1960 article envisioned revival and expansion of Oahu’s trains

I found another interesting article among the last remnants of the many miscellaneous clippings my mom saved over the years.

This article by Paul W. Lovinger appeared in the Sunday Star-Bulletin, January 31, 1960, in the Business and Real Estate section:

“Will the railroad come back?”

It began:

Predictions: Railroading is far from dead. In fact, Oahu Railway will eventually be expanded. It’s only a matter of time before the line plays its biggest role since its inception in 1889.

These forecasts from Benjamin F. Dillingham II, general manager and vice-president of the Oahu Railway and Land Company.

His optimism is based on a concept of freight transportation new to Hawaii but not to the Continent: Roll-on, roll-off.

Dillingham envisioned a new fleet of specially designed freighters rigged with tracks, so that train cars carrying containers could be loaded directly on the ships at west coast docks for continued travel to Hawaii.

The plan would have pitted Oahu Railway against Matson, which was in the early stages of containerization that would rely on trucks to deliver containers to and from the docks.

Dillingham says O.R. & L will be able to unload a full shipload of 400 containers and load and equal number in eight hours–while Matson takes 36 hours.

Dillingham even envisioned a future monorail system that would carry freight above the roads of Honolulu.

The Oahu railroad system carried passengers from Honolulu to Kahuku, with a branch line to Wahiawa, until the end of 1947. Six plantations along the route also relied on the trains–Aiea, Waipahu, Ewa, Waianae, Waialua, and Kahuku. At its peak, OR&L had about 170 miles of track.

The article noted that the Navy also operated a portion of the former OR&L tracks between Pearl Harbor and Lualualei Valley, using nine diesel locomotives.

We now know what happened. Matson’s system that moves containers across the county, onto ships to Honolulu, and then offloads to trucks carried the day. The network of tracks and rights of way that still existed in 1960 were allowed to decay.

It’s interesting that Dillingham didn’t appear to consider a rail system that could have moved both passengers and freight around the island. I have no idea whether the then-existing rights of way could have handled the dual traffic, but wouldn’t that have been an interesting idea?

All you can say in hindsight, I suppose, is that it was another opportunity lost.

I am not sure how to scan this full-page article. If I can figure it out, I’ll post the whole thing.

One other note: I had forgotten how large newspaper pages were in 1960. It’s almost a different form of media from today’s mini-pages.

7 responses to “1960 article envisioned revival and expansion of Oahu’s trains

  1. Constantinos S. Papacostas

    A couple of items related to OR&L that I included in June and July 2000 in the “Wiliki o Hawaii,” the monthly newsletter of Hawai`i’s Engineering Societies:

    ” In 1885, Dillingham embarked on a land development project west of Honolulu and, like his mainland counterparts, realized that this venture would not succeed without improved transportation to the area… He also figured that a railroad needed to carry freight as well in order to be profitable. The drilling of the first artesian well on the Ewa Plain by James Campbell in 1879 presented Dillingham another opportunity. He obtained 50-year leases beginning in 1887 from Campbell and subleased the lands to sugar growers Castle & Cooke and Alexander Young… Early in 1890, the first suburban development in Manana (renamed Pearl City following a contest) was on its way with the auctioning of 110 lots at $44 each and a ten-year guaranteed fare of 10-cents a ride to Honolulu. ”

    My two vignettes are posted online at:




  2. Well, it looks like Matson won.

  3. Lovinger has a familiar ring. You know who he was???

  4. RE: scanning newsprint – Honblue downtown could do a great job scanning it for you.

  5. Look at Frank Fasi’s positions on the trains before he was elected to the City Council and during the first year or so of his first term as Mayor.

    He was very supportive of a train going around the entire island plus around-the-island track from Haleiwa to Pearl City where folks could get on the main train.

  6. not an around-the-island track but a mid-island track from Haleiwa to Pearl City

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