The International Steam Pages


The Public Railways of Guyana, 2014, Part 1


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,

He reports on his visit with Torsten Schneider to Guyana, 6th - 10th September 2014.

See also:


For an interesting sideline view of the railway, check out this page - http://www.guyanesefolksongs.com/2018/08/27/manin-train-ah-pass (added 28th August 2018).


The Co-operative Republic of Guyana (British Guiana until 1966) has a 270-mile long coast line reaching almost from the mouth of the Orinoco (Venezuela) to the Corentyne River (Suriname). The northern coastal region, which extends between 10 and 40 miles inland, is low-lying (mostly below sea-level), flat and swampy. Rice and sugarcane cultivation is predominant in this area. It is succeeded by a broader and slightly elevated track of land composed of sand and clay.

Georgetown Tramway:

From 1877 to 1930 a standard gauge tramway operated in Georgetown. Animal-powered at first, it was electrified in 1901. For more info, see http://www.tramz.com/gy/g.html. After closure, 12 miles of track were sold to Edward S. Sills for use at a logging site 30 miles south of Georgetown to transport wallaba wood for fuel.

East Coast Railway (ECR) or Demerara Railway:

Significant amounts of new material were added on 10th August 2015 and some mistakes corrected. These concerned the locomotive list and the former Bermuda Government Railway stock.

In March 1837, a proposal to build a 21.5 mile railway along the coast east of Georgetown was quickly forgotten. In 1845, the proposal was brought up again and a bill passed in July 1846. The Demerara Railway Co. was formed and groundbreaking ceremonies took place in August 1847. In late 1847 four miles of standard gauge track had been laid, but the railway suffered a setback when following the derailment of an inspection train with a wandering cow in January 1848 resulted in two fatalities including the acting director. On Nov. 3rd, 1848, the 5.5 miles section from Georgetown to Plaisance was opened to traffic, the first railway in South America. Two pairs of passenger trains operated over the line daily.

From 1850, the company was unable to raise any further funds but Government loans allowed construction to proceed to Buxton (m.p. 10, 03/1850), Enmore (m.p. 13, 10/1850), Belfield (m.p. 15, 12/1850), Two Friends (m.p. 16.5) by 1852 ) and to Mahaica (m. 21.5) by 31st August 1864. Between 1897 and 1900 the line was extended another 39 miles east to Rosignol (across the Berbice River from Nieuw Amsterdam) and ended in Blairmont, 4 miles further south. While the railway carried on with its tasks, it was not a prosperous one. The situation was further hampered by the fact that management of the DRC was in the hands of two separate committees, one in London and the other in Georgetown.

In January 1922, the ECR was acquired by the Government (which made sense as it had accumulated a huge debt from the Government) and as the British Guiana Government Railway (BGGR) became part of the Colonial Transport Department, which also operated a fleet of ferries and coastal steamers, the Colonial Steamer Service (7 steamers, 1 motor barge and 5 launches in 1924).In 1922 the Rosignol – New Amsterdam ferry connected with the twice-weekly Berbice River Steamer service between New Amsterdam and Coomacka (110 miles) operated by Sprotson’s Ltd. In 1927, the Colonial Transport Dept. was amalgamated with the Harbour & Pilotage Department to form the Transport & Harbours Department, which still operates government ferry services today.

In 1923, the ECR carried 372,231 passengers and 64,800 tons of freight (mostly wood and sugar). Through investment (in 1924 two new steam locos were acquired and the passenger rolling stock rebuilt), the railway entered into a period of growth and stability. In 1936 a new ferry stelling ((= pier, quay) was built at Rosignol. In the mid-1930s, passenger coach underframes with Timken bearings were acquired from the Gloucester Ry. Carriage & Wagon Co., with the bodies built with local wood at the BGGR workshops. After the end of the Second World War, ex-USATC petrol locos were acquired and in 1948 almost the entire fleet from the closed Bermuda Railway.

