operation of the Honolulu Aquarium (now the Waikīkī Aquarium), a popular attraction at the end of the Waikiki streetcar line.

In addition to service to the core Honolulu communities, HRT expanded to serve other opportunities.  In the fall of 1901, a line was also sent up into central Mānoa.

The new Mānoa trolley opened the valley to development and rushed it into the expansive new century. In particular, it would help to sell a very new hilltop subdivision, "College Hills," and also expand an unplanned little "village" along the only other road, East Mānoa.  (Bouslog)

The rolling stock consisted of ten 10-bench cars; fifteen 8-bench cars; two closed cars; eight convertible cars and ten trailers.  (Electrical Review 1902)

For the line work, wooden poles thirty feet long were used and placed about 100-feet apart. The necessary span wires are so placed to allow the trolley wire, which was 4/0 copper wire, about twenty-feet above the track.  (Electrical Review)

“The company operates on twenty miles of trackage, which is continually being extended to anticipate the demands of traffic. The overhead trolley system is in vogue, with power supplied from a modern generating plant operated by oil fuel. The entire equipment conforms to the latest offered by modern invention, providing for safety, durability and comfort.”  (Overland Monthly, 1909)

“The company's service extends to Waikiki beach, the famous and popular resort of the Hawaiian and tourist, and where the aquarium, the property of the company, is one of the great objects of attraction. Kapiolani Park, the Bishop Museum, the Kahauki Military Post, the Royal Mausoleum, Oahu College and the Manoa and Nuuanu valleys are reached by the lines of this company.”  (Overland Monthly, 1909)

Bus service was inaugurated by HRT in 1915, initially using locally built bodies and later buses from the Mainland (acquired in 1928.) Trolley buses operated on a number of HRT routes from January 1938 to the spring of 1958. Electric street cars, first used by HRT on August 31, 1901, were withdrawn early in the morning of July 1, 1941.  (Schmitt)

“At two o’clock on the afternoon of June 31, 1941, car 47 left the HRT carhouse. Number 47’s run that day was unusual. To begin with, it was an old open car, one of those originally built about 1908. In addition, the car sported one of the largest leis ever made, which circled it completely. At the controller was George Bell, son of Jack Bell who ran HRT’s first car in 1901. The car ran over the remaining rail line all afternoon and evening … The end finally came at 1:30 a.m. on July 1, 1941.”  (Hawaiian Tramways)

The streetcars were replaced completely by buses (first gasoline and later diesel buses.)

Entrepreneur Harry Weinberg from Baltimore began investing in HRT in 1954 and methodically proceeded to take over HRT in 1960.  After Weinberg took control of HRT he went on to continue investing in real estate and other corporations.

The confluence of several milestone developments up to mid-1960s became the precursors of an unfolding drama that culminated in a battle of titanic proportions that led to the transfer of the company from private hands to public ownership by the City & County of Honolulu.  (Papacostas – ASCE)

First came the establishment of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in 1913; HRT started to spin off non-utility properties and operations to a subsidiary (Honolulu Ltd) to avoid regulatory oversight.  Then, in April 1937, the US Supreme Court validated the 1935 National Labor Relations Act that strengthened to role of labor (or trade) unions.  The thirds came from the US Congress in the form of “The Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964,” which provided funding for urban mass transit systems. (Papacostas – ASCE)

Through this provision, Frank F. Fasi, who was first elected mayor of the City & County of Honolulu in 1969 and who was destined to become the longest-serving person in that capacity initiated definite moves toward the ultimate take-over of HRT.  (Papacostas – ASCE)

Bernard W. Stern states in his book on Rutledge Unionism, “as early as 1970 the Federal Department of Transportation, in response to an inquiry, advised Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi that Honolulu was eligible to receive two-thirds of the acquisition costs of HRT, Wahiawa Transport, and Leeward Bus Company.” The “Wahiawa” and “Leeward” companies were suburban lines, the first also being run under majority ownership by Weinberg.  (Papacostas – ASCE)

The company suspended all service after December 31, 1970, because of a labor dispute, and was succeeded a few months later by MTL, Inc. (a new management company established by the City and known as Mass Transit Lines (MTL.)  (Schmitt)

As a consequence of court decisions, the March 22, 1973 issue of the Honolulu Advertiser declared that finally “Weinberg, City agree to quick takeover of site.”  (Papacostas – ASCE)

The image shows the Honolulu Rapid Transit Powerhouse and Car Barn in 1909 (Overland Monthly;) in addition, I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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