Oahu Railway and Land Company

The Oahu Railway and Land Company, or OR&L, was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge common carrier railway that served much of the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and was the largest narrow gauge class one common carrier in the U.S, until its dissolution in 1947.

Oahu Railway and Land Company
Yellow Engine (4598159652)
OR&L No. 6, the Oahu Railway's first locomotive, at the Hawaiian Railway Society
Dates of operation1889–1971[1][2]
Track gauge3 ft (914 mm)
HeadquartersHonolulu, Hawaii


The OR&L was founded by Benjamin Dillingham, a self-made businessman who arrived in Honolulu as a sailor in 1865. After falling from his horse and breaking his leg while riding in the countryside, Dillingham was forced to stay in Hawaii and recuperate. He decided to make the island kingdom his home. Dillingham had a great deal of business acumen and soon became quite wealthy and influential in the early Honolulu community.

Among his development ideas, he conceived in the 1870s of the arid ʻEwa Plain as an excellent location for human settlement. However, there were two problems: a lack of water and, more significantly, a lack of transportation. A trip from Honolulu to the ʻEwa by horse-drawn wagon was an all-day affair. The key was to build a railroad.

Around the time Dillingham was dreaming of his railroad, another businessman, James Campbell successfully dug ʻEwa's first artesian well in 1879, effectively solving the water problem. Campbell, who had purchased 40,000 acres (16,200 ha) of ʻEwa land thought he might start a cattle ranch, but quickly realized that ʻEwa's rich volcanic soil (which overlays a massive ancient coral reef) combined with year-round sunshine and a supply of water was ideal for growing sugarcane. Within a couple of years sugarcane plantations were sprouting up in this southwestern part of Oahu. The need for transportation between the harbor and ʻEwa was becoming essential.

Early phase of OR&L

While Dillingham's dream of large-scale settlement on the ʻEwa Plain would have to wait until the last decades of the twentieth century, his plan for a railroad to the area came together quickly. He leased Campbell's ʻEwa and Kahuku land to start two sugarcane plantations and obtained a government railroad charter from King David Kalākaua on September 11, 1888. After securing the capital, Dillingham broke ground in March 1889 with a goal of connecting the 12 miles (19 km) between Honolulu and ʻAiea (as demanded in the charter) by fall 1889. On November 16, 1889, the king's birthday, the OR&L officially opened, giving free rides to more than 4,000 curious people.

By 1892 the line was 18.5 miles (29.8 km) long, reaching ʻEwa sugar mill, home of Dillingham's ʻEwa Plantation Company property. Although progress stalled during the chaos of the late Kingdom and early Republican periods, by 1895 the railroad had passed through what would become the junction of Waipahu, traversed the ʻEwa plain, and was skirting the Waiʻanae coast to a sugar mill there. After issuing gold bonds in January 1897 the company extended the railroad around Oahu's rugged Kaʻena Point to Haleiwa on the north shore by June 1897, where Dillingham built a hotel.

By December 1898 the main line was complete, stretching past Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach all the way to Kahuku and the Kahuku sugar mill past the island's northernmost tip. Although a circle-island line was proposed, it was never seriously considered. In 1906 an 11-mile (18 km) branch line was constructed from Waipahu up the Waikakalua Gulch to Wahiawa and the pineapple fields of central Oahu. The railroad had taken its final shape.

OR&L to World War II

Hawaiian Railway Society (215793634)
OR&L passenger car coach #2, a first class coach sitting at the Hawaiian Railway Society
OR&L 19
OR&L #19, a 47 tonner GE diesel electric locomotive sits on the Iwilei Turntable in Honolulu. This turntable was electrically operated.

