Maui Sugar Cane Train

By Kyle Ellison
Sugar Cane Train

Lahaina Station of the Sugar Cane Train/A melancholy steam locomotive, which supported the sugar industry of Maui. It takes 30 minutes between Lahaina and Puu Kolii. Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)

There once was a time when locomotives were prevalent throughout West Maui.

Running on tracks that were laid out in fields, the trains would help in transporting sugar from where it was harvested, down to the mill, and then off to ports in Olowalu as well as Kā‘anapali.

With the advent of the automobile, however, there came a point where it was more efficient to move the cane in trucks, and West Maui’s railroad tracks became a thing of the past.

All of them, that is, except for one.

Opened back in 1970, the Maui Sugar Cane Train was a way that visitors could experience a piece of the island’s history and also get sweeping views of West Maui from scenic spots on the route. Running along a six-mile track, the engines would chug and steam their way between Lahaina and Kā‘anapali, before continuing north to Pu‘ukoli‘i, not far from Kahekili Beach. Weaving amidst the fields of green sugar, the train would cross a train-trestle bridge that offered views of neighboring islands and much of the West Maui shoreline.

It was one of the most popular activities on Maui, but all of that changed in 2014 when the Sugar Cane Train stopped running. Over the last couple of years, however, new owners have managed to put the steam back into the engines, and have totally refurbished many of the cars and re-laid much of the track. In 2016 and 2017 the Sugar Cane Train ran a “Holiday Express” that was met with much success, where Santa, elves, carolers, and families all took a ride on the classic train at sunset and under the stars.

Looking at 2018 and beyond, there are plans for the train to fully re-open and resume regular service, and while the route is no longer flanked by sugar, other crops such as coffee and corn have kept the rural feel.

And what about that famous view that you get from the train trestle bridge? That part is totally unchanged — the blue Pacific looks just as inviting as it did when the tracks were first laid.

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