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.
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, http://www.guysuco.com/index.asp) 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):
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.
Albion Estate, Port Mourant:
Skeldon Sugar Estate, Corriverton:
For Blairmont with its active railway, please see Part 2.
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.