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Ewa Train entertains and educates people about Oahu’s transportation history, says the Hawaiian Railway Society volunteers

A green train engine with yellow striping sits on tracks as people load onto open cars behind the engine.
The Ewa Train is part of the non-profit Hawaiian Railroad Society operations in Ewa. The train takes people on a ride from Ewa up to Electric Beach and back with a stop for ice cream in Koolina.

The Ewa Train, a train operated by the Hawaiian Railway Society, used to deliver 10,000 tons of sugar, pineapple, mail, military supplies, food supplies and about 130,000 passengers annually, said on-site displays. Since the Hawaiian Railway Society completed restoration work on the railway in 1972, people have ridden the Ewa Train to experience educational, entertaining tours preserving the history of Oahu.

During the two-hour round trip from Ewa, visitors viewed both the mountains of Oahu and the ocean from the train ride while listening to behind-the-scenes stories and history introduced by a narrator. While traveling 15 miles per hour, passengers often waved the shaka sign to neighbors and cars passing by. In the middle of the ride, the train stopped in Koolina for an ice cream break.

“It is a little bumpy [ride] and a little loud, but you are very in the environment. It is very railroad-y,” said Ewa Train Narrator Lorna De La Cruz, who has worked with the Hawaiian Railway Society for over six years. She explained the train ride experience is family-inclusive and welcoming to both tourists and locals.

An on-site display provided by the Hawaiian Railway Society exhibited a timeline of the history of the Ewa Train. According to the timeline, Benjamin F. Dillingham, a sailor and self-made businessman who came to Hawaii in 1865, established the Oahu Railway and Land Company on Sept. 4, 1888, after acquiring land in Ewa and Kahuku, as well as a grant from King David Kalākaua to start a railway business.

On King Kalākaua’s birthday, Nov. 16, 1889, the OR&L officially opened, making 11 trips and carrying about 4,000 passengers between Honolulu and Pearl River Lagoon on the opening day. As the railway’s construction continued into Pearl City in the 1890s, the OR&L carried about 133,000 passengers every year.

The display explained that the expansion of sugar cane plantations and agricultural companies caused an extension of the OR&L tracks, connecting to Kahuku, Ka’ena Point, Waialua, Waipahu, Ewa, Honolulu and the north side of Wahiawa.

After World War I, road improvements and increased use of automobiles put OR&L at risk of shutting down. However, it resumed operations in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor led the U.S. into World War II. During the war, OR&L carried supplies, munitions, troops and defense workers, running 24 hours a day and hitting an all-time high ridership of 2.6 million people.

Walter Dillingham, the son of Benjamin Dillingham, was among the passengers aboard the OR&L’s last trip on Dec. 31, 1947. After that, all operations outside of Honolulu stopped and were sold to the U.S. Navy for $1. The Navy continued to deliver ammunitions using the track between Pearl Harbor and the Lualualei Naval Ammunition Depot. The OR&L eventually closed completely, ending what had been “the backbone of transportation,” says the Hawaiian Railway Society.

The train was officially restored and dedicated on Nov. 25, 1972, by the Hawaiian Railway Society. According to hawaiianrailway.com, the restoration was a result of more than a year and a half of restoration work.

Visitors at the Ewa Train Station can see several vintage locomotives, including the first steam locomotive used on the Ewa Sugar Plantation, Ewa 1.

Although most people believe the ride is mainly a tourist experience, the train is for educational purposes and 80 percent of the visitors are local, said De La Cruz.

Joie Recupero, who was visiting Oahu with her family from Pennsylvania, said, “The girl [who gave the narration] was giving the details very clearly. She was well-spoken and knew her material. It was very enjoyable.” She said she was familiar with big locomotives from Pennsylvania and complimented the train ride experience, saying it was a nice, history-oriented ride.

According to De La Cruz, the Hawaiian Railway Society is a non-profit organization run by about 100 volunteers and workers. She said they are currently looking for volunteers, interns and employees to do landscaping, work on the train tracks, learn about mechanics and narrate.

Jerry Mallari, who has worked in the army for nine years and lived in Hawaii for three years, said it’s a good experience being out with his son looking at the mountain and ocean views.

Public rides are available on Wednesdays at 1 p.m., Saturdays at noon and 3 p.m., and on Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $13 for children and seniors.

On Oct. 28 and 29, the Hawaiian Railway is hosting Halloween rides called “Spookapalooza” at 7 p.m., 7:45 p.m., 8:30 p.m., and 9:15 p.m. Reservations and ticket sales are now available and people are encouraged to pay in advance, hawaiianrailway.com says.