Until the mid-1800s, Hawaiʻi overland travel was predominantly by foot and followed traditional trails. To get around people walked, or rode horses or used personal carts/buggies.
It wasn’t until 1868, that horse-drawn carts became the first public transit service in the Hawaiian Islands, operated by the Pioneer Omnibus Line.
In 1888, the animal-powered tramcar service of Hawaiian Tramways ran track from downtown to Waikīkī. In 1900, the Tramway was taken over by the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Co (HRT.)
That year, an electric trolley (tram line) was put into operation in Honolulu, and then in 1902, a tram line was built to connect Waikīkī and downtown Honolulu. The electric trolley replaced the horse/mule-driven tram cars.
“In those days – there were only four automobiles on Oahu in 1901 – you lived downtown because you worked downtown, you couldn’t live in Kaimuki or in Manoa.” (star-bulletin) The tram helped changed that.
HRT initially operated electrically powered streetcars on tracks through Honolulu streets. Power came from overhead wires. Its “land” component included investments into the construction and operation of the Honolulu Aquarium (now the Waikīkī Aquarium), a popular attraction at the end of the Waikiki streetcar line.
The rolling stock consisted of ten 10-bench cars; fifteen 8-bench cars; two closed cars; eight convertible cars and ten trailers. (Electrical Review 1902)
For the line work, wooden poles thirty feet long were used and placed about 100-feet apart. The necessary span wires are so placed to allow the trolley wire, which was 4/0 copper wire, about twenty-feet above the track. (Electrical Review)
“The company operates on twenty miles of trackage, which is continually being extended to anticipate the demands of traffic. The overhead trolley system is in vogue, with power supplied from a modern generating plant operated by oil fuel. The entire equipment conforms to the latest offered by modern invention, providing for safety, durability and comfort.” (Overland Monthly, 1909)
“The company’s service extends to Waikiki beach, the famous and popular resort of the Hawaiian and tourist, and where the aquarium, the property of the company, is one of the great objects of attraction. Kapiʻolani Park, the Bishop Museum, the Kahauki Military Post, the Royal Mausoleum, Oʻahu College and the Mānoa and Nuʻuanu valleys are reached by the lines of this company.” (Overland Monthly, 1909)
The streetcars were replaced completely by buses (first gasoline and later diesel buses.) Bus service was inaugurated by HRT in 1915, initially using locally built bodies and later buses from the Mainland (acquired in 1928.)
Trolley buses operated on a number of HRT routes from January 1938 to the spring of 1958. Electric street cars, first used by HRT on August 31, 1901, were withdrawn early in the morning of July 1, 1941. (Schmitt)
In 1885, Dillingham embarked on a land development project west of Honolulu and, like his continental 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.
In 1888, the legislature gave Dillingham an exclusive franchise “for construction and operation on the Island of O‘ahu a steam railroad … for the carriage of passengers and freight.” He started O`ahu Railway & Land Co (OR&L.)
Ultimately OR&L sublet land, partnered on several sugar operations and/or hauled cane from ʻEwa Plantation Company, Honolulu Sugar Company in ‘Aiea, O‘ahu Sugar in Waipahu, Waiʻanae Sugar Company, Waialua Agriculture Company and Kahuku Plantation Company, as well as pineapples for Dole.
Likewise, OR&L hauled various stages in the pineapple harvesting/production, including the canning components, fresh pineapple to the cannery, ending up hauling the cased products to the docks.
By 1895 the rail line reached Waiʻanae. It then rounded Kaʻena Point to Mokuleʻia, eventually extending to Kahuku. Another line was constructed through central O‘ahu to Wahiawa.
OR&L’s passenger travel was an add-on opportunity that not only included train rides, they also operated a bus system. However, the hauling for the agricultural ventures was the most lucrative.
On August 5, 1899, as part of the O‘ahu Railway & Land Company (OR&L) rail system, the Hale‘iwa Hotel (“house of the ‘iwa”, or frigate bird) was completed.
Guests were conveyed from the railway terminal over the Anahulu stream to fourteen luxurious suites, each had a bath with hot-and-cold running water.
They even included a “Kodak Camera Train” (associated with the Hula Show) for Sunday trips to Haleʻiwa for picture-taking. During the war years, they served the military.
In 1899, Pacific Heights, just above Honolulu, on the south ridge of Nuʻuanu Valley was laid out and marketed. They built the Pacific Heights Electric Railway to support the housing development.
In town, in addition to service to the core Honolulu communities, HRT expanded to serve other opportunities. In the fall of 1901, a line was also sent up into central Mānoa.
The new Mānoa trolley opened the valley to development and rushed it into the expansive new century. In particular, it would help to sell a very new hilltop subdivision, “College Hills,” and also expand an unplanned little “village” along the only other road, East Mānoa. (Bouslog)
The Waikīkī Aquarium opened on March 19, 1904; it is the third oldest aquarium in the United States. Its adjacent neighbor on Waikīkī Beach is the Natatorium War Memorial. It was originally known as Honolulu Aquarium, it was renamed the Waikīkī Aquarium following its reconstruction in 1955
It was also a practical objective of using the Aquarium as a means of enticing passengers to ride to the end of the new trolley line in Kapiʻolani Park, where the Aquarium was located. (The trolley terminus was across Kalākaua Avenue from the Aquarium, near the current tennis courts.)
Many in the community hoped that the Honolulu Aquarium would help develop a flagging tourism industry with the Aquarium serving as a “point of interest.”
The City and County of Honolulu is in the process of building a $5.2-billion elevated rapid-transit line that will cover approximately 20 miles from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center with 21-stations. (It now faces a budget shortfall of up to $900 million.)
The planned route passes through ʻEwa, Waipahu, Pearl City, ʻAiea, Kalihi, downtown Honolulu and Kakaʻako. The proposed route is scheduled for completion by 2019. Future plans call for eventually extending the line to the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa and Waikīkī. The Honolulu Rail system will use steel-wheel technology.
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John Helekunihi Duke says
My grandfather was a motorman on the HRT.
Kaipo Kanoho says
Amazing. Just think, i dont know if they had automatic trans back then. Can you imagine driving wilhelmena rise or Tantalus at stops on hillsxand clutching at EVERY stop. GEEZ, talk about repetitive stress injuries…whoa. props to that MANuncle🤙🙌