The OR&L was not only a sugarcane railroad. While it served several sugar mills and plantations, it also hauled end products, equipment and workers. The sugarcane plantations sometimes had their own lines. As a common carrier, the OR&L carried freight, passengers, mail and parcels. For instance, besides sugar and pineapples, the railroad hauled garbage from Honolulu to a dump on the Waiʻanae Coast, sand from Waiʻanae to Honolulu during the development of Waikiki, and served the major military bases: Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field, Barber's Point Naval Air Station, Schofield Barracks, and Wheeler Army Airfield.[3]

In 1926, Dillingham built a new passenger terminal designed by Bertram Goodhue, one of the most famous architects in the country, who had also designed the Honolulu Museum of Art and the C. Brewer Building in a Spanish Mission Revival style that matched that of many other public buildings erected during that era. The OR&L train station was converted to a Honolulu Rapid Transit bus terminal after 1947 (later discontinued), and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.[3]

The railroad was profitable, even during the Great Depression, and was a significant mode of communications and transportation until the 1930s. As with railroads in the mainland, private automobiles and public roads led to a decline in traffic, especially passengers. Leading up to World War II the OR&L had all but abandoned its passenger operations, focusing on its profitable freight operations.

OR&L and World War II

World War II was arguably the OR&L's most important period, but would prove to be the company's undoing. After the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the OR&L became a major player in wartime transportation. The railroad carried out its regular freight operations as well as handling massive amounts of military-related traffic.

The OR&L became the chief transporter of civilian base workers, sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines, both from Honolulu to their bases, or from those bases back to Honolulu for coveted R&R. In 1944 and 1945 the OR&L carried nearly two million riders.

Postwar finale

OR&L 70
OR&L Mikado #70 stops at Waipahu station for a refill of water. The four mikados on the OR&L were near-identical cousins to the D&RGW K-28 locomotives, albeit oil-burning, slightly shorter tender, different compressor location, and different headlamp.
Oahu Railway and Land Company
A portion of the track is preserved
Oahu Railway and Land Company is located in Hawaii
Oahu Railway and Land Company
Nearest cityNanakuli, Hawaii
Coordinates21°21′14″N 158°1′40″W / 21.35389°N 158.02778°WCoordinates: 21°21′14″N 158°1′40″W / 21.35389°N 158.02778°W
Area63 acres (25 ha)
Architectural style3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad track
NRHP reference #75000621[4]
Added to NRHPDecember 1, 1975

By the end of the war most of the rolling stock, right-of-way, and facilities were worn out. The company's executives pondered whether or not to continue operations. With the end of hostilities wartime traffic dried up. Moreover, Oahu's road network had been upgraded significantly, and thus for the first time there was serious road competition.

The company plugged along for the remainder of 1945 and into 1946 transporting servicemen. Nevertheless, passenger traffic and gross revenues dropped more than fifty percent. The railroad's fate was sealed by the 1946 Aleutian Islands earthquake and the resulting 55-foot (17 m) tsunami that struck on April 1, 1946.

Overlooked by most historians is the fact that from September 1, 1946, through November 18, 1946, 22,000 sugar workers at 33 of Hawaii's 34 sugarcane plantations went on strike.[5] Only the Gay & Robinson Plantation on Kauai remained in operation, as it was non-union privately owned. The strike had a major impact on Hawaii, and OR&L's freight dropped to record lows.[6]

Although the OR&L rebuilt the tracks destroyed by the tsunami and continued operations during the strike, the decision was made to shut down the entire operation at the end of that year. On December 31, 1947, a final excursion carrying company President Walter F. Dillingham (Benjamin Dillingham's son), along with numerous guests, departed from Kahuku behind American Locomotive Company steam engine number 70 through 71.4 miles (114.9 km) of countryside back to the Honolulu station.[6] The OR&L was finished after fifty-eight years. The OR&L replaced its railroad with a truck transport operation.

Most of the system was dismantled in the years following the company's dissolution, although the double-tracked mainline from Honolulu to ʻAiea remained intact until around 1959. Four of the locomotives, 250 freight cars, and a huge quantity of track and supplies were sold to an El Salvadoran railroad in 1950. The Hibiscus & Heliconia Short Line Railroad (H&HSL RR) was formed in 1948 by local rail fans and modelers. Ben Dillingham gave the group a 1st class coach #47 and an observation car #48, formerly the private parlor car named Pearl.

The Kahuku Plantation Co. allowed the group to use their tracks from near Kawela Bay to Punaluu. The group ran excursions infrequently, renting a steam locomotive from Kahuku Plantation. In 1950, the last steam locomotive was retired and the H&HSL RR then used one of two ex-Navy diesels. In 1954, the plantation abandoned its railroad in favor of trucks thus ending the H&HSL RR. Due to a lack of money and enthusiasm the group was unable to remove their two coaches from the property, so a plantation official had them torched.

