The OR&L Under Wire?
By Jeff Livingston, Historian
Originally published in the Akahele I Ke Ka'aahi

It is a well known fact that the Wahiawa Branch of the OR&L was a steep and tortuous climb, and, that the OR&L frequently had to employ up to three rod locomotives on a single train to make it up the grade. This was costly both in terms of man-hours and equipment upkeep. To reduce costs, the OR&L's answer to this problem was the purchase of two Shay locomotives for use on the Wahiawa Branch. But what else could have been done? Hidden away in the virtually uncataloged "Dillingham Collection" at Bishop Museum is a letter dated 26 August 1919 from the Baldwin Locomotive Works to OR&L Superintendent George P. Denison regarding electrification of 26 miles of railroad. There are also two letters dated 18 and 19 November 1919 from Hawaiian Electric Co., Ltd. referencing the proposal. Baldwin at the time was using Westinghouse equipment in their electric locomotives, and, Hawaiian Electric was the local Westinghouse representative. The actual Westinghouse proposal document, also at Bishop and dated June 1919 addresses only the electrification of the Wahiawa Branch, a distance of about seven miles. The proposal is a detailed analysis of the route in terms of minimum curvature, maximum grade and required traffic speed and train tonnage necessary to serve the OR&L's Wahiawa Branch customers, most notably the pineapple fields and Schofield Barracks. The proposal also includes the electric power requirements, recommended substation location and the existing service capability of Hawaiian Electric in the area. The proposal boils down to the recommendation that the most effective electric locomotive for use on the Wahiawa Branch was the 50 ton Westinghouse double truck locomotive with four 145 HP electric motors. This locomotive would, according to Westinghouse, haul 280 tons of load around the sharpest curves and maximum grades at a minimum of 10 M.P.H. with a specified full load average speed of 12 M.P.H. up the branch. Downhill speed was specified as 20 M.P.H. allowing a single locomotive to handle 2000 tons within 14 hours. Maximum safe speed was 35 M.P.H. This type of locomotive would exert 25,000 lbs. of tractive effort at 25% adhesion on clean, dry rail. Westinghouse recommended three locomotives total for service from Waipahu to Wahiawa. This recommended 50 ton steeple cab locomotive was illustrated by Westinghouse negative No. 48885 as shown below but with pantographs rather than trolley poles.

Although the Westinghouse proposal only addresses the Wahiawa Branch, the follow on Baldwin Locomotive Works letter specifies 26 miles of main line, the distance between Iwilei and Wahiawa. What an operation either of these proposals would have been! If the electrification of the Wahiawa Branch had taken place the yard at Waipahu would have been much larger and likely would have included an engine shed and repair facility for the electric locomotives. This could have lead to the electrification of the entire line from Iwilei to Wahiawa. Imagine freight trains leaving Iwilei headed by one or more steeple cab or boxcab locomotives to pull the grade to Wahiawa. Electric commuter trains to Pearl Harbor and beyond, perhaps only electric operations between Honolulu and Waipahu with steam from Waipahu to Kahuku. Alas, it appears that the expense of electrification outweighed the benefits and no action was taken to electrify. It is certain that the OR&L desired to address the problems associated with the Wahiawa Branch and in 1920 the OR&L purchased its first of two Shay locomotives for the Branch in lieu of electric power. That the OR&L was a forward thinking and progressive railroad is clear. It is interesting to contemplate the possible results of electrification of all or a part of the road.

Jeff Livingston October 2008

Westinghouse Specifications for OR&L 50 Ton Locomotives (Partial)