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Places On Oahu: The Oahu Railway

Basic Information

  • Name: Oahu Railway
  • Where: Ewa, Oahu
  • Cost:  $12 Adults, $8 kids
  • More Information: Next Stop Honolulu!

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Narrative

My kids love trains which in our travels they have had the opportunity to ride on a few times.  Since moving to Hawaii we have discovered two different trains that my kids can ride on.  The first one is the Pineapple Express at the Dole Pineapple Plantation.  This is a miniature train that my kids have fun riding.  The second place to go and ride a train is on the Oahu Railway.  This railroad is operated by the Hawaiian Railway Society that is a non-profit group that restores old trains on the island.  On the weekends they operate train trips for the public from their location in Ewa in western Oahu.  Getting to the location I thought was pretty easy by exiting off of the H-1 on to Fort Weaver Road and then making a right on to Renton Road that leads right to the station.

We arrived early to get parking since we did not know what the parking situation would be like.  Parking near the station itself is very limited, but at the back of the train yard there is a lot of parking.  There is a person in a golf cart that will help direct people where to park in the back.  The best thing about parking in the back is that it gives visitors an opportunity to check out all the old train cars they have stored in the yard:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The yard is absolutely filled with old train cars and even a steam engines just waiting to be restored by the Hawaiian Railway Society:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The only engines we saw operating on the Oahu Railway were diesel engines like the ones pictured below:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Picture from West Oahu Railway

We did not see any steam engines operating though this one appeared to have been restored:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

From what I learned from riding other trains is that it is very expensive to upkeep steam engines due to the fact that parts are not readily available and have to be hand fabricated by a blacksmith.  The Hawaiian Railway Society I would think are probably experiencing similar issues with the restoration and operation of their steam engines:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Not all the cars and engines are rundown though; it is pretty clear that the Hawaiian Railway Society has been hard at work restoring many cars and engines:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Picture from West Oahu Railway

However, with their yard still filled with old cars to work on they will have their hands full for many more years to come:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Here is a really small engine that my 3-year old son was asking if we could ride around in:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

After my family and I finished checking out the various train cars in the yard we then walked over to the train station.  Along the way we spotted these additional very small engines on display:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Once we reached the station we found it to be a simple quonset hut structure:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

This is an area I saw the future potential for an iconic railway station to be constructed if the organization is able to get enough money at some point to do so.  Inside the station there were some very friendly Hawaiian Railway Society members who we bought are tickets from.  The station also has various books and trinkets for sale as well.  Inside the station there are restrooms for anyone who needs to use them since there are none available on the train.  After buying our tickets we waited outside the station to board the train.  Adjacent to the station they have an old Oahu Railway and Land (OR&L) Company engine on display:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The OR&L was the railway line that once extended from downtown Honolulu all the way around Kaena Point to Oahu’s North Shore.  The historic engine on display has an interesting background as the OR&L’s first engine named the Kauila:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The railway was built in 1889 by businessman Benjamin Dillingham.

Benjamin Dillingham

Dillingham’s railroad provided a critical mass transportation option for residents and for the various farms and business that used the train to transport goods.  The railway even proved critical during the defense of the island during World War II.  The railway became the main means of transporting military personnel to various installations around the island.  The heavy use of the railway during World War II led to the need for large scale maintenance to repair the railroad.  Also following the war Oahu’s roads saw major upgrades that caused many people to buy automobiles instead of riding the train.  This all led to the OR&L closing in 1947 after 58 years of operation.  However, after the railroad shut down the Navy continued to use a portion of the old track to move munitions from Pearl Harbor to a storage area in Western Oahu.  In 1970 they closed the train line and it was handed over to preservationists that ultimately formed the Hawaiian Railway Society that runs the train line today.

