Railroading has existed in the Islands since the 19th century. They came into being as a means of transporting sugar cane from the fields to ports for shipping to the markets and were mostly owned by the sugar cane plantations that used them. The tracks were not the 4’8” standard gauge that we know today, but narrow gauge ones. Locomotives and cars were smaller than those seen in Europe and North America.
The Oahu Railway & Land Company (OR&L) took railroading a step farther by offering passenger service, as well as sugar cane transport, from Honolulu to Haleiwa and on east to Kahuku. The company was founded by Benjamin F. Dillingham in 1888, and became the largest railroad in Hawaii.
Other early railroads included the
- Ahukini Terminal & Railroad Company (Kauai) – a 2’6” narrow gauge track that ran between Anahola and Lihue to transport sugar cane
- Kahului Railroad (Maui) – a common carrier railway company that used a 3’0” narrow gauge track that ran for 15 miles between Wailuku and Kuiaha. The company still exists as a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin, although it operates in trucking.
- Kauai Railway (Kauai) – a common carrier 2’6” narrow gauge railroad that ran from Port Allen to Koloa and Kalaheo. The company still exists as the Kauai Commercial Company, which uses trucks, instead of rail cars.
- Koolau Railway (Oahu) – a 3’0” narrow gauge track that originally served as a passenger / freight company. It extended service from the OR&L depot to Kaneohe and then across the Koolau Mountains to Honolulu, where it terminated at the OR&L depot. Passenger service was dropped, and the company continued to move only freight, primarily sugar cane.
- Hawaiian Agricultural Company (Island of Hawaii) – a private 2’0” narrow gauge line that linked the company’s mill at Pahala with the port at Punaluu.
Existing excursion trains:
- Hawaiian Railway (Oahu) – uses the track bed of the former OR&L, along the Leeward Coast between Ewa Beach and Kahe Point.
- Kauai Plantation Railway – originates in Lihue and travels through some of the most beautiful settings in the Islands.
- Lahaina, Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad (The Sugar Cane Train) – originates in Lahaina and runs for six miles to Puukolii with a stop in Kaanapali.
- Pineapple Express (Oahu) – Operated by the Dole Pineapple Plantation, it gives riders a view of fields where Hawaii’s crops are grown, including bananas, sugar cane, pineapples, and hibiscus.