The International Steam Pages
The Railways of Surinam, 2014 - Plantation Railways
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 Surinam (Suriname), 9th - 22nd September 2014.
Suriname’s oldest known railway was the 1280mm (4-ft) gauge plantation railway at Mariënburg Sugar Factory in the District of Commenwijne, 1.5 km from the Commenwijne River. Construction of the sugar factory and railway began in 1880 by Cail (France) for the Nederlandse Handelmaatschappij Amsterdam (NHM) and it opened in October 1882. It had an initial milling capacity of 300 t./day. Early on, contract workers were brought to Suriname from China and British-ruled India, with the first 94 Javanese arriving in 1890. In all, 20% of the Indian and 25% of the Javanese contract workers brought to Suriname were sent to Mariënburg, with most of them employed in the fields. Upper management was of course Dutch, while some Afro-Creoles worked as overseers or as technicians in the factory. Contract work officially ended in Suriname in 1932.
In 1922, a new higher-capacity mill was acquired from Werkspoor which included three large stationary steam engines. The factory operated eight month in a year. In 1954 a distillery was added to the factory, which produced sugar, molasses, rum and spirits mainly for export to the Netherlands. In 1964, as NHM was concentrating its activities mainly in the banking sector (and eventually becoming ABN AMRO Bank), S.F. Mariënburg was sold to NV Rubber Cultuur Maatschappij Amsterdam (RCAM) BV. In 1974, RCAM sold the factory for a symbolic Surinamese Florint to the Surinamese state. The sale included the its massive debts to NHM. Shortly after independence in 1975, it became known as Surinaamse Cultuur Maatschappij (SCM). At that time, the Dutch management and technicians left Suriname and were replaced by inexperienced Surinamese nationals. For a while, Indian advisors were brought in, but they again left after their contract ended. In 1981, the factory was still producing 8,000 t. of sugar and 945,000 l. of alcohol, but it was heavily indebted and urgently needed investment to replace the worn out equipment. Production stopped sometime between 1988 and 1990 and the factory was officially closed in 1996, when the workforce was given severance payments and dismissed. Since then, and even though the factory is on the tourist trail, the government has periodically been selling off pieces of it for scrap. The milling equipment of 1922, including the three large Werkspoor engines, is still in place, but the roof over it was scrapped in 2006.
(One of the Werkspoor drop valve engines appears to be dual drive, hence the raised gear wheel, the others single drive. The outermost single engine appears larger and would have driven the first mil or crusher if one was installed. RD)
The railway was lightly laid and temporary track was used in the fields. It was used mainly to transport sugarcane from the fields to the mill, but also on other duties. Sugar was transported to Belwaarde pier on the Suriname River (5 km away) in two-axle and bogie covered vans. The bogie vans could load 90-100 100 kg bags, with ten wagons to a train. Rum and alcohol was loaded into 5000 l. aluminum containers, which were transported to Belwaarde on flatcars. Supplies were brought by rail from the pier to the company store, where a siding ended under an attached shed. During the dry season, water was transported in tank cars.
Passenger trains also operated over the network. Long workers' trains of flatcars operated in the morning at 06.00 to take the cane cutters into the fields and bring them back in the evenings. A school train composed of a motor trolley and two small trailers operated from Backdam, a kampong 8 km south of Mariënburg. There were also two open-sided passenger cars for use by high-ranking visitors and on special occasions.
The following wood-fired steam locomotives are known to have worked on the railway, all were 1280mm gauge
All of the steam locomotives were named after employees of the company. The two-axled locomotives were capable of hauling up to 30 loaded cane cars (4-6 t. each), while the two four-axled locomotives (named “Tito” and “Wogran”) were capable of hauling 50. These last two were assigned to the longest line to Alkmaar (10 km).
One of the Du Croo & Braun 0-4-0Ts survives at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam, now an open-air museum at the junction of the Suriname and Commenwijne rivers. At the gate, nobody knew about it and after we found it outside the moat, we first had to remove some of the vegetation in order to photograph it. Parts of other steam locos were seen at a scrap dealer in 2010.
In 1954, twelve Kromhout four-wheel diesel locos had arrived. These were soon supplemented by the following 16 Schöma four-wheel diesel locos:
Two of the Schoema diesels survive, one is plinthed in front of the factory together with a workers' car, a flat car transporting rum tanks, a tipper wagon for mud/ashes and a motor trolley. A 5000 l. aluminum rum container sits nearby. Behind the distillery, there is a diesel tank car. And behind the mill, derelict and overgrown Schoema No. 3 “Hanief” still sits on railway tracks in the former mill yard.
(For those who are interested, click here or on the map above for a larger version.)
To travel over the network, management and overseers used both pump-trolleys and a (Dutch) Simplex petrol motor trolley built in the 1920s. In 1954, a motor trolley with a Goshie engine was acquired and photos also show what look like Fairmont motor trolleys. In 1973, Wickham type 27 Mk 4 No. 10692 diesel motor trolley with a Ford engine was acquired.
The pier and the warehouse complex at Belwaarde has been leased to a Chinese company who import bunker oil.
The factory can be toured daily, there are guides on hand including Mr. Toekijan Soekardi, who was born at Mariënburg in 1934 of parents from Surabaya and who worked all of his life at the factory. He has co-authored the Anne Blondé book (see sources below).