The International Steam Pages

The Railways of São Tomé e Príncipe, 2011

Thomas Kautzor reports on his February  2011 revisit, click here for the report of his initial 2009 visit.

During my last visit here in January 2009, I was unable to get to the small island of Principe due to a lack of suitable flight options. This time I was able to spend three days there.

São Tomé Update :

The abandoned station building of the CFST in Trinidade was found. The right-of-way from São Tomé town is used as a footpath.

At Dependencia Esprainha (West Coast, km 32 on EN1), two flat wagons were found in a shed.

At Roça Ribeira Peixe (formerly Perseverança, km 51 on the East Coast), the rainy weather made the bees inhabiting the remains of the two steam locomotives less aggressive and therefore allowed a closer inspection: they are both 0-4-0Ts and were built by O&K.

Principe Island:

This small island, 160 miles off the coast of Gabon and 87 miles to the northwest of São Tomé island, has a population of only around 5,000 very friendly inhabitants of mainly Cape Verdan origin. The island is of volcanic origin and rises to its highest point in the south with the Pico de Principe (948 m.). There is only one town, Santo António, and the island can be reached by plane from São Tomé (3 flights/week) or overnight boat. As can be expected for a society this small, the pace of life on the island is very slow.

At one point of time, Principe must have had one of the highest railway mileages per capita in the world. Many of the island’s cocoa plantations (roças) were linked to Santo António, as well as to the plantations’ private piers by rail, all of 600mm gauge. During the first half of the 20th century, the Companhia da Ilha do Príncipe even used to run a 600mm gauge horse tramway in the streets of Santo Antonio. Today, track remains can still be found in town as well as on concrete bridges, places where the rails could not easily be removed for other uses after the railways closed down. During our three-day stay we followed some of the former lines, impressive examples of narrow gauge mountain railways, by 4WD.

At Roça Sundy, in the northwest of the island, most of the railway tracks are still in place. In 1929 this plantation had the largest railway network on the island, with 50km of tracks. One line used to link the plantation with a pier at Praia de Sundy. Hidden in a corner of the roça is very derelict-looking Jung 0-4-0T 10884/1950 (delivered via Métalma Brussels), as well as the frames of some wagons.

On the northern tip of the island, the Dutch-owned, South African-run Bom Bom Island Resort previously used a rail-based boat launch. The track from the boat storage area into the water, which includes a point, is still present, together with two transporter wagons.

One that got away... There is a picture of a portable engine in Santo António - (taken in 2008).

Rob Dickinson