The Hawaiian Railway Society restored 15-miles of the old rail line the Navy used from Ewa to just passed the tourist resorts at Ko’olina.  The railway only operates on weekends which we found really maximizes their passengers because there was quite a crowd riding on the train the day we went.  It is first come, first served seating on to the train where people sit in open air cars on benches:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The Hawaiian Railway Society does run a special parlor car that once belonged to Benjamin Dillingham on the train on every second Sunday of the month.  I will probably take my family to check that out sometime.  As far as views from the train, honestly there is not much to see in Western Oahu initially other than scrub bush and random homeless encampments from the side of the train we were sitting on:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

My kids loved the various train crossings in the town of Kapolei that we passed over because they would wave shakas at the waiting cars and motorists would wave back at them:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The train also has a tour guide that gives a history of the railway throughout the train ride that was quite informative.  After looking at scrub brush for about 30 minutes the train approached the ocean:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

We could see the large resorts at Ko’olina looming in the distance:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Once the train entered Ko’olina everything turned green due to the large golf course that runs adjacent to the resorts:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Soon the train was passing through Ko’olina:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The train then exits Ko’olina and passes its most scenic section along the Waianae Coast:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

On the other side of the train the dry ridgeline from the Waianae Range could be seen:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The train next passed by Electric Beach which was packed with people playing in the water:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The train then stops at the large power plant on Oahu’s Waianae Coast:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

This was as far as the train line went.  I could not help, but think how much more potential the railway has if they continue to expand it up the Waianae Coast and around Kaena Point to Hale’iwa.  People could make day trips to the North Shore using the train.  Leave in the morning, hang out at the beach in Hale’iwa, do some shopping, get something to eat and then take the train back to Ewa.  It would be very similar concept to the Puffing Billy train I rode in Australia where people got off at various stations in the Dandenong Range for day trips and then caught a train back to the main station at the end of the day.

Anyway from the power plant the train then headed back to Ko’olina where it stopped and people could get out and walk around:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The stop gave me a chance to take a picture of the car that we rode in:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Here is a picture of the engine that pulled our train:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Two Scoops Ice Cream Parlor is where train riders were allowed to go and buy ice cream to eat before re-boarding the train:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The ice cream was pretty good and my kids enjoyed it.  Once back on the train we sat on the other side of the car in order to have different views of Oahu on the way back.  Here is the view of the golf course in Ko’olina:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

For people that haven’t been to Ko’olina before it is basically a tourist resort for people that don’t want the craziness of Waikiki.  The area has the two mega resorts by Disney and Marriott, four nice lagoon beaches, a small shopping area and no traffic.  Yes you heard that write it is actually an easy area to drive through to get to the beach.  That is why my family loves going to the beach here because of its easy access.

Once the train exited Ko’olina the terrain dried up again, but from this side of the train we had some nice views of the Waianae Mountains in the distance:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

The tour guide on our train told riders that all this vacant ranch land was set to be developed into more housing developments for the island in the coming years:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

It is pretty clear that one day Ewa, Kapolei and Ko’olina will all one day be connected into one urban area.  From the other side of the train we could also see the city of Kapolei as we passed through it.  For example here is where the island’s main newspaper the Star Advertiser is published:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

We then passed by my favorite Costco on Oahu because it is always easy to find parking here compared to other Costco locations:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

After Costco the train passes by Kapolei’s residential neighborhoods with many of them still under construction:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Kapolei as well as Ewa have communities built that have more of a mainland feel to them since they are actually planned out and easy to navigate unlike many other cities on Oahu:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

As the train pulled into the train station in Ewa we had a good view of the massive construction of a shopping mall adjacent to the train station.  I find it hard to believe that Oahu needs yet another shopping mall, but someone must have did the math and figured out there is a market for it.  Once this shopping mall is complete this should add to the potential the Oahu Railway has since so many potential riders could trickle over from this massive shopping mall:

Picture from West Oahu Railway

Conclusion

What I found most amazing after riding this train and learning more about the OR&L is that Benjamin Dillingham was able to create a better mass transportation option for Oahu’s residents 58 years ago than what exists today.  To address the mass transportation problems on the island the city has invested $6.4 billion and likely far more by the time it is completed for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.  I can’t help but think that the Hawaiian Railway Society for far less money could have done a better job making a rail line than what the taxpayers of Honolulu are stuck with today.  Well enough with my rant.  Overall I found a ride on the Oahu Railway may be underwhelming for some adults due to its lack of views, but if you have kids they will love it.  Personally I really enjoyed it and encourage others to check it out and support the Hawaiian Railway Society.  They do a great job operating the railroad and have great potential to do even more with the Oahu Railway.

You can learn more about Oahu’s railroad heritage by reading the below book:

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