The International Steam Pages

Mining Railways in Guyana, 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,

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

See also:

Demerara Bauxite Co. (DEMBA), Linden:

The following is an historical account of the mining operations at Linden and their railway: There is a map of Linden at the bottom of the page.

1913 American Geologist George Bain Mackenzie travels to Wismar (65 miles south of Georgetown on the West bank of the Essequibo River) and finds bauxite deposits; 

1914 Mackenzie returns and buys land on the east bank of the Essequibo River (under the false pretence that he would use it for farming;

1915 Death of Mackenzie, the land passes to Winthrop C. Neilson;

1916 the Demerara Bauxite Co. (DEMBA), owned by the Aluminium Company of America (ALCOA), establishes a mining town at Akyra and builds a bauxite drying plant (50,000 t/year capacity) at Mackenzie, on the eastern bank of the Demerara River opposite Wismar. A pier is also built to accommodate oceangoing vessels;

1917 bauxite mining commences at Three Friends mine and later at Akyma mine, 8 miles south of Mackenzie, and later at nearby Maria Elizabeth mine;

1920 the first 36-in. 914mm) gauge railway was opened between Cockatara and Three Friends mine (c.9 miles). U.S.-built four-wheel saddle tank steam locomotivess are used. The plant at Mackenzie has some three-rail dual gauge track;

1929 the Aluminum Company of Canada (ALCAN) takes over control of DEMBA. Prior to World War II, Guyana becomes the world’s third largest bauxite producer after the U.S.A. and Suriname and by the end of the 1940s the world’s second largest;

1939 a line is opened from Hope mine, on the west bank of the Essequibo, to Akyma. The Hope railway bridge is the first bridge to span the Essequibo, 14 miles upstream from Mackenzie (its last remains were stolen by scrap thieves recently);

1943 DEMBA expands its mining operations to Ituni, 40 miles south of Mackenzie;

1946 the railway line from Mackenzie to Ituni is completed. Ultimately the railway connects the mining sites at Ituni, Akyma, Maria Elizabeth, Three Friends, Montgomery, Yararibo, Arrowcane and Dorabece with Mackenzie and has an extent of 80 km in the 1970s and 133 km in 1996. That year, Mackenzie had a population of 2,840, Wismar/Christianburg 1,666, as migrants from the coastal area and other Caribbean islands flocked to the area in search for work;

1956 DEMBA commences construction of an alumina refinery at Speightland north of the Mackenzie Bauxite Plant;

1961 the alumina refinery opens in March 1961, powered by a 15,000 kW power plant;

1965 work on the Mackenzie/Wismar Bridge commences;

1967 the mixed road-railway bridge is completed, the railway connects with the West Bank Mines just outside Christianburg. In Silver City (Wismar) the railway crossed a large valley on a steel bridge;

1968 the Soesdyke – Mackenzie highway is opened (up to then the area could only be reached by river steamer);

1970 the mining town of Mackenzie as well as the two former village districts of Wismar and Christianburg are incorporated as the town of Macmerburg and later renamed Linden after then Prime Minister Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham;

1971 DEMBA is nationalized and renamed Guyana Bauxite Co. (GUYBAU);

1976 GUYBAU and the Berbice Mining Enterprise (BERMINE, formerly Berbice Bauxite Co.) are administrated by the Berbice Industry Development Co. (BIDCO);

1977 Guyana Mining Enterprise (GUYMINE) succeeds BIDCO;

1982 the Mackenzie alumina plant ceases to operate;

1992 the debt-ridden GUYMINE is dissolved and divided into the Linden Mining Enterprise (LINMINE) and the Berbice Mining Enterprise (BERMINE). Management of LINMINE is overseen by MINPROC Engineers Ltd. of Australia until 1995 as part of a restructuring program financed by the World Bank;

1998 the Government of Guyana announced privatization plans for both LINMINE and BERMINE;

2004 mining operations are turned over to OMAI Bauxite Co., a company formerly involved in gold mining;

2007 mining operations are turned over to IAMGOLD, who quickly resold their shares to BOSAI Minerals Inc., majority-owned by Nanchuan Minerals Group of Chongqing (China), who still operate some of mines to this day.