The OR&L's Honolulu harbor branch, renamed the Oahu Railway, was used until December 31, 1971 for industrial operations. It served a Kalihi stockyard (until 1961), but chiefly hauled incoming Molokai pineapples from the wharves to the Libby, McNeil and Libby and California Packing Corporation (Del Monte) canning plants. The final section of the line was taken over by the US Navy in 1950.

The Navy, especially during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, ran ammunition trains between the West Loch of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, through the ʻEwa Plain, to the Lualualei Naval Ammunition Depot on the Waiʻanae coast, preserving one of the most famous and scenic stretches of the railroad. The Navy switched to trucks, and the railroad property was abandoned in 1970.

The Oahu Railway & Land Company merged with Hawaiian Dredging to form Dillingham.

Historic preservation

In that same year a small group of railroad fans on Oahu learned of the abandonment and petitioned the Navy to turn the line and equipment over to them. This body became the Hawaiian Railway Society (HRS) in 1970. Nicholas Carter, a charter member of the HRS and one of its founders worked with others in the early 1970s, nominating the former OR&L mainline from ʻEwa to Nānākuli to the National Register of Historic Places. On December 1, 1975, U.S. Senator Hiram Fong reported that this had been done.

Today the tracks are owned by the State of Hawaii, while the HRS is the line's caretaker. The HRS continues to maintain and extend the right-of-way while running excursion trains from its station in ʻEwa. Currently, trains are scheduled for Saturday afternoons at 3:00 and Sunday afternoons at 1:00 and 3:00, running past the new Second City of Kapolei, through the heart of the Koʻolina golf resort, and up the Waiʻanae Coast, presently only as far as Kahe Point. However, the tracks east of Fort Weaver Road have been pulled up, so trains can only operate on the line west of that.

In addition to the ex-Army flat cars used to haul passengers, three cars are at the Hawaiian Railway Society, Coach #2, excursion car #57, and Benjamin Franklin Dillingham's private coach, parlor car #64.

Oahu Railway and Land Company equipment at Travel Town
OR&L equipment preserved at Travel Town Museum

Three cars also sit at Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park, California. Coach #1, combination car #36 and caboose #1, all built circa 1900 at the OR&L shops, were donated to the museum by the OR&L in 1953.[7]

Steel guitar

It is alleged that the steel guitar was invented by Joseph Kekuku when he picked up a railroad spike and slid along the strings of his guitar while walking beside the line in the 1880s, perhaps the line of this very railroad.


  1. ^ (Chiddix & Simpson 2004, pp. 19–21)
  2. ^ (Chiddix & Simpson 2004, p. 260)
  3. ^ a b Burlingame, Burl. "Elegant, functional train depot was typical of old Honolulu". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved 2013-05-24.
  4. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  5. ^ Holmes, T. Michael (1994). "The Territory of Hawaii". The Specter of Communism in Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8248-1550-9.
  6. ^ a b (Chiddix & Simpson 2004, p. 312)
  7. ^ Notes On Your Visit to the Travel Town Museum. Travel Town Museum


  • Best, Gerald M. (1978), Railroads of Hawaii: Narrow and Standard Gauge Common Carriers, Golden West Books
  • Chiddix, Jim; Simpson, MacKinnon (2004), Next Stop Honolulu, Honolulu: Sugar Cane Press, ISBN 0-9706213-1-0
  • Treiber, Gale E. (2003), Hawaiian Railway Album WWII Photographs, 1, The Railroad Press
  • Treiber, Gale E. (2005), Hawaiian Railway Album WWII Photographs, 2, The Railroad Press

External links

Benjamin Franklin Dillingham

Benjamin Franklin Dillingham (September 4, 1844 – April 7, 1918) was a businessman and industrialist during the late Kingdom of Hawaii era, throughout the period of the Republic of Hawaii, and during the first two decades of the Territory of Hawaii.

