Feature Story

A Lucky Switch

destroyed railroad tracks

Destroyed railroad tracks

Roy Wilson was a brakeman working on the train on April 1. The coach was transporting students, farmers, and goods from Puna to Hilo. Not his normal route, Roy had argued with his dispatcher about the switch. On the new route he had to spend two nights away from home, whereas on his normal route between Hilo and Pa'auilo, he could go home every night. Roy was on the assigned Puna route on April 1, and the train set out for Hilo at 5:45 a.m., making numerous stops including Kapoho and Pahoa. After each stop the conductor would call ahead to Hilo for the all-clear, but that morning the conductor could not reach Hilo after Makuu. Moreover, Roy noticed something very unusual at Makuu. The ocean, typically blue, was brown, seemingly flowing uphill. The Hilo dispatcher informed the conductor that Hilo had just been hit by a tsunami, and they should offload all passengers, who would be bused home. The train personnel proceeded to Hilo in the empty motor car. Roy heard that engine 121, his usual train, had been hit by waves and the track was undermined and destroyed (above). If aboard, he could have perished. Roy was happy to find his wife safe in their home.

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Last Revised November 2014.