Kauai Plantation Railway
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Travel Across Time ...
Located at Kilohana, one of Kauai’s most famous plantation estates, the Kauai Plantation Railway operates daily. Please stop by and join them for an informative glimpse into Kauai’s past. They are centrally located just off Route 50 approximately one-mile south of Lihue.

Enjoy Kauai's oldest and newest activity.  A 40 minute authentic Train Tour of a 100 acre agricultural and farm animal plantation. From your comfortable seats you will see: 50 varieties of orchards ranging from fruit trees including cherry, cashew, mango, lychee, mountain apple, star fruit, etc; fields of papaya, banana, pineapple, sugar cane, taro, coffee, Hawaiian hardwood trees, and tropical flowers; farm animals include a herd of over 50 wild pigs, goats, sheep, cows, horses, donkeys and Clydesdale horses; and the train stops to enable passengers to disembark and feed the herd of wild pigs. A unique activity and FUN for the entire family.

Reservations by phone: (808) 245-RAIL (245-7245) - Reservations can be made between 9:00am and 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday.

Click Here to Visit the Kauai Plantation Railway's Official Website
Or Email: Kauai Train for Train reservations today!

Adult $18.00, Children (2-12 YRS.) $14.00, Infant - 2 years are FREE
Rates subject to change.

Kauai Plantation Railway
3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy
Lihue, Hi 96766
Ph: 808 245-RAIL (245-7245)
E-mail: Train@hawaiilink.net

Kilohana Plantation
Office: (808) 245-5608 - Fax: (808) 245-7818
E-mail: Kilohana@hawaiilink.net
 

Driving Instructions
Located at Kilohana on Kaumualii Highway – Route 50
Approximately one-mile south of Lihue 

From North and East Shore: Drive west on Kuhio Highway (51) towards Lihue, connect to Kaumualii Highway and drive past Kukui Grove Shopping center. Turn right at the entry to Kilohana. The train depot is the last red roofed build and the end of the parking lot.

From South and West Shore: Drive east on Kumualii Highway past the Kauai Community College. Turn left into the entry of Kilohana. The train depot is the last red roofed build and the end of the parking lot.

Take a few minutes to explore a glimpse of the history of sugar trains and agriculture on Kauai and for more detailed information and reservatons, go directly to their complete website.

Kauai Railroad History

Railroads on Kauai date from 1881 with the first three miles of rail laid at Kilauea Plantation, and by 1915 there were nearly 200 miles of narrow gauge track in service on the sugar plantations of the Island. 

Early sugar planters encountered transportation problems from the start, struggling with wagons on unpaved roads to move cane from the fields to the mills and processed sugar to the ports for shipment to market. In late 1881 management of the Kilauea Plantation ordered rail equipment from the John Fowler Co, of Leeds, England. Rail, spikes, a locomotive and cars arrived on Kauai late in 1881 and by the end of 1882 the line was in operation. Track gauge was 2' and the tiny (likely 6 tons) 0-4-2 Fowler locomotive could move up to ten loaded cars of cut cane in one train. 

While the original line at Kilauea Plantation remained at 2' gauge to the end, all the other lines on Kauai chose 30" gauge, the only Island in the Hawaiian Chain to run with this gauge. 

The success of the Kilauea line lead management at the Koloa Sugar Plantation, the first on Kauai, to follow their lead and order a similar Fowler locomotive, but chose 30" (2' 6") gauge for their line. The reason is not known. The success of this line soon prompted management to order a second Fowler locomotive of similar size. 

By 1887 the Koloa operation needed more powerful engines and ordered a 10-ton, 0-4-2T locomotive from the Hohenzollern Co. of Germany. Today this engine is preserved by the Grove Farm Homestead Museum in operating condition - it is the oldest functioning plantation locomotive in Hawaii and is put in steam occasionally for special events. 

None of the railroads on Kauai were intended for passenger service, though on special occasions flat cars were outfitted with seats and canvas roofs. Workers often rode out to the fields on the railroads and returned on the last trip of the day. The daily work on these railroads involved moving cars loaded with cut cane from the fields to the mill and the bags of processed sugar to the nearest ship landing, as well as moving supplies and equipment to the plantation from the landings. The expansion of the plantations increased the length of the railroad lines and the improvements in the sugar processing plants enabled much greater production capacity. 