In view of the poor condition of the railways, a 1953 World Bank report recommended additional crossing loops on the ECR, the laying of ballast, bridge repairs, the purchase of modern locomotives and rolling stock (5 diesel-electric locos, 3 railcars and trailers and 15 bogies coaches) and the construction of a modern workshops complex in Kitty outside of Georgetown. At the time, passenger service on the line was strong with five arrivals at Georgetown between 06.45 am and 11.00 am and three between 06.00 pm and 07.30 pm, as well as two morning departures and six afternoon/evening departures. Only two trains traveled the entire line to Rosignol. Passengers were mostly workers, school children and villagers going to market in town. The report recommended that the railway be retained and funds provided for rehabilitation and modernization, to as to be able to provide an efficient service based on the fact that the capital cost of a construction program for roads would be much higher. Part of these recommendations were acted upon and two years later six diesel locos were acquired.

By 1962, with the development of the coastal road and the increase in road traffic, freight traffic revenues had declined so as to only amount to 1/5 of total revenues, but the railway still carried a substantial number of passengers (2.25 million in 1962, incl. 1,000 schoolchildren per day). Sugar and rum were lost first to barges and later to road traffic and in 1962 only small amounts of plantain, molasses (30,000 tons), cattle (4,000+ heads), groceries (5,000 tons) and rice were still transported. Following independence in 1966, the Government started viewing the railway (now the Guyana Government Railway) as a relic of colonization and it was left to decline. The section from Burma to Rosignol closed in 1970 and the remainder from Georgetown to Burma in 1972. Much of the equipment was scrapped shortly thereafter. According to some sources, some of the rail or rolling stock was sent to Cuba in the second half of the 1970s to help with Cuba’s war effort in Angola, but if that is the case the material probably ended up as scrap in Cuba.

Not much is known about the railways early steam locomotives, except that the first three were named Mosquito, Sandfly and Firefly, of which two are thought to have been built by Kinmonds & Co. of Dundee, Scotland, and that they were supplemented by Centipede (a 2-2-2T built by Sharp Stewart), Scorpion and Marabunta soon after opening.

The following is an attempt to list those locos and railcars known to have worked on the ECR, based on various sources and established with the help of John Middleton:

SS = Sharp Stewart, N = Neilson, NBL = North British, HL = Hawthorne Leslie, HE = Hunslet

Mosquito

1847? wdn. by c 1860

Sandfly

1847? wdn. by c 1860

Firefly

1847? wdn. by c 1860

Centipede

2-2-2T SS 714 1852 wdn. by 1936
?Poole Hasabinta 2-2-2T SS 752 1853 Probably wrong, the SS list shows 752 as an 0-6-0 for the MS&LR in the UK

Scorpion?

2-4-0T N 434 1857 15”x18” cyl., wdn. by 1936

Marabunta?

2-4-0T N 435 1857 15”x18” cyl., wdn. by 1936

1? Georgetown

0-4-0T SS 1248 1861 12”x17” cyl., wdn. by 1936 (c1899 ?)

2? Mahaica

0-4-0T SS 1249 1861 12”x17” cyl., wdn. by 1936 (c1904 ?)
3 Victoria 0-6-0ST C2 SS 1469 1863 12”x17” cyl., 30.4 tons, 6885 lbs, 1935 new boiler & saddle tank (30.2 tons, 1947 to oil, scr. 1956
4 Alexandra 0-6-0ST C3 SS 1470 1863 12”x17” cyl., 23.16 tons, scr.1936
5 0-6-0ST SS 1758 1866 12”x17” cyl., wdn. c1904 ?
6 0-6-0ST SS 1759 1866 12”x17” cyl., wdn. c1878 ?
7 0-6-0ST SS 2250 1872 12”x16” cyl. (lost at sea ?)
8 Tinne 0-6-0ST C1 SS 2251 1872 12”x19” cyl., 25.0 tons, 7182 lbs, new firebox & cyl. 11.1927, oil by 1952, wdn. 1954, scr. 1956
7 Chambers 0-6-0ST SS 2785 1878 12”x16” cyl., wdn. c1921 ?
6 Clonbrook 0-6-0ST C1 SS 2786 1878 12”x19” cyl., 25.0 tons, 7182 lbs, new boiler 09.1925, scr. 1948
9 Abary 2-4-2T B SS 4462 1899 13”x18” cyl., 19.10 tons, 7908 lbs, wdn. 1954, scr. 1956
10 Berbice 2-4-2T B SS 4463 1899 13”x18” cyl., 19.10 tons, 7908 lbs, wdn. 1954, scr. 1956

