O‘ahu Museum Ideas: Take a Train Ride at the Hawaiian Railway Society

The Toy Train Museum is the newest addition to the Hawaiian Railway Society.
The Toy Train Museum is the newest addition to the Hawaiian Railway Society.
photos: olivier koning


In the 1950s and ’60s, kids in Waialua grew up playing on a broken-down locomotive parked in front of the old sugar mill. In 1970, Waialua Agricultural Co. decided to scrap the rusting steam-powered W.A.Co. 6. A small group fought to save it and started the Hawai‘i chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, now called the Hawaiian Railway Society.


Today, a paid staff of 10 and about a dozen volunteers restore, fix and preserve nine locomotives and almost 30 passenger and freight cars at the dusty ‘Ewa base yard sandwiched between the Zippy’s and Ka Makana Ali‘i. You can check out local locomotives, inside and out, including the first steam engine used on the ‘Ewa Sugar Plantation in 1890; watch model trains zip through an expansive miniature landscape in the Toy Train Museum; and buy train whistles or the society’s exclusive O‘ahu Railway Tori Richard aloha shirts in the gift shop. But the majority of visitors come for the nonprofit’s weekend train rides, which account for 80 percent of the society’s income. A diesel engine pulls open-air cars along 6.5 miles of track to Kahe Point, while narrators tell stories about Hawai‘i’s railways.


Every second Sunday of the month, passengers can ride in Benjamin Dillingham’s personal parlor car. Dillingham, the founder of O‘ahu Railway & Land Co. and father of the late businessman, Walter Dillingham, would pay his employees from the extended double deck. A few years ago, operations manager Steve Vendt took a ride with the family in the 118-year-old car.


“We [were talking about] the last ride of the O‘ahu Railway—Dec. 31, 1947. Dillingham bused dignitaries, friends, family to Kahuku because that’s where the railroad ran to,” Vendt says. “A little old lady sitting in the corner reached up and touched me and said, ‘Steve, I remember that ride. I was 8 years old.’ You can’t buy that kind of history.


“If that history gets lost, it’s wiped out forever.”


Keeping the old trains in shape is a big job. Maintaining the track is even more challenging. The 13 miles of track the nonprofit handles from ‘Ewa to Nānākuli contains about 20,000 60-pound wood ties, the pieces between the rails, which are manually changed out. Volunteers are always needed for this as well as painting, woodworking, narrating tours and every other aspect of the operation. Next up, the railway hopes to reconstruct the Waipahu train station and build a public archives for its cache of photographs and artifacts.


SEE ALSO: Insider’s Guide to Free Days at 19 O‘ahu Museums

  Family fun



Go early for the 3 p.m. Saturday Ice Cream Ride. The line starts forming an hour before for the first-come, first-serve ride that stops in Ko Olina for ice cream. Sunday rides without ice cream are at 1 and 3 p.m.

The Spookapalooza Haunted Train Ride with slightly spooky stories usually sells out every October.

The first holiday express with festively decorated passenger cars will run starting Dec. 7.



Founded 1971

Info 91-1001 Renton Road, ‘Ewa; 681-5461, hawaiianrailway.com

Admission $15 for adults, $10 for kids 2 to 12 years and seniors, kids 2 years and younger are free.

Hours Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Weekends, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Monday.

Size 5 acres

Annual visitors About 50,000     

Run by Nonprofit Hawaiian Railway Society

Fun fact There are only three original O‘ahu Railway & Land Co. locomotives left in the world. The Railway Society has all three.