As the lines increased in length and management wanted to move larger quantities of sugar cane per trip, the locomotives were upgraded to larger units. The Baldwin Locomotive Works, of Philadelphia, became the prime supplier to most Hawaii plantations and Kauai was no exception. Initially the 0-4-2 design was popular, but soon the larger 0-6-2 wheel arrangement, with the water tank draped over the boiler ("saddle tank") was favored because of it's high tractive effort and the ability to negotiate sometimes less than perfect track. Historians have called these the "Bulldog Baldwins" for their squat, compact appearance and renown pulling ability. At one point there were more than 20 of these engines in service on Kauai at the same time, and three of them survive in the collection of the Grove Farm Homestead Museum, two of which are operational. 

The Kauai Plantation Railway has been fortunate to locate and recover a pair of these Baldwin 0-6-2 tank engines that once ran on the Honolulu Plantation Co, on the Island of Oahu. Unlike the other Kauai railroads, these are 36" gauge, which was common on all the other Hawaiian Islands. Once restored this will raise the number of Hawaii narrow gauge steam engines on Kauai to six, the largest surviving group of Hawaii sugar engines in existence. 

By 1927 plantation managers began to experiment with internal combustion engines and a 12-ton Plymouth diesel was placed in service at the Kekaha Sugar Company and was soon followed by similar units on other operations. In 1936 management at the Lihue Plantation purchased a 10-ton Whitcomb diesel-mechanical engine, which proved to be successful. The following year a second, similar engine was brought on line. 

The Kauai Plantation Railway has located and restored a 1939 Whitcomb diesel-mechanical of the same design as the early Kauai engines, thus replicating this era of Kauai railroading. Also on the KPRY roster is a 1948 GE diesel-electric engine similar to the early GE units purchased by Lihue Plantation Co. 

In the same period many Kauai plantations began to experiment with the use of motor trucks in harvesting and other hauling needs - marking the beginning of the end for plantation railroads on the Island. As the lines began to be pulled up locomotives were sold to other Kauai plantations, sold elsewhere, or scrapped on site. Following WWII the improvements brought on during the war in motor trucks and tracked vehicles brought most of the Kauai railroads to an end. 

As elsewhere in Hawaii, the plantation railroads were largely gone by 1950 or so, with only the Lihue Plantation Co on Kauai keeping it's railroads in service until 1959 - far longer than expected. By that time five large GE diesel engines were doing the majority of the work, with several of the old steam engines in reserve. 

Through the foresight of Mable Wilcox, a member of the family who owned the Lihue Plantation Co, the Grove Farm Homestead Museum was established to help preserve Kauai's plantation history. The museum was able to acquire and preserve four of Kauai's steam engines, three of which have been restored to operational condition. 

Though the plantation railroads of Kauai no longer haul sugar cane, the preservation efforts of the Grove Farm Homestead Museum, and the operations of the Kauai Plantation Railway help visitors and Island residents experience this long-gone aspect of Island life. 

Riding a narrow gauge train on the Kauai Plantation Railway through the plantation fields is a unique and wonderful opportunity to travel back in time to the heyday of Kauai's railroad history. 

The Locomotives

The Kauai Plantation Railway is the first new railroad to be built on Kauai in nearly 100 years and follows traditional railroad practice. Over 2.5 miles of roadbed has been constructed with more than 6000 wood ties in place, and tens of thousands of pounds of iron rail hand-spiked in place at a traditional three foot gauge.

For the opening, motive power will be provided by a restored 1939 Whitcomb diesel engine – similar to the first internal combustion engines that ran on adjoining Lihue Plantation during the pre-war period. 

Two historic Hawaii sugar plantation steam engines have already been purchased and plans are underway for their renovation and future addition as part of the Kauai Plantation Railway. The engines were built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, of Philadelphia, for plantation service on the Island of Oahu. Delivered in 1899 and 1916 respectively. Sold to a sugar plantation in the Philippines in 1947, the engines worked there until 1998 when they were set aside. Recovered in 2004, these two steam locomotives represent some of the very few Hawaii engines to have survived.

The 1899 engine was named “Halawa” and is an 0-6-2 tank engine of 18 tons – her sister engine, named “Manana” was built in 1916 to the exact same design. Both ran on the Honolulu Plantation Co operation near Pearl Harbor until 1947, when they were sold to the Hawaiian-Philippine Sugar Co, of Silay City, Island of Negros, Philippines. To have located a matched pair of Baldwin engines with Hawaii history is a major feat and their future return to service in the Islands will be an important contribution to historic preservation.