In the past, sand was removed by massive bucket wheel excavators, after which draglines removed clay, exposing the bauxite deposits. Blast holes were drilled for dynamiting and the broken chunks of bauxite ore loaded onto the railway wagons. Once the ore reached the Mackenzie Bauxite Plant, it was crushed and washed clean of sand and clay, then heated dependent upon whether it was to be shipped as either a dried or a calcinated (from 1938) product. Most of the dried bauxite was destined for Canada. Ocean-going ships could only be partially loaded for the run down the shallow Demarara River to Georgetown, where they would have to wait for high tide to clear the sand bars. They would then stop at ALCAN’s Chaguaramas Terminal in Trinidad either to unload and return to Mackenzie or to top off with more bauxite before continuing to Canada, where they would navigate up the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers to Port Alfred, from where the bauxite would transported to Arvida to be processed into aluminum.

With the opening of the Alumina Plant, Guyana’s largest-ever construction project at the time, by Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Cheddie Jagan, on March 28, 1961, part of the bauxite could be transformed into alumina on site and exported to smelters all over the world to be further processed into aluminum. The new plant had a production capacity of 230,000 tons per year. Sadly, it was closed in 1981, 11 years after nationalization, and 1,600 workers were laid off.

In November 2008, President Jagdeo announced an agreement with BOSAI for a US$1 Billion investment in the construction of a one-million tonnes per year Alumina Refinery followed by a 500,000 tonnes per year Aluminum Smelter powered by a Hydro Power Facility, in exchange for exclusive rights to the Block 37 Bauxite Deposits. Nothing ever came of this after the long-awaited feasibility study published by BOSAI (a company with only US$350 million in published assets) in 2011 revealed that the project was “not feasible”. Today, BOSAI continues to export non-processed bauxite to China (1 to 2 ships per week).

The BOSAI operation is only a shadow of Linden’s past mining operations, and the town is struggling to find something to do. In 2007, following completion of the Takatu bridge, a project to build a container wharf as a transshipment facility for goods for the Brazilian states of Roraima and Amazonas was announced. The facility could also be used to ship logs to either Georgetown or further afield instead of doing it over the highway. No progress has been made on this so far either.

From the 1940s, diesel locomotives replaced the steam locomotives on the railway:

1994 – 2001 4wDM Whitcomb 8DM50 1940-42
2002 – 2011 0-4-0DE Whitcomb 18DE7 (18 ton 160 HP) 1940/42
2012 – 2016? 4wDM Whitcomb 20DM46 1942
2017 – 2029 Bo-Bo DE Whitcomb 35DE21 (35 ton 320 HP) 1940-43
2030 – 2032 Bo-Bo DE Davenport 54 ton 1949-50
2033 – 2041 B.B DH Plymouth CR-8 45 ton (2x Cat D343) 1966-77

Aside from the ore trains, workers trains made up of “Pullman” cars were operated to the different mine sites until at least 1980. Work took place 24 hours per day on seven days per week, in three daily shifts. These trains were also used by the residents of Ituni and Coomacka. Management used motor trolleys, called “scooters”, to get around.

Some photos of the mining operations and the railway can be found on

The railway was gradually replaced by dump trucks and in 2006 it only remained in service at the plant between a stockpile and two rotary drying kilns. It is thought to have closed after BOSAI took over operations. Much of the track is still in place.

Trains from the mines used to end in the Rail Yard just south of the Bauxite Plant. Dumped in the yard there are still around one hundred bogie dump wagons, some of which have been partly cut up and others which have been stacked. A single wooden-bodied workers’ car also survives derelict in the yard. The Car Shop is now a private workshop.

In front of the Train Controller’s tower are B-B DH No. 2040 and 2041 (Plymouth CR-8 7141-2/1977). They have been kept to be used as tourist attractions by the Linden Tourism Association. Attached to the tower, the Scooter (motor trolley) Room contains one scooter and two trailers. These were restored by a local mechanic and used on temporary track in town during Linden’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2010.

Although the Government has made promises to replace it with a larger structure, the wooden Mackenzie/Wismar road-rail ridge is still in daily use. Its 28 tonnes weight limit was raised to 41 tonnes at the request of the loggers. It is the only link on the road from Georgetown to Lethem and Brazil.

In the center of Mackenzie, the Linden Museum of Industrial and Socio Cultural Heritage ( link broken 5th April 2019) is housed in the former Recreation Hall. The mining displays include black-&-white photos, models, maps and a large wooden model of Linden.

Small wooden ferries provide transportation between Wismar and Mackenzie since the 1920s. In the past, there were used by the DEMBA workers, as most stayed across the river.

We spent the night in Linden at the Watooka Guest House, right across the road from the Rail Yard. The Watooka area was formerly the residential area reserved for management and this used to be the DEMBA guesthouse and club. It is now owned by LINMINE and we would like to thank LINMINE CEO Horace James for facilitating our stay in Linden.

