A New Railway in Hawaii Makes Its Debut

July 17, 1879

The earliest public railway to exist in the present-day state of Hawaii began operations on the island of Maui. The first train to run along that narrow-gauge track was pulled along by a locomotive named after Queen Emma, who had been queen consort of what was then the Kingdom of Hawaii. This new rail line, which would be officially named the Kahului Railroad a couple of years later, was built in response to an ever-growing need to effectively and expeditiously ship the abundant amount of sugar grown and processed on Maui to that island’s port of Kahului for overseas delivery.

Previous transportation alternatives, including the use of wagons along unpaved roads, had proven to be hugely problematic. Captain Thomas H. Hobron was among those who took the lead in establishing the railway. After becoming a postmaster on Maui, Hobron made sure that those trains would likewise pick up and deliver mail along the route. The railway eventually began transporting passengers as well.

A couple of months after the first train ran along that line, a letter written by someone identified as J. McKinney and appearing in the Hawaiian Gazette expressed amazement at the new rail network’s performance. The letter proclaimed, “All is peace and harmony about Kahului as usual; there is considerable shipping in port at present and the place seems destined to become a part of no little importance in its shipping and railroad enterprises.”

The Kahului Railroad was purchased by the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company in 1899. Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar was acquired by the company Alexander & Baldwin in 1962, and just a few years later the longtime railway ceased operations altogether.

For more information on the Kahului Railroad, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kahului_Railroad

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