We Tried It: Hawaiian Railway Society’s Train Rides in ‘Ewa
Take a leisurely ride on O‘ahu's only historic functioning railroad and get some ice cream on the way.
Who: Two adults and their 2-year old son.
What: The Hawaiian Railway Society in ‘Ewa.
When: A Saturday afternoon, 3 p.m.
Kids love trains. They’re big. They’re loud, and they have big metal wheels. I remember as a kid, any time I’d be out with my dad and we’d come across a train at a railroad crossing, we’d stop, get out and just watch the cars clickety-clack on by. There’s just something about the bigness of it, the loudness and the energy.
For my 2-year-old boy, Stormy, it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I don’t know what it is exactly, but two of his favorite cartoons are Thomas the Tank Engine and Chuggington. His favorite episodes of other cartoons usually involve trains, too (the Bubble Guppies has a super catchy tune about trains).
Well, the love of my life and I decided one day to take our little fella down to the Hawaiian Railway Society to see and ride a real train. And an afternoon’s visit is something kids and parents alike can enjoy.
Tickets are sold as early as 11:30 a.m. at the Hawaiian Railway Society’s gift shop, along with fun and informative souvenirs. Stormy loved the toy trains for sale and would have left with all of them if he could!
We did end up letting him choose one train and a conductor’s cap (which is a good idea to help protect against the sun during the ride). Outside, there’s a small play and picnic area with an old, decommissioned locomotive you can climb into; and the Toy Train Museum will fascinate kids from ages 1 to 92. In there, numerous train car models from throughout the ages are on display, as well as a small track on which kids can control three different trains. Taking up the rest of the room is a massive set with trains running all around and through miniature cityscapes, rural settings, snowy scenes, and even one running overhead, suspended from the ceiling.
Upon entering the museum, Stormy’s eyes lit up and for the rest of the day, he could only utter one word, excitedly: “Train!”
The Toy Train Museum is a great place to spend some time before the big train ride.
Folks start lining up as early as 2:30 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served, and there are typically passengers in every car.
At 3 p.m., they open the gate and, once the passengers are settled into their seats and briefed, the train travels west, down to Kahe Point. Once there, the conductor throws her in reverse, and those in the back on the ride are now in front for the return trip. And vice versa.
SEE ALSO: Insider’s Guide to Honolulu’s Museums
Anyway, Stormy was stumbling all over himself in his eagerness to get up into the train car. All the staff are kindly folk who love trains and love helping people have a good, safe time. The train’s seats are wooden benches that run down the length of the cars; two of them in each car, placed back to back, facing outward. Once everyone is aboard, the train host gives everyone a quick safety briefing and explains how it’s all going to shake down. Then, off we go!
The train travels at a comfortable 15 mph, passing through Kapolei, on down through Ko ʻOlina and stopping at Kahe Point, the end of the line. Along the route, the host tells stories about the history surrounding the railroad and trains in Hawai‛i. For many years now, the society has maintained and operated the state’s only rail travel system, and it’s absolutely lovely. Staff there expect operation to continue into the foreseeable future.
Stormy wasn’t super stoked about the view during the first few minutes of the ride, as the train pulled out of ʻEwa and Kapolei—it’s mostly shopping centers and general urban sprawl—but it gets better as the train chugs further along. We all enjoyed catching a look at the horses as they grazed in a pasture along the route. Closer to the Ko ’Olina and Aulani area, Stormy enjoyed spotting geese and other birds, and one look at the resort gave my wife and I an idea for a weekend getaway in the near future. As a water baby in training, Stormy loves spotting the ocean and there’s plenty of that to see along the way!
The scenery as you pass between Ko ‘Olina and Electric Beach is quite serene. I don’t believe the train actually slows down, but time seems to as we enter a kind of scenic and temporal sweet spot.
On the way back, for the 3 p.m. rides at least, the train stops in Ko ‘Olina and everyone disembarks to stretch their legs, and if you want, to get some ice cream at Two Scoops. After a 20- to 30-minute break, the conductor calls, “All aboard!” and off we go again, back to the train station in ‘Ewa. The whole trip takes about 90 minutes.
Our 5 Tips
- Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, water, maybe some snacks. The train departs at 3 p.m. and chases the sun. ‘Ewa’s not known for its temperate or cloudy climate, so unless you have an affinity for melanoma, slather SPF on all visible skin. Water is good, too, as it’s hot. Sunglasses or hats help to keep the sun out of your eyes. Just be sure to clean up after yourself if you do bring water and snacks for the littles.
- Carry a cush for your tush. The benches are hardwood, and there’s no standing while the train is in motion. My wife remarked that maybe next time she’d like to bring a cushion or something to sit on.
- Don’t bring super-antsy keiki. If your kids need to be moving all the time, or otherwise are unable to sit still, this may not be for you. If your kids have never been on a train, it is something special. You see the land roll by, hear the stories, and it’s a real nice alternative to the breakneck speed of everyday life. It’s an opportunity to slow down and just take in your surroundings.
- Wear closed-toed shoes. Protect your feet if you want to explore the train yard after the ride. The terrain back there is rocky and uneven, what with the rails and crossties. You could end up ruining your whole day at the end if you’re not careful.
- Take lots of pictures. The scenery and your family enjoying the ride are some things you’ll want to remember.
The Hawaiian Railway Society is at 91-1001 Renton Road, ʻEwa Beach. The ticket window opens at 11:30 a.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Train rides are at 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 3 on Sundays. Prices are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors older than 62 and kids ages 2 to 12; admission is free for children younger than 2. Contact the society for charter rides, birthday parties and special events. (808) 681-5461; hawaiianrailway.com