Dillingham Airfield

Dillingham Airfield (IATA: HDH, ICAO: PHDH, FAA LID: HDH) is a public and military use airport located two nautical miles (4 km) west of the central business district of Mokulēʻia, in Honolulu County on the North Shore of Oʻahu in the U.S. state of Hawaii. It is operated by the Hawaii Department of Transportation under a 25-year lease from the United States Army. The airport is primarily used for gliding and sky diving operations, and also houses Civil Air Patrol (CAP) glider aircraft. Military operations consist largely of night operations for night vision device training and orientation flights for the United States Air Force Auxiliary (CAP). This airport is included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2017–2021, in which it is categorized as a basic general aviation facility.

Dillingham Transportation Building

The Dillingham Transportation Building was built in 1929 for Walter F. Dillingham of Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, who founded the Hawaiian Dredging Company (later Dillingham Construction) and ran the Oahu Railway and Land Company founded by his father, Benjamin Franklin Dillingham. The building was designed in an Italian Renaissance Revival by architect Lincoln Rogers of Los Angeles, who also designed the Hawaii State Art Museum (1928). It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and restored by Architects Hawaiʻi Ltd. in 1980.

Hawaii Consolidated Railway

The Hawaii Consolidated Railway (HCR), originally named the Hilo Railway, was a standard gauge common carrier railroad that served much of the east coast of the island of Hawaiʻi (The Big Island) from 1899 until 1946, when a tsunami destroyed part of the line.

Hawaiian Railway Society

The Hawaiian Railway Society is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge heritage railroad in Ewa, Hawaii, USA, on the island of Oahu. It uses the trackbed of the defunct Oahu Railway and Land Company.

Kaena Point

Kaʻena or Kaena Point is the westernmost tip of land on the island of Oʻahu. The point can be reached on foot from both the East (via Oʻahu's North Shore / Mokulēʻia) and Southeast (via Waiʻanae Coast). An unimproved track extends some 3 miles (4.8 km) along the coast from the end of the paved road on the east side, where a gate prevents entry of all except authorized vehicles. On the southeast side, at Kaʻena State Park, a paved road passes a beach before terminating into an unpaved road. It continues for a few miles, after which the road is washed out, and further travel must be on foot. It is not possible to travel around the point in a vehicle as the route is better described as a "path" in most places, and is lined on one side with a cliff and on the other with basalt rocks which are quite capable of damaging vehicles.

In Hawaiian, kaʻena means 'the heat'. The area was named after a brother or cousin of Pele who accompanied her from Kahiki. The State of Hawaiʻi has designated the point as a Natural Area Reserve to protect nesting Laysan Albatrosses and wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Hawaiian monk seals, and the fragile (to vehicular traffic) native strand vegetation that has been restored there.

Some ancient Hawaiian folklore states that Kaʻena Point is the "jumping-off" point for souls leaving this world.

Ko Olina Station and Center

Ko Olina Station and Ko Olina Center make up a lifestyle center in the resort town of Ko Olina, a neighborhood in Kapolei, Hawaii. The shopping mall opened in 2009 and consists of two centers located across a street from each other. Ko Olina Station debuted in 2009, while the more recent Ko Olina Center finished construction in 2010. The centers contain a total of approximately 31 retail tenants, with the majority of them being native Hawaiian businesses, such as ABC Stores and Peter Merriman's MonkeyPod Kitchen.The center was modeled after a "rural" Hawaiian community, with its grocery store modeled after a "country store". It is located directly north along the old Oahu Railway and Land Company tracks, and includes a mix of dining and retail options.

List of Class I railroads

Today there are only handful of survivors ranked as Class I Railroads and a very different criteria for classification of railways by an entirely different governmental entity than the United States Interstate Commerce Commission, born amidst strong anti-trust movements. The original one million dollars of revenues per anum is hopelessly meaningless nowadays, as are the intervening steps when the ICC assigned revised ranking criteria. This is a list of current and former Class I railroads in North America under the older criteria and the newer as well as today's much different post-railroad consolidation classifications.

