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.
The Marowijne Co.:
In May 1899, Howard A. Pedrick came to Suriname on behalf of Philadelphia financier Robert H. Foederer and his mining company, “The Marowijne Company”. A railway was needed to link the mine to the left bank of the Marowijne River (the border to France), were enough water was available to wash the ore. In December 1899, the five-mast schooner ‘La Plata’ arrived in Albina from Boston with two steam locomotives, mine cars (one account lists 13, another 100), rails and track material for approximately 25 km of railway, as well as material for a boiler house, a workshop, a steam pump installation, a sawmill and two Marion steam shovels. In the following months work progressed slowly but steadily and a railway embankment was erected and bridges built (17 in all) to cross swamps and creeks. After the railway was completed, gold was found in
economic quantities and mining could start, but somehow the gold disappeared in mysterious ways before the end of the sluice. As a result, in 1902 Foederer withdrew from The Marowijne Co. at a loss of US$ 2.5 million and the equipment was sold at public auction in 1907 and abandoned in the jungle, where it still is today.
The railway equipment was obtained second hand from U.S. broad gauge (60-in.
/ 1524mm) railroads. One of the two locomotives, named “John Lucas” and which has been identified as Baldwin 70-ton No. 4287 of 1878, formerly in use on the Camden & Atlantic RR, was said to have been abandoned on the bank of Pakira Creek, 5 km from the Marowijne River. The second locomotive was said to have been abandoned on the bank of the Marowijne River.
A picture of "John Lucas" appears in an article by F. C. Bubberman
referenced at the end.
To get to Pakira Creek, we chartered a speedboat from St-Laurent-du-Maroni. During the 1986-92 civil war, most of the Maroon communities along the Marowijne River moved to the French bank. Our young speedboat captain had difficulties finding the location of the creek and railway but we were lucky to meet two local Maroons fishing who took us to see some of the remains on the riverbank. The older man also told us about “John Lucas”, which could be reached in three hours walk through the jungle with a machete...
On the riverbank we found:
a set of bogies marked “Maryland Car Wheel…”
a chimney and a boiler
A steam pump, the close up with the lettering has been rotated 180 degrees
but even looking at the hi-res version it cannot be read.
Suriname Aluminum Co. (SURALCO), Moengo:
The ‘Surinaamsche Bauxite Maatschappij’ (SBM), a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) which was founded in 1916 and became SURALCO in 1958, started shipping bauxite from Moengo on the Cottica River,
a tributary of the Commewijne, in 1922. A 15 km 914mm gauge railway linked the mines with the processing plant and port at Moengo. Extensions were added in 1971 and 1975, and there was also an internal 609mm gauge system. The railway was later replaced by trucks, closed and lifted.
Locomotives in use included U.S.-built four-wheel saddle tank steam locos, Whitcomb four-wheel and bogie diesel-electrics built in 1938/40 and at least three and possibly six GE 50 tons
centre-cab diesels built 1954/57. The ore was transported in bogie tip wagons and there were three bogie workers cars.
Suriname Aluminum Co. (SURALCO), Paranam:
In 1939, with the prospect of war, the demand for alumina was at an all-time high and SBM started construction
of another plant at Paranam, 26 km south of Paramaribo on the left bank of the Suriname River on the site of the old Klein Curaçao sugar plantation. The plant had a capacity of 225 t. of dried bauxite per day. A 6.5 km long 914mm gauge railway was built to link the mine at Topibo/de Vrijheid with the plant. In 1943 a record production of nearly 1 million tons alumina was reached by Suriname, but declined thereafter. In 1949, the deposits at Topibo/de Vrijheid had been depleted, but bauxite was brought to the railway from other mines by road. On
30th December 1953 the railway was finally closed, dismantled and shipped to Moengo. In 1958, construction of an alumina plant at Paranam started, which opened in 1965. Bauxite from Moengo was also shipped by barge to Paranam for processing. Electric power was obtained from the Brokopondo Dam.
In 1940 Dutch mining company Billiton opened a plant at Smalkalden, 1 km downriver from Paranam. From 1941 a 7 km long 1000mm or 1067mm gauge railway linked the plant with the mine at Onverdacht. Here too, U.S.-built equipment is thought to have been used. In 1965 an agreement with ALCOA allowed Billiton’s bauxite to be processed at the new alumina plant at Paranam before shipment to the Netherlands.
West Suriname Railway, Apoera:
In 1961 large amounts of bauxite were discovered in the Bakhuis Mountains (western Suriname) by the Geological & Mining Service. BHP Billiton obtained a concession to exploit these. A canal was dug parallel to the Corantijn River (the border with British Guiana/Guyana) to about 60 km upstream, in order to allow oceangoing vessels to get to Apoera. From Apoera, a 77.5 km long standard 1435mm gauge railway was built to the mines. The line was to have an annual capacity of 4 million tons and a maximum axle load of between 20 and 25 tons, with UIC 54 profile rail on wooden sleepers. Five diesel locos and 270 ore wagons would be required to service the traffic.
Although by 1979 the railway was built, it never went into use as the company
ran into difficulties with its concession. Then in 1986 the civil war broke out and the project was definitively abandoned. In 2002, SURALCO entered into negotiations with the government
with a view to mine the deposits, but was planning of using trucks. Nothing came of this. At the time the project was abandoned, two ex-Southern Pacific Alco RSD-12 (Co-Co DE, 1800 hp) had been supplied by Morrison-Knudsen. MK 2002 is abandoned at Apoera harbor, while MK 2001 together with four CanRon Rail Group track-building machines (No. 5228.002, 5229.003, 5256.007 and 5258.005) sit inside the large bat-inhabited four-track depot about 3 km inland. Apoera can be reached in seven hours by road from Paramaribo on the JFK Highway or two hours by speedboat from Nieuw
Suriname has one more railway, this one still active, the Futupasi portage railway on the Tapanahony River
(a tributary of the Marowijne) near Drietabbetje in Sipalwini District. The gauge must be standard 1435mm as the flat wagons used to transport goods from speedboats have been built with car axles.
Dr. R. Luijken, “Spoorwegen in Suriname”, in Op de Rails vol. 29, No. 9 (Sep. 1961), pp. 107-112;
F. C. Bubberman, "Gold in Suriname”, in Suralco Magazine vol. 9, No. 3 (1977);
“40 Jaar Paranam bedrijf”, in Suralco Magazine vol. 12, No. 4 (1980);
D. Trevor Rowe, “The Locomotives of South America” (pp. 100-104, The Guianas), Locomotives International, St. Teath, Cornwall, 2000;
Eric Wicherts, “The Railway of Suriname – The “Landsspoorweg” 1902-2002”, Calgary: Private Rail Consultants, 2004;
Augusta Curiel, “Fotografe in Suriname 1904-1937”, Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2007.