1 Eza

2-2-2T SS 4496 1899 8”x14” cyl., 8.6 tons, 2090 lbs, scr. 1956, possibly some type of inspection loco
11 Belfield 2-4-2T B SS 4591 1900 13”x18” cyl.

2 Mahaica

2-4-2T B NBL 16181 1904 13”x18” cyl., 19.10 tons, 7908 lbs., 1955 to oil firing, scr. 1955

5 Georgetown

 0-6-0ST NBL 16331 1904 condemned 02.1925

12 Mahaicony

0-6-0ST C1 HL 3442 1921 12”x19” cyl., 25.0 tons, 7182 lbs, new firebox 05.1925, scr. 1956

30 Sir Wilfred

4-6-4T A HE 1447 1924 16”x22” cyl., 30 tons, 16896 lbs, rebuilt 1955/56
(was superheated, replacement non-superheated boiler supplied by HE No. 57546/c1954)

31 Sir Graeme

4-6-4T A HE 1448 1924 16”x22” cyl., 30 tons, 16896 lbs, cyl. red. To 14”x22” in 1934, 12936 lbs, oil by 1952
(was superheated, replacement non-superheated boilers supplied by HE No. 52744/c1944)

32 Sir Edward

0-6-4T A1 HE 1676 1931 14”x20” cyl., 30 tons, 11760 lbs, new boiler 1936, oil by 1952, scr. 1956
(replacement boiler supplied by HE No. 47899/c1936)

33 Sir Geoffrey

0-6-0ST C1 BGGR? 1936 12”x19” cyl., 25 tons, 7182 lbs., from 1955 C2, 12”x17”, 30.2 tons, 6885 lbs, from 1962 21.0 tons, 6197 lbs (rebuilt as tender loco?)
(reported built locally with parts ordered from England, including new frame, but probably also using parts from earlier scrapped locos, incl. possibly No. 4 ALEXANDRA (SS 1470/1863) reported scrapped in 1936)

34 Sir Gordon

4-6-4T A HE 3386 1946 16”x22” cyl., 30 tons, 16896 lbs, entered service in 1947, oil by 1952

35 Sir John

4-6-4T  A HE 3387 1946 16”x22” cyl., 30 tons, 16896 lbs, entered service in 1947, oil by 1952

36 Donkey

0-6-0ST C1 BGGR 1947 12”x19” cyl., 25 tons, 7182 lbs, BGGR rebuild of an earlier loco ? (“delivered in parts 1946”), entered service 1947, oil by 1952, from 1955 C2, 12”x17” cyl., 30.2 tons, 6885 lbs, from 1962 21.0 tons, 6197 lbs (rebuilt as tender loco?)
(reported assembled locally with parts shipped from England, but probably also using parts from earlier scrapped locos, incl. possibly No. 6 CLONBROOK (SS 2786/1878) reported scrapped in 1948)

41

Bogie PMR EE 1931 Passenger power car, Parsons petrol engine, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry., into service 1948/49

42

Bogie PMR EE 1931 Passenger power car, Parsons petrol engine, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry., into service 1948/49, wdn. 1956/57
(presumed two of Bermuda Gov’t Ry. 0-4-0-4PMR 10-15 (EE 832-837/1931) with one Parsons 6-cylinder 120 HP petrol engine driving one power bogie)
43 Bogie PMR EE 1931 Freight power car, Parsons petrol engine, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry., into service as inspection car 1950
44 Bogie PMR EE 1931 Freight power car, Parsons petrol engine, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry., wdn. 1954
(presumed former Bermuda Gov’t Ry. 0-4-0-4PMR 30/31 (EE 844-845/DC 2019-2020 of 1931) with one Parsons 6-cylinder 120 HP engine or 0-4-4-0PMR 100/101 ex 60/61 (EE 867-868/DC 2024-2025 of 1932) with two Parsons 8-cylinder 150 HP petrol engines) 

