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O‘ahu in 1934: Honolulu’s Vanishing Street Car Tracks

The advent of Honolulu’s new, technologically advanced fleet of Twin Coach buses signaled a new era in the city’s rapid transit system.


As rail’s price tag surpasses $8 billion in 2019, the buzz around town in the 1930s was about new buses. The first mule-car service began in 1888. Later, the first electric streetcars, operated by the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Co., took dozens of passengers in open cars from upper Nu‘uanu Avenue to Pacific Heights. Later still, the “Silver Fleet” arrived—22 gasoline-powered buses, praised in the January 1934 Paradise of the Pacific for its air brakes, weight distribution and courteous drivers. Eight months later, in September of that year, Paradise chronicled the ripping out of most of Honolulu’s streetcar tracks:


Vanishing Street Car Tracks

Street cars

The fleet of silver buses goes into action.


Swarthy Hawaiians, stripped to the waist steering concrete buster pointer into the crumbling cement; husky Portuguese, trickling with perspiration under the ever-present sun shoveling the loose asphalt from beside the rails to give the grappling hooks of the Fordson tractors a chance at the iron rails. …


To the kamaaina, many of whom remember vividly the mule tram cars in the days when Hawaii was yet a monarchy, the digging up of Honolulu’s streetcar tracks marks the end of an era in a city that clings jealously to the romantic days of King Kamehameha.


The digging up of 13 miles of Honolulu Rapid Transit Co. track is the result of the installation on Nov. 1, 1933, of 22 new Twin Coach gasoline buses and the abandonment of all except three rail lines of the company’s citywide transportation system. …


As this goes to press the only abandoned rail line remaining—that going up Manoa Valley—is being removed. This project, consisting of almost 2 miles of track, was due to be completed by the first week of September. Crews then will shift to a few other small stretches of abandoned track still remaining, and are due to complete all rail work by Sept. 25.


The installation of $150,000 worth of new “Silver Fleet” buses and the expenditure of $142,000 on track removal and track improvement have been great steps by Rapid Transit in the field of mechanical improvement during the past year to provide the Honolulu public with the best possible transportation. Schedules have been speeded up until now Honolulu has the fastest streetcar and bus service in any city between 100,000 and 150,000 in America.


It took 100 men six months to tear out the tracks and place heavier rails in the last remaining section on King Street. The last trolley car ride on tracks would be in June 1941, six months before bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.


Find more photos from Honolulu’s past every Thursday on Instagram: @honolulumag.



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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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