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Efforts to restore Sugar Cane Train underway

By Staff | Nov 6, 2014

LAHAINA – After months of negotiations and planning, a consortium that includes community leaders and a prominent West Maui businessman last week announced that they have the historic Lahaina Kaanapali & Pacific Railroad back on track and may relaunch the Sugar Cane Train soon.

Operating for 45 years, the Sugar Cane Train made its last trip on Aug. 1, 2014, after the former owners of the Lahaina Kaanapali and Pacific Railroad announced they were ceasing operations due to the viability of the attraction.

The Sugar Cane Train had served more than 5 million visitors and residents since 1970, and news of the closure saddened many in the West Maui community.

Like many West Side residents, local businessman Craig Hill was disappointed to watch the disappearance of yet another iconic Lahaina landmark.

After hearing about preliminary ideas in the media to bring the train back, Hill began exploring possibilities with other like-minded community members.

“The closure was another integral part of Lahaina’s history coming to an end,” Hill explained, “like the sinking of the Carthaginian, Maui Land & Pineapple ending the days of pineapple and the closing of the Pioneer Mill, which forever silenced the sugar industry in West Maui.”

Hill, the new owner of the Sugar Cane Train, is a longtime resident of West Maui. For nearly 30 years, he has provided tourists memorable vacation experiences in Hawaii’s visitor industry.

He is passionate about seeing the train operate again and believes that its return is good for the community and visitors alike.

“The tracks and train were just days from being removed and re-sold elsewhere, and I’m just one of so many who did not want to see this iconic symbol of Lahaina and the rich history it embodied disappear,” said Hill.

Now that Hill has acquired the Sugar Cane Train, he plans to coordinate efforts that include extensive renovations. He hopes to have the Sugar Cane Train back in service in several months.

He plans to continue to work with a local group of volunteers who helped spearhead public efforts to resurrect the Sugar Cane Train as way to involve the community in a shared vision of success in this endeavor.

“Instrumental thus far in the efforts to save the train are (county) Department of Transportation Director Jo Anne Johnson Winer and executive director of the LahainaTown Action Committee, Lynn Donovan,” Hill said.

“They, along with state Rep. Angus McKelvey and Iolani Kaniho, operations manager of the Sugar Cane Train, were unwavering in their desire to save this landmark attraction for West Maui.”

Stepping in to save the train has been personally rewarding for Hill.

“I’m very grateful to be able to give back to a community that has been so good to me. I’ve been fortunate to live in West Maui for so long and happy to try and help preserve any part of its rich cultural heritage,” he concluded.