61

Bo-BoDE GE 300 HP Cummins, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry. 200 ?, 1942/43 rebuild of Brill Model 55 gas-mechanical railcar

62 

Bo-BoDE GE 300 HP Cummins, 1948 ex Bermuda Gov’t Ry. 201 ?, 1942/43 rebuild of Brill Model 55 gas-mechanical railcar, scr. 1956

63

Bo-BoDE 45ton GE 32472 07/1955 400 hp Caterpillar engine

64

Bo-BoDE 45ton GE 32473 07/1955 400 hp Caterpillar engine

65

Bo-BoDE 45ton GE 32474 07/1955 400 hp Caterpillar engine
71 C-C DH 80ton CLC 3046 1967 2x 525 HP Cummins V12-525-B1 engines
72 C-C DH 80ton CLC  3047 1967 2x 525 HP Cummins V12-525-B1 engines
81 ex PLE 1 4wPM Brookville 2967 1944 Ford V8 engine, ex USATC, wdn. 1956/57
82 ex PLE 2 4wPM Brookville 2968 1944 Ford V8 engine, ex USATC, 1962 rebuilt into 4wDM
PLE 3 4wPM Brookville 3037 1945 Ford engine, ex USATC, 07.1949 to WCR No. 15 (regauged)

101

0-6-0DM VF D255 / DC 2521 01/1955 204 HP Gardner 8L3 engine

102

0-6-0DM VF  D256 / DC 2522 01/1955 204 HP Gardner 8L3 engine

103

0-6-0DM RSH 7861 / DC 2571 06/1956 204 HP Gardner 8L3 engine

At the very end of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQB_l1Qmpy0 a 2-4-2T can be seen at the level crossing directly outside Georgetown station in 1953.

There were four-wheel, six-wheel and bogie coaches, baggage vans, and goods and service stock, and one six-wheel coach survived until 1965. Next to the more standard types (flat, low-sided, high-sided and covered), freight stock also included livestock cars, horse boxes, cattle cars, refregirator cars and tank cars. The freight cars had a carrying capacity of between 5 and 30 tons.

In 1965, the ECR was operated with 6 steam locos, 8 i/c locos (1 petrol, 3 DM and 4 DE), 2 railcars, 53 passenger coaching vehicles and 188 goods vehicles. At least one of the Hunslet 4-6-4Ts remained in operation until closure.

After closure, 0-6-0ST No. 36 “Donkey” (which had been built from parts of scrapped locos by BGGR workshops in 1936) was plinthed in the National Park, Thomas Lands, Georgetown, however as of late it could not be found and is presumed scrapped. In 1990, a scholar from the Smithsonian Institution (Shayt) still found a large number of relics from the railway between Georgetown and Rosignol, including steam loco boilers and wagon wheel sets, but the increased prices for scrap metal since then have probably meant that none of that is left. In Sept. 2014 all we could find was:

The workshops are still in use by the Transport & Harbour Department. Small parts for the department's ferries are repaired here, while work on bigger parts are undertaken at the wharf. Inside, what we first took to be two bogie covered vans survive, each with only one bogie. After seeing the photo, John Middleton however pointed out that the front unit is one of the 150 HP freight petrol railcars No. 43/44 (ex-Bermuda No. 30/31) with the rear unit probably the other, both missing their power bogies. The cab windows have been covered over.

Until now it was thought that no rolling stock from the Bermuda Government Railway (BGR) had survived. The excellent “The Bermuda Railway Pages” website as a listing of the rolling stock which used to operate on that island’s railway: http://www.bermudarailway.net/then/operations/stock/stock.html.

