Take a ride on the rails of the KPR

PUHI — “Where’s the train?” a delivery driver wanted to know as he slowed while Greg Ransone made adjustments on the railroad crossing barrier at the Kilohana Estates.

Kaua‘i Plantation Railway started offering tours aboard its locomotive system yesterday with the first carload rolling out of the train depot at 10 a.m.

Terri Goo, described as the “hub” of the railway operation, said for the month of February, KPR will be offering tours on the hour between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“We ask that passengers arrive at least 45 minutes before departure,” Goo said. “There is a safety briefing they need to hear, and following that, on a good day, there’re lots of things to do and see.”

Passengers on the KPR tour start and end at the train depot, a converted guest house on the Kilohana estate.

“We have more than 20 Kaua‘i vendors represented here,” Goo said. “And, we’re just starting up. We have The Home Depot, now we’ll have ‘The Train Depot.’”

Boone Morrison, superintendent of the Kaua‘i Plantation Railway, said there are two diesel locomotives and four cars, a picnic coach and three closed coaches, that make up the initial system.

The first diesel locomotive is the smaller of the pair, Morrison said. The 1939-built Whitcomb is a 20-ton locomotive and representative of the first of three generations of diesel locomotives that were used by the sugar plantations.

A No. 20 General Electric is rated at 25 tons and was built in 1948. “This engine represents the second generation of locomotives,” Morrison said.

Morrison pointed out the two engines are end-cab designed, meaning the cab is located at the end of the engine compartment.

The third, and final, generation of diesel locomotives featured a center cab design where the engineer’s cab was located in the middle of the engine.

Morrison said his affiliation with Kaua‘i Plantation Railway started about five years ago when he got into a conversation with Fred Atkins.

“In May, it’ll be five years since we first started talking,” Morrison said. “But in that time, we’ve been working on this project a little at a time.”

“You get so focussed on whatever project is in front of you, that sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve done,” Morrison said. “Sunday night, I had to step back, and when I looked at everything, it was like ‘whoa’ what have we done.”

Morrison’s experience with railroads dates back to when he was a child.

“I love trains,” he said. “I’m an architect by trade, but I’ve been a railroader since I was a kid.”

Morrison said he’s had experience working with excursion and museum railroad before running into Atkins.

“Railroaders are a funny bunch,” Morrison said. “It’s kind of like a brotherhood where we talk to each other. We might not have all the answers to some of the situations that come up, but we know the people who have the answers.”

In addition to the two diesel locomotives that are dispatched by Goo once the passenger list is compiled, Morrison said there are four passenger cars — an open picnic coach and three closed coaches.

“These cars are all named after rivers on Kaua‘i,” Morrison said, pointing out Hanalei, a closed coach, and Wainiha, the picnic coach.

Additionally, Morrison said they have two flat cars that can be converted into coach cars if the need arises.

The chassis for the railcars were originally built in 1941 for the United States Navy for use at Pearl Harbor, Morrison said. When the cars were discontinued, Yukon Pacific purchased the cars from the Navy, and Kilohana purchased them from Yukon Pacific in Alaska.

Once acquired, the coach cars were manufactured to fit the chassis in the Philippines, Morrison said.

“The conductor also does the narration and there is a sound system that connects the cars,” Morrison said. “Passengers are treated to a trip that covers approximately three miles in 35 minutes.”

In addition to Morrison, the KPR staff includes Pepe Trask who is in charge of the passengers and sales.

Terri Goo is the “hub” of the operation as she fields calls on the radio, manages the Train Depot gift shop and sells tickets.

“She has her finger on what is happening with the railway at any given time,” Morrison said. “She is the hub.”

Judy Goo is also the retail manager and staff members include Linda Kanahele, Peaches Lum and Wailana Rego.

“When we start rolling, we’ll have two operating railroads on the island,” Morrison said. “There’s no other island that can claim that. We are the railroad capitol of Hawai‘i.”

The second railroad is operated and maintained by the Grove Farm Homestead Museum.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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