Current Class I's that are independently operating have their links in bold and further, have an asterisk (*) next to them. All the others are no longer ranked as Class I, and the entry here is merely historic. Today they may be current operating companies, or may be defunct, their operations turned into investments, some hanging onto a corporate skeleton owning properties as holding companies, or have assigned their properties in mergers, bankruptcy or other legal acts (dissolution of the corporation) and become extinct—their works either torn up and hopefully recycled, or sold off to operating companies. The reader must read to discern which by reading what is connected by hyperlinks. Many of the more famous small railways possessing key trunk lines have been merged into one of today's behemoths.

List of Hawaii railroads

There are no current common freight carrier railroads in Hawaii.

Lucius E. Pinkham

Lucius Eugene Pinkham (September 19, 1850 – November 2, 1922) was the fourth Territorial Governor of Hawaii, serving from 1913 to 1918. Pinkham was the first member of the Democratic Party of Hawaii to become governor.

Mark P. Robinson

Mark Prever Robinson (July 4, 1852 – April 2, 1915) was a Hawaiian business magnate and politician. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Hawaii under the reign of Liliuokalani. During times of political upheaval and financial stress of Hawaii's changing governments, Robinson joined with other business men to come to the financial aid of the government.

Mary Dillingham Frear

Mary Emma Dillingham Frear was First Lady of the Territory of Hawaii from 1907 to 1913, and was a regent of the University of Hawaii for two decades. The granddaughter of missionaries, she was the first Hawaii-born wife of a governor of Hawaii.

Narrow-gauge railroads in the United States

Standard gauge was favored for railway construction in the United States, although a fairly large narrow-gauge system developed in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Utah. Isolated narrow-gauge lines were built in many areas to minimize construction costs for industrial transport or resort access, and some of these lines offered common carrier service. Outside Colorado, these isolated lines evolved into regional narrow-gauge systems in Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Hawaii, and Alaska.

National Register of Historic Places listings in Oahu

This is a list of properties and districts on the Hawaiian island of Oahu that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Oahu is the only major island in Honolulu County. The location of the city of Honolulu, Oahu is the most populous island in the state. There are 166 properties and districts on the island, including 16 National Historic Landmarks. Three formerly listed sites were demolished and have been removed from the Register.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach is a beach on the west coast of San Francisco, California, United States, bordering the Pacific Ocean. It is adjacent to Golden Gate Park, the Richmond District, and the Sunset District. The Great Highway runs alongside the beach, and the Cliff House and the site of the former Sutro Baths sit at the northern end. The beach is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is administered by the National Park Service.

During the late spring and summer, San Francisco's characteristic foggy weather frequently envelops the beach. The average temperature for the last 5 years has been 13.2 °C (55.8 °F) However, the beach is popular with surfers and participants in bonfire parties. More beach-friendly weather occurs in late fall and early spring, when fog is less prevalent.

The water at Ocean Beach is noteworthy for its strong currents and waves, which makes it popular among serious surfers. The water is cold, due in part to a process known as upwelling, in which frigid water from below the ocean surface rises to replace the surface water that moves away from the beach as a result of the Coriolis effect. The rapid rip currents and cold water make the ocean dangerous for casual swimmers and even those who simply want to set foot in it, and swimmers have been swept away and drowned. Nevertheless, the beach is one of the Bay Area's top surfing spots. The southern portion of the beach by Sloat Boulevard is one of the cleanest in the state.

Pacific Coast Railway

The Pacific Coast Railway was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railway on the Central Coast of California. The original 10-mile (16 km) link from San Luis Obispo to Avila Beach and Port Harford was later built southward to Santa Maria and Los Olivos, with branches to Sisquoc and Guadalupe.

Transportation in Hawaii

The transportation system of Hawaii is a cooperation of complex systems of infrastructure.

Waianae Sugar Company

The Waianae Sugar Company, founded in 1878, was the first major sugar plantation on Oahu, Hawaii.

Walter F. Dillingham

Walter Francis Dillingham (April 5, 1875 – October 22, 1963) called the Baron of Hawaii Industry, was an industrialist and businessman from Honolulu, Hawaii.

He gained favors from Hawaii politicians to develop urban Honolulu.

Lists by state
Lists by insular areas
Lists by associated state
Other areas
Passenger carriers
Heritage railroads
Class I railroads of North America


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