The Passenger Cars 

The passenger cars used on the Kauai Plantation Railway have been inspired by similar cars from Hawaii’s railroad history that were built during the era of King Kalakaua [right]. 

Designed both for traditional style and visibility, each 36 seat coach [below] will provide comfortable enclosed accommodations for the 30 minute ride. 

An open-sided covered excursion car, similar to the ones that ran along the coast line before World War II as part of the Oahu Railway, will offer those enjoying the open air another option for viewing the plantation. 

Each of these replica passenger cars were specially handcrafted to order in the Phillipines and are mounted upon the frames and running gear of flat cars originally built for service on the Oahu Railway in the 1940’s. 

In 1962 they made their way to Alaska and the famed White Pass & Yukon Railway, where they served until the late 1980’s. Back in Hawaii they were rebuilt and received custom built superstructures. 

Once again rolling the rails in Hawaii, these well-traveled flat cars will soon accommodate passengers instead of loads of freight. 

History of Hawaii Agriculture

It is believed that Hawaii’s original settlers arrived here from the Marquesas between 500 and 700 AD. These first visitors to Hawaii brought with them pigs and chickens along with a variety of staple food crops including: Kalo (taro), Ko (sugar cane), Mai`a (banana), Niu (coconut), Uala (sweet potato) and `Ulu (breadfruit). Journals from the voyages of Captain Cook in 1778 document the trading for food and supplies with the native populations of both Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii.

After its discovery by western civilization new crops continued to be introduced into the islands by early settlers from around the world. Well-known Honolulu resident, Don Francisco de Paula y Marin, the Spanish advisor to King Kamehameha I, first introduced pineapple to Hawaii in 1817 with coffee coming shortly later having been imported from Brazil. Kona’s first coffee farm was started just ten years later.

During the California gold rush between 1849 and 1851 Hawaii was an important source of supplies for the miners. Hawaii agriculture boomed with Irish and sweet potatoes, onions, pumpkins, oranges, molasses, and coffee all being grown to be shipped to the West Coast.

While sugarcane had been grown throughout Hawaii for many years it was with the development of the first extensive irrigation system at the Lihue Plantation on Kauai, which included a 10-mile long irrigation ditch and tunnel system, that it became one of the island’s first commercially successful sugar operation. Soon many others followed due in part to the reciprocity treaty of 1876 between the Kingdom and the United States which allowed for duty-free export of sugar, leading to a rapid expansion in sugarcane production throughout the island chain.

Over the period between 1889 and 1910 agriculture thrived in the islands. It was during this time that macadamia nuts were introduced to Hawaii and pineapple was first canned commercially in Kona. The drilling of an artesian well on the dry Ewa, Oahu plains, opened groundwater irrigation of agricultural fields and allowed for even more rapid growth of commercial plantations which included with James Dole’s planting of 61 acres of pineapple in Wahiawa.

Surprisingly rice was also an important crop during this period with over 9,400 acres under cultivation and an annual output of almost 42 million pounds - rice was the second largest crop in Hawaii.

By the 1930’s nine million cases of pineapple packed by eight canneries on Maui, Molokai, Oahu and Kauai were shipped from Hawaii to points around the world. And sugar cultivation had reached its peak with over 254.562 acres under development. Commercial farming in the islands was a success and plantation companies throughout the territory enjoyed record profits. It was never to be the same.

The years of plantation growth throughout the islands had created a need for workers that could not be filled by the local residents. Contract labor became the way to solve the problems and a long line of migrant workers were brought to Hawaii to work in the fields. They came from the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico, China, Japan and beginning in 1946 the Philippines. A year later the "Great Sugar Strike" took place, when 28,000 ILWU workers at 33 plantations struck, signaling the beginning of a new era.

Hawaii became the 50th State in the union in 1959 and soon after Hawaiian pineapple growers were supplying over 80% of the world's output of canned pineapple. In 1966 things begin to slowly change as pineapple production began to decline and sugar peaked at 1,234,121 tons of raw sugar. By 1970 the number of Pineapple canneries had dropped from 9 to 3 and many smaller sugar plantations began to consolidate or close as it was discovered that these same crops could be produced for less money in other countries. This trend has continued until today when there exists in Hawaii only two sugar plantations – one on Kauai and one on Maui and two large-scale commercial pineapple operations on Maui and Oahu.

