"Rail Is So Ridiculous"

Kimberly Lee

His office is no City Hall. You'll find no grand steps leading to a conference room lined with easels conveying a vision of what Honolulu might look like once new rail stations are built.

There are no assistants or spokesmen to stand in his stead.

When we drove up to the thriving business he helped found, Maui Divers Jewelry, there he stood, in khaki pants and an aloha shirt, in the shade of the parking garage. A friendly Englishman with a white beard and a gentle accent. But don't be deceived. This 77-year-old has been the nemesis of any mayor who's tried to build a rail project in Honolulu over the past 25 years.

A while back you might recall I went into the den of the believers, seven city officials who shared a persuasive vision of a city with a train running through it. The headline on my article was "This is not Mufi's train." These officials were behind it 100 percent, and they believed the majority of the public was with them, too. And in their case ,they could point to an election in 2008 and more recent polls to support their case.

Well, I promised then that I'd visit with the critics. Cliff Slater might as well be their mayor, the mayor of no-rail Honolulu. His slogan might well be, "It shouldn't be anybody's train." And guess what, everywhere he looks he sees allies, too. He doesn't think anybody is for the train, except maybe folks who've been poorly informed by the local media, which "haven't covered the story enough," or contractors who are going to make money building it.

Slater is the chair of Honolulutraffic.com, arguably the leading opponent of the city's proposed $5.5 billion rail project. And this weekday morning before we sit down to chat, he's piling us into his Mercedes sedan to drive the train's route through the downtown core. He wants us to see it through his eyes, so he's taking us to Chinatown. From there, we'll drive the rail route back to Ala Moana Center. And as we drive, he talks. And laughs. One thing you need to be prepared for with Slater is that while he may be determined — he seems to live and breathe the issue — he's got a sense of humor, and a way with words.

Cliff Slater on why rail is a bad idea for Honolulu

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