The International Steam Pages

Plantation Railways in 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:

Sugarcane cultivation was introduced to Guyana by the Dutch in the 17th century. The low-lying and swampy coastal land (which is six feet below high-tide level) was subject to constant flooding. The Dutch, who were eminently suited for this task, used the polder system to turn it into plantation land. A seawall was built and a tract of usable created by damming and then draining the water-covered area. Irrigation was provided by a system of canals and sluices. The Dutch, with labor provided by their African slaves, turned it into Guyana’s most productive plantation area.

Except at Blairmont between the stelling (pier, wharf) and the factory, railways were not used to transport sugarcane from the fields and the factories, as this was done in punts (small barges) which were floated on the estates’ canal systems. The punt trains were formerly hauled by animals and nowadays by tractors. At the mills, the punts are lifted out of the water by elevators for unloading. Railways were used either to transport workers into the estates or to transport sugar from the factories to the stellings.

The Guyana Sugar Corp. Inc. (GuySuCo, was formed in 1976 when the Government nationalized and merged the sugar estates until then operated by Booker Sugar Estates Ltd., Tate and Lyle and Jessels Holdings. Today, GuySuCo operates five sugar estates and eight sugar factories, four in Demerara on both banks of the Demerara River and four in the east of the country on the banks of the Berbice and Corentyne Rivers. The factories are (from east to west):

  • Uitvlugt (12 miles east of Vreed-en-Hoop);
  • Wales (8.5 miles south of Vreed-en-Hoop, on the West bank of the Demerara River);
  • LBI (La Bonne Intention, 9 miles east of Georgetown);
  • Enmore (18 miles east of Georgetown);
  • Blairmont (2 miles south of Rosignol, on the West bank of the Berbice River);
  • Rose Hall (4 miles east of New Amsterdam, on the Canje River);
  • Albion (at Port Mourant, 14 miles east of New Amsterdam);
  • Skeldon (in Corriverton, 47 miles east of New Amsterdam, on the West bank of the Corentyne River).

GuySuCo’s headquarters are located at Ogle, just south of Georgetown’s regional airport, as is the Aircraft Department. GuySuCo also operates a Sugar Terminal at Ruimveldt in Georgetown, while the Agricultural Research Unit and Central Laboratory is at LBI. On display outside the headquarters are the remains of a 1919 Fulton Corliss stationary steam engine, which was in use at Wales Sugar Factory until 2000.

Sugar accounts for 20% of Guyana’s GDP and 40% of its agricultural production, and golden brown Demerara Sugar is exported to the E.U., the U.S. and CARICOM countries. There are two crops per year. 

Kerr Stuart 0-4-0ST Wren class No. 1248 MAIPOORI (2-ft. gauge with wide flanges to operate on wooden rails) was shipped to Demerara on 22 Nov. 1912. It was returned to KS by June 1914 and following alterations to make it suitable for normal 600 mm gauge track sold to the City of Santos Improvements Co., Brazil.

Lusignan Estate:

Formerly owned by Enmore Estates Ltd., this estate 12 miles east of Georgetown is reported to have had a c. 6-mile 36-in. (914mm) gauge railway system for transporting workers which opened in 02/1934.

Locomotives thought to have operated here include:

John Fowler 0-6-0DM No. 20110-20111 of 1933, 45 HP MAN engine, to Booker Bros, McConnell & Co Ltd, for Lusignan Estate – Demerara as No. 1-2.

Albion Estate, Port Mourant:

This 20,000 acres (80 km2) estate 14 miles east of New Amsterdam had a worker’s railway. In the early 1920s there were 5 miles of 36-in. (914mm) gauge track. Part of the right-of-way into Port Mourant has been turned into a road after closure.

Locomotives thought to have operated here include:

John Fowler 0-6-0PM No. 16422-23 of 1925, 80 HP, to Booker Bros, McConnell & Co Ltd, Port Mourant Plantation – Demerara as No. 1-2 (converted to diesels in the 1930s);

John Fowler 0-6-0DM No. 22074 of 1937, 6A engine, supplied to Booker Bros, McConnell & Co Ltd, Port Plantation – Demerara as No. 3.

Skeldon Sugar Estate, Corriverton:

This 12,000 acres (49 km2) estate 47 miles east of New Amsterdam on the Corentyne River had a ½ mile long metre gauge railway linking the factory with the river stelling. It was used to transport bulk sugar in containers loaded on flatcars. In 2009 the old factory, which opened in 1880, was replaced by an adjacent brand new factory and co-generation plant built by the China National Technology Import and Export Corporation (CNITIC). The railway, which did not reach into the new plant, was closed and the sugar containers are transported by truck to the stelling.

Locomotives thought to have operated here include:

Plymouth 4wPM 3 ton AL Type 2 No. 586 of 1919, CO N3.5 engine, to Booker Bros, McConnell & Co, Demerara;

Motor Rail 4wDM 4-ton No. 5552 of 1937, 20 HP Fowler-Sanders M6D2-2B engine, to Campbell-Booker-Carter, British Guiana 19/5/1937;

Motor Rail 4wDM 40S 2.5-ton No. 40S398 of 1972, 40 HP engine, to Booker Export Services Ltd for “S.W.R. Demerara” 21/6/1972;

Alan Keef 4wD Type 60S No. AK43 of 1992, built on MR Simplex frame, Perkins engine, to GuySuCo.

Today, the track is still in place and the Alan Keef loco is parked across from the Estate Manager’s residence with one of the four remaining flat container cars. Another flat is inside the closed old factory, while the other two are to be found on the stelling, where some of the track has been lifted.

This is the punt elevator and crane of the old Skeldon factory.

For Blairmont with its active railway, please see Part 2.

Sources :

  • W. Rodney Long, “Railways of Central America and the West Indies”, Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, 1925;
  • David Rollinson, “Railways of the Caribbean”, Oxford: MacMillan Caribbean, 2001.

At GuySuCo, we would like to thank Ms. Greenidge and Mr. Petam at Headquarters, who facilitated our visits, as well as Mr. Sugrim at Blairmont and Mr. Kumar at Skeldon, who organized tours of their factories. I would also like to thank John Middleton, Daniel Osborne, Scott Jesser and Jonathan Fleet in helping me to identify the locos.

Rob Dickinson