Concept: Railways


Little knowledge remains of the various small railways that existed in the Protectorate. Rail systems existed on mission stations, trading stations, plantations and at one timber company. The first seems to have been built by Dr Comins of the Anglican's Melanesian Mission in 1898 at Siota on Nggela, used to transport soil to fill a swamp. (SCL June 1922) At about this time Gavutu Island also had a railway. This small trading base island near Tulagi was central to replenishing coal supplies of ships, the coal being placed into baskets and wheeled down to the wharf on a rail track. (Sinker 1900, 42-43; Horton 1965, 21-22) There was a 2.4 kilometre monorail at Berande plantation on Guadalcanal in the 1910s, which carried bananas from the plantations down to the wharf. In the 1940s, there were 1.6 kilometres of tramlines at Tetepare plantation in the New Georgia area, and 2.5 kilometres at Rere plantation on Guadalcanal, both owned by Solomon Islands Development Company, a subsidiary company of Burns Philp. In the late 1920s Vanikoro Timber Company used a small railway with a Shay locomotive to transport logs and timber. The Vanikoro Timber Company tramlines went about 1.6 kilometres into the foothills. Logs were carried on the tramway down to the loading area.

There was a marine railway at Gavutu, supplemented by a second one built by the U.S. Marines during the Second World War. The Japanese used two gas-powered locomotives with hopper cars on a narrow-gauge railway to build their airfield at Lungga, Guadalcanal. These were still serviceable when the Americans captured them, so they used them to complete the airfield. This temporary railway remained in use, mainy to help construction of tunnels into the hills. The U.S. Seabees construction corps also built a railway on Guadalcanal, which was nicknamed the 'Guadalcanal, Bougainville and Tokyo Railway'. Descriptions say construction began on 22 August 1943 and was finished in world record time: 'It took them just three days to lay a track a mile and a quarter long, and another two days to build a pier at its terminus'. (Popular Mechanics, June 1944, 152) The railway was needed because trucks kept getting bogged down. The line was double-tracked and went inland to supply troops. Several long spurs, one 458 metres in length, led to ammunition dumps. Presumably the 'pier' mentioned was at Lungga. The locomotives used came from Panama. There was also a marine railway at Kukum docks.

After the war, small railways continued to be used. A narrow-gauge push railway on Rere plantation near Aola in east Guadalcanal conveyed bags of green copra from the place they were made to the copra drier. Part of this railway still existed in 1970. The Catholic Mission station on Poinikeni Island in Marau Sound used a push railway to unload cargo from the wharf to the priest's house. In about 1960 a study was conducted into the feasibility of building a railway from Honiara to the Guadalcanal Weathercoast.

Two hotels in Honiara have built funicular railways to take guests up hills to their rooms. The largest is at King Solomon Hotel, which runs on two tracks and has a wire rope, and another, on a steel track, is at Honiara Hotel. Both are self-operated. SCL October 1913, 154; Bennett 2000, 101, 103, fig. 46; [accessed 21 Oct. 2011]; personal communications from Terry Brown 20 Oct. 2011; and Adrian Smith, 3 Nov. 2011)

Related Corporate Bodies

Published resources


  • Bennett, Judith A., Pacific Forest: A History of Resource Control and Contest in Solomon Islands, c. 1800-1997, White Horse Press; Brill, Cambridge; Leiden, 2000. Details
  • Horton, Dick C., The Happy Isles: A Diary of the Solomons, Originally published: 1965, Heinemann, London, 1965. Details


  • Southern Cross Log (SCL). Details