After 45 years in business the Lahaina Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad is operating their last passenger service route from Lahaina to Pu’ukoli’i.
The Sugar Cane Train, as it’s affectionately called, has one diesel train and two steam engines. Since news of the shutdown broke 6 days ago, it’s been sold out. Tourists and locals have flooded the box office for a chance to get one last ride in.
Several locals I spoke with mentioned it was a tradition in their family to ride the train, a fond memory from childhood and an experience they cherished. Those that were first time riders, expressed sadness that their first ride would be their last but also gratitude to have the chance to ride on the historic steam engine train.
All along the route, bystanders filmed, took photos and showed their aloha with waves and smiles.
In 1969 A.W. “Mac” McKelvy partnered with the Makai Corporation and created the Sugar Cane Train. Since then, more than fifteen million passengers have ridden the t rain making it one of West Maui’s most popular attractions.
Tomorrow – August 1st – is the last day the train will make the 12-mile round-trip journey. Staff members confirmed they will only be operating a half day operation with the last train leaving Lahaina at 1pm. That being said, today the train was running an hour to two hours behind schedule.
Albert Kaina, the train’s conductor, said the last train ride is reserved for employees and their families. He also announced that the last passenger train ride will be FREE to the public on a first come, first served basis. It’s slated to leave Pu’ukoli’i at 1:45pm. You can catch the train on the Lahaina side at 2:30pm but it will only be a one-way ticket and again it’s likely to be behind schedule.
In recent years ridership has been down. The schedule was reduced from daily service to week days only and the cost of keeping equipment and the track maintained outweighed profit margins. Owners Robert and Kimberly Butler of Nebraska have listed Railroads of Hawaii for sale and employees expressed optimism & hope that someone could swoop in at the last second to save the day. Ticket agent, Blossom Flores said she was hoping for a miracle.
Great article by the Lahaina News about the history of the train.
On a personal note, my in-laws and I were really touched by the “feeling” of community togetherness that surrounded the train and all of its passengers today. To see people wave and smile at strangers, shouting out “hello,” throwing the shaka and even blowing kisses! … it was amazing. Something we don’t see a lot of anymore these days. Riding the train today was like taking a ride back in time. It was really special and if you can make it down tomorrow – I’d say it’s worth the trip (and the long line!).
We sat near a father and his daughter who live right up the road from the train station. He said he used to put pennies on the track. He and his friends would ride the train back and forth until the conductor came to say “last one boys.” He was riding it today for sentimental reasons. So sweet.