Railroading Paradise (educational)

  • Directed by: Anthony Aalto & Mike Hinchey
  • Produced by: Anthony Aalto & Mike Hinchey
Released: 2014 
Running Time: 48 mins
Subtitles: English,
Subjects: Environmental Studies, Agricultural Studies 

RAILROADING PARADISE chronicles the bitter tug-of-war between efforts to preserve O‘ahu and pressures for new housing and growth—seen through the eyes of the largest environmental group in Hawai‘i as they grapple with whether or not to support the HART rail project. With fly-on-the-wall coverage of Sierra Club deliberations and extensive interviews with a broad range of experts discussing the island’s future, the documentary zeroes in on the concern that O‘ahu has reached a fundamental tipping point.

Railroading Paradise Trailer Final from Collective Eye Films on Vimeo.


  • Official Selection, Hawaii International Film Festival  2013


“Infrastructure planning on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is the subject of this documentary by filmmakers Anthony Aalto and Mike Hinchey that covers an astonishing wide spectrum of subjects, ranging from ecology to income inequality to civil rights to political lobbying to urban sprawl. Oahu’s expanding population has created excruciating traffic jams that brings automobiles-dependent island to a daily standstill. One possible solution is the creation of rail project that would offer a mass transit alternative to driving. But finding the right route creates major problems, and a long-defunct rail line cannot be resurrected because it runs through a national historic district. While advocates of the rail project insist that it will benefit those with limited or no access to automobiles-especially the elderly- opponents claim that it will damage the Oahu ecosystem and result in the loss of vital agricultural land that lies in the heart of the plan’s trajectory. Even the local Sierra Club is divided over the debate, with part of its leadership circle in favor and other vehemently opposed. Despite the underlying issues, however, Railroading Paradise quickly devolves into a grueling and tiresome tug-of-war that suggests that even paradise is not immune from the irritating rancor of stubborn people. A strong optional purchase." - Video Librarian


"In 2008 voters in Honolulu narrowly passed a referendum supporting the building of a controversial high speed rail line on Oahu. Proponents saw high speed rail as a potential cure for the highway congestion impacting the economy and limiting population growth and tourism. Opponents saw the loss of agricultural land and increased development as a negative impact on the quality of life, essentially as the loss of the traditional Hawaiian lifestyle. As the 2012 mayoral election in Honolulu neared, opponents of the project saw that by electing the “right” mayor they could stop or reverse the rail project.

The filmmakers give very balanced coverage to both sides of an extremely intricate problem. As housing development increased so did the labor economy. Slowing housing development meant increased unemployment. As transportation from suburban housing to the city overtaxed the highway system, easily accessible housing became increasingly unaffordable and the tourism industry suffered. Though high speed rail with new communities clustered along the rail line promised to ease strains on the road system, opponents suggested that the rail plan was just a ruse to increase building construction which had no strategy for enticing residents to rely less on personal automobiles. Interviews with stakeholders from both sides and with varied cultural and environmental interests form the bulk of the program. These include the deliberations of the Board of the Oahu branch of the Sierra Club which are quite emotionally and politically charged.

Clearly there are limits to sustainable growth. Railroading Paradise reminds the viewer that for growth to succeed in a compact area with high population density, consensus must be achieved through considering the needs of every aspect of society, working to fulfill those needs by the best means possible. The film is highly recommended for giving the viewer insight into the complexities of urban planning, stressing the importance of local history and considering traditional cultural values throughout the planning process. It is a sometimes surprising tale of ongoing development in greater Honolulu which may serve to solve their housing and transportation problems. It is not a blueprint for urban development elsewhere, though it may point the way toward considerations and deliberations that may promote the best use of resources in an urban community." - Education Media Review Online

"The jumping-off point for this film is a pending decision by the Oahu Sierra Club of whether to endorse a $5 billion rail transit project linking major suburbs to Honolulu’s urban center. The club’s debate opens up broader issues of suburban sprawl threatening farmland and highway congestion causing ever longer commutes. Automobiles are a central issues as on side says they waste energy, pollute, and consume limited land, while the other side contends they provide families with mobility. Those for and against the project appear on camera along with speakers who question the island’s ability to sustain growth versus those who advocate for building more affordable housing. VERDICT The need for densely populated urban settings to conserve resources is a concern for many cities. The intelligent evenhanded presentation of arguments recommends this documentary to viewers with an interest in Hawaii and for anyone worried about out-of-control development. - Library Journal