After it closed in 1948, the BGGR acquired some of its rolling stock for use in British Guiana. The 1950 BGGR annual report lists the following items:

  • Two passenger motor coaches No. 41/42, which are thought to have come from among Bermuda’s six 1st and 2nd class railcars No. 10-15 (EE 832-837 of 1931). There is no photographic evidence for this, but given that the reports state that they needed little work to be put into service shortly after their arrival, it is unlikely that they would have been major rebuilds of something else. No. 42 was withdrawn within a few years, but No. 41 remained in service after 1964, mainly in excursion service on weekends and for group charters;
  • Two freight railcars No. 43/44, of which No. 43 was put in service as an inspection railcar in 1950, while No. 44 spent most of its time after arrival in the workshops, was laid up in 1952 and formally withdrawn in 1954. Bermuda had a total of four freight railcars, single-engined No. 30-31 (EE 844-845/DC 2019-2020 of 1931) and double-engined No. 100-101 ex 60-61 (EE 867-868/DC 2024-2025 of 1932) it is not clear which of the two became BGGR No. 43/44. To confuse maters further, BGR No. 30/31 were delivered with matching unpowered cab control freight vans No. 40/41 (EE 846-847 of 1932). Except for the single power bogies, these looked identical to the railcars. There is however no evidence that they came to British Guiana;
  • Two diesel electric locomotives No. 61/62, which were the former BGR No. 200/201, in fact Brill Model 55 railcars which had been equipped with Cummins engines during World War II with financial assistance from the U.S. Army Transportation Corp.. No. 61 remained in service at least until 1960, No. 62 quickly withdrawn and scrapped in 1956;
  • Two covered vans for use on the “rice train” between the Mahaicony-Abari rice mill and Georgetown, said to have been obtained by converting two Bermuda freight power vans into freight cars. These could be either Bermuda No. 30-31 or 100-101 mentioned above;
  • Two open gondolas, also rebuilt for use on the rice train. There were either Bermuda No. 50/51 (15 tons capacity) or No. 52/53 (10 tons capacity). All four had been built in 1932, two by EE (No. 869-870)/Cravens, but it is not known which ones. One of them, probably No. 51, is known to have been converted into a fuel tank wagon in Bermuda.

It is still unclear if the two surviving freight vans in Georgetown were railcars No. 43/44 or the two “rice train” vans after they arrived in British Guiana, but in any case they were almost certainly Bermuda No. 30/31:

Part of the attached running shed also still stands; part of it is used as a workshop by an artist. The water crane on the right is still operational:

Georgetown Station on Lamaha Street is in use as a garage and workshop for the Ministry of Public Works. The trackbed east of Georgetown has been turned into Railway Embankment Road to relieve the coastal highway (Rupert Craig Hwy.) of some traffic during rush hour:

There were over 200 bridges on the ECR, but only three large steel bridges of which two are still in place at Mahaica (24 miles east of Georgetown, upper two pictures) and Mahaicony (36 miles,  lower two pictures). The Mahaicony was the largest bridge, with a 200-foot centre-span and an overall length of 308 feet:

The Rosignol ferry stelling is out-of-use since the opening of the Berbice River floating bridge:


Sources :

  • W. Rodney Long, “Railways of Central America and the West Indies”, Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, 1925;
  • Transport & Harbour Department annual reports from 1936 to 1965;
  • Omer Lavallée, “On Being First in South America: The Demerara Railway”, in R&LHS Railroad History No. 154 (Spring 1986), pp. 125-126;
  • David H. Shayt, “The Demerara Railway Revisited”, in R&LHS Railroad History No. 166 (Spring 1992), pp. 126-129;
  • D. Trevor Rowe, “The Locomotives of South America” (The Guianas), St. Teath, Cornwall: Locomotives International, 2000;
  • David Rollinson, “Railways of the Caribbean”, Oxford: MacMillan Caribbean, 2001;
  • Alan Barnes, “RH Carr: the steamboat at Skull Point”, in Old Glory October 2010, pp. 78-80.


Rob Dickinson

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