Agriculture in Hawaii in the present day is all about diversification, from tropical crops like macadamia Nuts, banana and papaya along with tropical flowers, to select garden vegetable grown exclusively for the discerning tastes of an ever increasing number of visitors. Currently there are over 5,500 farms in Hawaii that grow more than 40 crops commercially. Our macadamia nut industry represents over 45% of the world's production making it the second largest and Hawaii continues to be the only state in the nation to grow coffee with an annual production of over 7.6 million pounds grown on the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, Molokai, and Oahu. The plantation days may be long gone but the legacy of commercial farming and agriculture will continue in these islands for many years.
Kilohana Farmers Market (Under Construction)Under development is a farmers market area front Kaumualii Highway that will someday bring the Tropical Agriculture students from neighboring Kaua’i Community College into the retail market end of tropical agriculture where they can learn about the business side of the profession.

Along with tourism, tropical agriculture is emerging as one of Hawaii’s strong economic fields and Kilohana Plantation is at the forefront in fostering the development and expansion of this field.

Agriculture, as it was in the days of sugar, is a mainstay of Hawaii’s economy and the future appears very bright indeed.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 
Kilohana Farmers Market (Coming Soon) Under development is a farmers market area front Kaumualii Highway that will someday bring the Tropical Agriculture students from neighboring Kaua’i Community College into the retail market end of tropical agriculture where they can learn about the business side of the profession.

Along with tourism, tropical agriculture is emerging as one of Hawaii’s strong economic fields and Kilohana Plantation is at the forefront in fostering the development and expansion of this field.

Agriculture, as it was in the days of sugar, is a mainstay of Hawaii’s economy and the future appears very bright indeed.

Kauai Sugar Plantations

Sugar cane, or Ko in Hawaiian, is a perennial grass that can grow up to 20 feet high. Imported by the original Polynesian inhabitants of Hawai’i the plant was believed to have medicinal properties in addition to its sweet flavor. Once harvested the stalks are ground up and the liquid extracted by rollers to obtain juice, which is then slowly boiled down to create raw sugar. 

The first commercial sugarcane plantation was started at Koloa, Kauai in 1835. Early sugar planters faced a multitude of challenges including shortages of water, limited labor, and due to their isolated location a lack of markets for their sugar. 

It takes approximately 5 million gallons of water per acre to bring a crop of sugar ready to harvest during a two-year growing cycle. Just 20% of that amount comes from rain so the pioneer sugar planters solved water shortages by building irrigation systems that included aqueducts (the first built on Kauai in 1856), artesian wells (the first in 1879), and tunnels and mountain wells (the first in 1898). 

The 1876 Treaty of Reciprocity between the United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii eliminated the major trade barrier to Hawaii's closest major market for its raw sugar and a new industry in Hawaii was born. In just 60 short years raw sugar production reached 225,000 tons and by 1932 had grown to one million tons. 

As the major commercial enterprise in rural Hawaii the plantations were cities unto themselves employing the majority of island labor force, providing housing, transportation, entertainment and later even electricity to the residents of Kauai through the power generated at their sugar mills. The first train came to Kauai in 1881 and served the Kilauea Plantation with 3 miles of track and five engines.

For over a century, sugarcane was the state's leading economic activity providing Hawaii's major source of employment and tax revenues. It takes approximately three feet of cane to produce one cube of sugar. On Kauai alone there were over 70,000 acres dedicated to sugar with up to nine major plantations operating across the island at any given time from the Hanalei River to the Mana Plain. 

Kauai Sugar Plantations

Gay and Robinson
Established 1889 at Makaweli, Kauai

Grove Farm Plantation
Established 1864 at Lihue, Kauai

Kekaha Sugar Company
Established in 1856 at Kekaha, Kauai

Kilauea Sugar Plantation
Established 1877 at Kilauea, Kauai

Kipu Plantation
Established 1907 at Kipu, Kauai

Koloa Sugar Company
Established 1835 at Koloa, Kauai

Lihue Sugar Plantation
Established 1849 in Lihue, Kauai

McKee Plantation
Established 1877 at Kealia, Kauai

McBryde Plantation
Established 1899 Eleele, Kalaheo, and Lawai, Kauai 

Today there no remaining commercial sugar plantations on the island of Kauai. The pictures below are just a few images of my last visit to Gay & Robinson Plantation in 1999. Currently, this plantation is producing ethanol.

Lilikoi's Visit 1999Lilikoi's Photos of her visit! 1999

Click Here to Visit the Kauai Plantation Railway's Official Website
Call 1 808 245-RAIL (245-7245) or email: Kauai Train for Train reservations today!
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