The International Steam Pages


The Railway of Curaçao, 2014

Thomas Kautzor has been to several Caribbean islands to check out what is left of their railways and industrial heritage.

For the full general index, see Railway Relics (and more) in the Caribbean,

Thomas Kautzor reports on his visit with Torsten Schneider to Curaçao, 2nd - 3rd September 2014, click here for his visit to sister island Aruba. The third island of the former Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire, never had a railway as far as is known. Curaçao


Curaçao, an island off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea, formerly part of the Netherland Antilles and following its dissolution in 2010 a country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, only ever possessed one 30” gauge railway. Click here for a report on sister island Aruba, 

In 1874, vast high-grade phosphate deposits were discovered on the southeastern part of the island, around the Tafelberg (Table Mountain). A tramway and a two-track incline system were used to transport the mineral from the top of the mountain down to a dock at Fuik Bay for shipping. At the top of the mountain, donkeys were used as motive power. This operation closed in 1887.

In 1910, worldwide demand for high-grade phosphate for the steel industry made it viable for the Minjmaatschappij Curaçao (MMC) to reopen the mine. This time, the mineral was mined at the surface. The internal railway system was strengthened and a system of light 18”-gauge portable track used to bring the mined ore to fixed loading points on the 30”-gauge 6-mile donkey-worked system. Despite the Great Depression in the 1930s, the mine decided to replace the donkeys by a number of second-hand Plymouth 3.1/2 and 4 ton petrol locos. Due to the lack of water on the island, steam locos were never an option. By the end of WWII, these had been worn out and were replaced by the following brand new Plymouth diesel locos:

? TID 4-ton 5306 2/1948
? UDF  6-ton  5307  6/1948
? UDF  6-ton  5410  9/1948
? UDF   6-ton 5508  1/1950
? TID  4-ton  5509  2/1950
? TID  4-ton  5708  7/1953
? UDF   6-ton 5709  7/1953
? TID  4-ton  5820  9/1954
8 UDF   6-ton 6147  11/1958
9 UDF   6-ton 6148  11/1958
10 UDF   6-ton 6162  3/1959
11 DDT  8-ton 6161  3/1959
12 UDF   6-ton 6211  11/1959
13 UDF   6-ton 6232  3/1960

The locos were later renumbered.

By 1960, the incline had been replaced by a conveyor belt to the docks. By the early 1970s only one mile of railway with two locomotives and two 20 car trains were still in operation on top of the Tafelberg. This last part of the operation closed in the mid-1970s.

Today, at least two Plymouth locos and eight Robert Hudson tipping wagons (20 cubic feet capacity) survive:

  • One of the UDF 6-tonners, thought to be the later No. 025, is on display together with two tipping wagons outside the gate to the MMC mine (http://miningcompanycuracao.com/), next to the employee parking lot for the Santa Barbara Beach & Gold Resort;

  • MMC No. 27 (Ply. DDT 8 ton 6161 of 3/1959, ex No. 11) is on display together with two tipping wagons on the grounds of the Curaçao Museum (http://www.thecuracaomuseum.com/, open Mo-Fr 08.30-16.30, Su 10.00-16.00) in Otrabanda, Willemstad;
  • On the way to the airport, we found another four tipping wagons and some track material on display in front of a private home at the junction of A.A. de Lannoy – Willems Blvd. and Gouv. van Landsbergweg (Fort Waakzaamheid turnoff, next to the closed ‘Planet Willemstad’ restaurant) in Otrabanda, Willemstad.

From 1886 to 1920, Willemstad possessed three separate horse and petrol tramways. Their histories are detailed on http://www.tramz.com/cw/cw.html. No remnants could be found, but presently a rubber-tired road train operates for tourists in Willemstad.

The picture on the left below shows the point on Breederstraat in Punda where both the Curaçaosche Tramweg Maatschappij horse-tram line (probably 30” gauge, 1886-1910) and the Curaçaoschen Tramwegdiensten petrol tram line (metre gauge, 1911-1920) to Scharloo (1 mile) used to end. To the left is Willemstad’s famous floating bridge. The Otrabanda horse-tram across the water, operated by the Curaçaosche Paarden Spoorweg Maatschappij, was only In operation for seven months, from June to December 1896.

Sources:

  • Lee A. Dew, “the railroads of Aruba and Curaçao / railverkeer op Aruba en Curaçao”, Rotterdam: Publishers Wyt, 1977.
  • David Rollinson, “Railways of the Caribbean”, Oxford: MacMillan Caribbean, 2001.


Rob Dickinson

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