Star-Bulletin Features

Members of the Hawaiian Railway Society rode a yellow "speeder" to the new railway bridge near the Kahe Point Power Station last week. The bridge, the society's first coastal bridge, will be dedicated Saturday.

All Aboard!

Hawaiian Railway Society reopens
part of a route at Kahe Point

By Burl Burlingame

There was a time when the land was connected by steel rails, built by the sweat of our forefathers, from sea to shining sea and to all points of interest in-between. In the case of Oahu, that was only about 70 miles of track, but what the hey.

Passenger trains stopped running on Oahu in 1947, victims to cheap automobiles and paved roads. The Navy continued using a stretch of narrow-gauge between the Lualualei ammunition depot and Pearl Harbor, but that petered out in the '60s. That sliver of narrow-gauge along the Leeward Coast fell into rusty disuse, despite being classified a National Register historic site.

At 11 a.m. this Saturday, the Hawaiian Railway Society will reclaim a portion of the route with the dedication of a new railway bridge at Kahe Point. The train will carry dignitaries from the Ewa Station to Kahe Point beginning at 10 a.m. The public can watch from the tracks.

It's the first coastal railroad bridge built in the islands in half a century, although the HRS has built some gullyjumpers as they continue to restore the route.

"This is called Bridge No. 35, and that area hasn't seen regular passenger service since 1947," said Steve Vendt, HRS administrator. "When the Society was founded in 1970, we could only move a couple of miles down the track from Ewa. With the opening of Bridge No. 35, the route is now something like seven miles long."

HRS was organized around saving a historic locomotive -- W.A.C.O. 6 from the Waialua Agricultural Company on the North Shore -- as well as a motley collection of other abandoned rolling stock. For more than two decades, the Ewa organization has methodically restored Hawaii's railway history and steadily, a few feet at a time, reclaimed the route from Ewa to Nanakuli.

The bridges were long-gone, knocked down by government agencies spooked by the liability of unused structures in public places.

Bridge No. 35 was actually finished late last year, said Vendt. "What we've been working on has been the track on the other side of the bridge, so the train can actually cross the bridge and have somewhere to go.

"It's not a reproduction of the original wooden-trestle bridge. The coastal climate isn't kind to those. The new one is steel and designed by a structural engineer who's on our board. We built up both ends, then assembled the bridge here and lowboyed it to the site, where a Hawaiian Dredging crane picked it up and dropped it into place and -- Gosh darn! -- everything fit!

"The plates for the bridge are welded in place, but the whole structure is designed to expand and contract without having any side-to-side sway."

The track is 3-foot narrow-gauge, standardized on Oahu and Maui, said Vendt. Kauai went with 30-inch track, while the Big Island used full-sized track.

Funding for the project came from selling rides on the train and from private donations. "What we need more than anything else is volunteer labor," said Vendt. "If anyone's interested in working on historic trains, call us."

The train will never become part of urban-visioning plans for mass transit -- too slow, too inefficient -- but it provides a link to the past and creates another historic attraction in Hawaii, said Vendt. There's talk of eventually extending the track into Pearl City or Aiea, or even to Pearl Harbor.

Next stop on the route?

"Bridge No. 36!" said Vendt. "It's right around the corner, and even wider."

Dedication of Bridge 35

Where: Kahe Point
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Admission: Free
Call: 681-5461

Train rides

Hours: 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Sundays
Departures: from the Hawaiian Railway Society's Ewa Station, 91-1001 Renton Road
Cost: $8; $5 for keiki and seniors (children under 2 ride free)
Also: Ride in Dillingham's Parlor Car for $15 the second Sunday each month.

Hawaiian railway society

Membership meetings: 7 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Hawaiian Railway Society Yard
Call: 681-5461
Write: P.O. Box 60369, Ewa Station, Ewa Beach 96706-7369

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