Hawai‘i Train Wrecks

Robert C. Schmitt, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society


Photo: honoluluadvertiser.com
An engine and two cars like this one from an O‘ahu train ended up at the Bishop Museum. (click to enlarge image)

Train wrecks in Hawai‘i have usually lacked the spectacular quality and human carnage of those on continental lines, but at least three deserve mention.

The Kahului, Wailuku & Hāmākua Poko Railroad went into operation in 1879, the first common carrier rail line in the kingdom. On February 14, 1884, the last seven cars of a nine-car passenger and freight train uncoupled when the engine halted on a grade near Wailuku. They rolled backward down the 3/4 mile decline with the reversing engine in frantic pursuit. Rounding a sharp curve at the bottom at 50 miles per hour, the runaway car plowed into an approaching locomotive. Three of the eight passengers were killed, three were seriously injured, and the other two jumped in time.

On June 22, 1916, a plantation work train was derailed on a 25-foot-high trestle near Hāna, Maui, plunging into Haneo‘o Gulch. Out of the fifty men on the train, five were killed and twenty-seven were injured.

On July 16, 1922, a speeding pineapple train on the Wahiawā-Schofield line was derailed at Waikakalaua Gulch. The engine and twenty-eight of the forty-one cars jumped the tracks, killing three crewmen and injuring two. Pineapple was strewn far and wide, and could be smelled in the area for many months.