Manganese Mining Co. Ltd. (MMC), Port Kaituma – Matthews Ridge:

Port Kaituma is a small town on a tributary  of the Barima River, part of the Orinoco Bassin. It is located in Region 1 (Barima-Waini) 150 miles northwest of Georgetown on the border with Venezuela (the whole area is in fact claimed by Venezuela). Close to the airstrip is the site of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre.

Mining in the Arakaka mines at Matthew’s Ridge was initiated by African Manganese Co. (a subsidiary of Union Carbide) through its subsidiary the North West Guiana Mining Co. Ltd., later MMC in 1959. A 38.5 miles long 42-inch (1067mm) gauge railway was built to Port Kaituma. Construction was contracted to Pomeroy International of San Francisco. Maximal gradient against loaded trains was 10%, the axle load 12 tonnes and the Barima River was crossed c. 12 miles from the mines. 370-ton ore trains ran at speeds of 22 km/h, empties at 35 km/h. At Port Kaituma the stockpiled ore was exported on oceangoing barges down the dredged Kaituma Canal and River to the sea (57 nautical miles) and on to Chaguaramas in Trinidad, where Union Carbide kept its stockpile.

Four diesel locomotives are known to have been delivered :

1 – 3 Bo-BoDE Yorkshire Eng. center-cab 49 ton 2733/58, 2734-5/59 2x Rolls Royce C8NFL 202 hp engines;
4 0-6-0DE Yorkshire Eng. end-cab 33 ton 2771/59 230 hp engine.

Wickham supplied two Type 27A Mk III motor trolleys No. 8244-8245 (Ford 10 hp engines) and two Type 17 trailers No. 8246-8247 in 1959.

Between 1962 and 1968, a total of 1.66 million tonnes of manganese concentrate were exported, out of the then total known reserves of 2.66 million tonnes. The mining operations closed in 1968 due to a fall in the price of manganese, but an irregular passenger trains continued under Government management until the end of 1982, when the last serviceable locomotive broke down. Some of the railway was dismantled by the Barama Co. Ltd. in 1988, but much of it was left in place until recently, including the locomotives outside the workshops at Matthew’s Ridge. Port Kaituma has since become a booming miners’ town. Access is either by air from Georgetown or by boat from Mabaruma.

In March 2011, an agreement was signed between the Government and Reunion Manganese Inc., a subsidiary of Reunion Gold Corp. of Canada, to reopen manganese mining at Matthew’s Ridge for a period of 25 years. Recent exploration by Reunion showed reserve estimates of 26.3 million tonnes, with many areas still to be evaluated. Plans are to process 2.8 million tonnes of ore per year and produce 750,000 tonnes of manganese concentrate per year over a 10-year mine life. Reunion plans to convert the railway right-of-way into a high-capacity haul road.

In October 2013, the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission (GGMC) issued a tender for 30,000 tonnes of scrap metal at Matthew’s Ridge, which included the rails, locomotives and rail cars (see for a photo of one of the locomotives). Scrapping started in early 2014 from Matthews Ridge towards Port Kaituma. 

We would like to thank Joachim Bayah, Chief Operating Officer for Reunion Manganese Inc., for his kind assistance.

The pictures, courtesy of Reunion Manganese Inc., show two of the Yorkshire Engine Bo-BoDEs (No. 3 with bogies) and the frame of a Burro four-wheel crane (this would not have been steam powered) as abandoned inside the workshops and the same in January 2012 after having been dumped outside. The small four-wheel diesel which can be seen in the centre in the third picture has been identified by John Middleton as a Baguley 4wPM, probably transferred here from the West Coast Railway for construction or after the Government took over the railway.

This 10/2012 picture of YE 0-6-0DE 2771 was forwarded by John Middleton and taken by his colleague Raymi Beltram.

Other mines:

A number of railway lines have been planned in the mid-1920s, starting from either Bartica or from a point across from Rockstone on the western bank of the Essequibo River, to the diamond fields to the west and south, but none of these were ever built. Many inland mining operations used light railways, a 24-in. (610mm) gauge Krauss 0-4-0WT (type XIV pp No. 4605 of 1901, new to Hecht, Pfeiffer & Co., Berlin) was found at Peter’s Mine in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni region (c 66 miles SW of Bartica) in 2008, it was used until the mine closed in 1909, and at Omai gold mines (1890s-1914) it was reported that the track was still in position in 1991.

The following pictures are from John Middleton:

Sources :

  • W. Rodney Long, “Railways of Central America and the West Indies”, Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, 1925;
  • 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;
  • “Chronological History of Linden 1759-1997”, Linden Museum of Industrial & Socio-Cultural Heritage.

Rob Dickinson