In a ruling that, at the very least, guarantees another costly delay for the city’s rail project–and might bring it to an end–the Federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima last Thursday declared that key environmental and cultural reviews were inadequate and had to be redone. Tashima, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge from California who is presiding over the case in district court because all Honolulu federal judges recused themselves (the elevated train would run past their chambers), directed the city to produce a new supplement to the federal environmental impact statement (EIS).

The judge mandated that the city must:

*Identify traditional cultural properties along the 20-mile proposed rail line, having failed to adequately do so

*reconsider the impact the rail would have on Mother Waldron Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, in Kaka’ako

*consider a tunnel beneath Beretania Street as an alternative route.

As it happens, in our cover story of December 21, 2011, “Underground Railroad,” Kevin O’Leary wrote, “But there is one alternative that virtually no one on either side of the debate is currently talking about, and that is the possibility of putting the section of the line running through downtown and the capitol district underground.” O’Leary proceeded to describe how this could be done.

Judge Tashima said that a tunnel might spare cultural landmarks such as Chinatown and the Dillingham Transportation Building from negative impacts of the elevated rail.

In a Friday press conference, Gov. Cayetano, one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against the City, said, “The delays caused by the City’s incompetence in running this project are already costing millions and the judge’s decision only multiplies the damage that rail has already inflicted on taxpayers.” A subway, he pointed out, would add at least another four years’ delay and multiple millions.

The city claimed victory because the Judge dismissed 20 of the plaintiffs’ 23 claims. But the claims that stayed alive go to the heart of the embattled project that would pierce the heart of the city.

Next up: Judge Tashima has scheduled a hearing of the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss on Dec. 12.