The International Steam Pages
Trinidad Plantation Railways, 2014
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 Trinidad, 4th - 5th September 2014.
At the beginning of the 19th century, there were 300 sugar mills on the island. In 1830, the first steam-powered mill was installed at Harmony Hall and five years later there were 40 steam mills. From the middle of the 19th century, the small sugar estates were amalgamated into sugar centrals (called “usines” in Trinidad). At that time, railways were introduced to transport the sugar cane from the fields or collection points to the mills. Most were of standard gauge, but 42, 36 and 30 inch (1067mm, 914mm and 762mm) gauges were also used.
Locomotives were fired mostly with coal and some wood, but with the exploitation of Trinidad’s oil reserves most were converted to oil firing. From 1939/40, British and U.S.-built diesel locomotives were introduced, and steam lasted in the south until 1956/57. In the plains of the north, road transport started replacing railways from the 1940s. At first surplus gun carriers were used, then tractor and trailers, and from the 1950s semi-articulated trucks.
Major sugar factories were located at (from north to south):
Caroni Sugar Estates Co. (Trinidad) Ltd. and Waterloo Sugar Estates Ltd. were merged in 1937 to form a subsidiary of Tate and Lyle Ltd. In the mid-1950s the Oropouche Valley line was converted from 30 inch to standard gauge. By 1956, Usine Sainte Madeleine (USM) was jointly owned by West Indies Sugar Co. Ltd. (the Jamaican subsidiary of Tate & Lyle) and Caroni Ltd. In 1961 Woodford Lodge Estates, up to then owned by Sir H.E. Robinson, was taken over by Caroni Ltd. In 1962, it was the turn of Usine Sainte Madeleine and in 1965 that of the Trinidad Sugar Estates Ltd. (Brechin Castle). In 1970, the Trinidad & Tobago government obtained a majority share of Caroni Ltd., leaving 32% with Tate and Lyle Ltd. At that time Caroni Ltd. produced 90% of Trinidad’s sugar. In 1975 Tate and Lyle Ltd. lost its share to the government and the company became Caroni (1975) Ltd.
In 1969, the Caroni Ltd. railway system comprised 69.6 miles in the Northern system (Brechin Castle, Waterloo, Woodford Lodge and Caroni) and 22.4 miles in the Southern system (Usine Sainte Madeleine). In that year, 47.4% (361,300 tons) of cane came to Brechin Castle by rail, 39.9% (695,300 tons) to Woodford Lodge and 38.7% (305,800 tons) to Sainte Madeleine. During harvest time, which lasted from December to May, the railway operated 24 hours a day. Trains were made up of rakes of up to 60 cars and operated by crews of three or four men. Caroni Ltd. had running rights over the TGR lines, and cane trains would usually operate over those sections at night after the passage of the last passenger train. After TGR closed, Caroni Ltd. leased or bought those sections.
In 1970, Caroni Ltd. had a total of 25 diesel locomotives, including:
The 1969 stock list included a total of 800 high-sided cane wagons (390 10 tons capacity, 20 9 tons, 35 8 tons and 355 7 tons) and 98 miscellaneous wagons, including brake vans for use on the TGR lines, trolleys, low-loading bogie wagons, mud wagons and an 100 year old steam crane (presumed to be Oropouche No. 2).
In 1974, the track mileage in the Northern area was reduced to 35 miles, but some spurs were added to the Southern area network. At that time, seven Vulcan and one Simplex (for workshop shunting), as well as 330 cane cars were assigned to the Northern area, while the five Hunslet, three Vulcan (two 25 tons and one 20 tons) and 320 cane cars were assigned to the Southern area. Use of railways in the flatter Northern area was finally phased out at Brechin Castle in 1976. The factory itself remained in use until 2003.
Two of the diesel locos that worked at Brechin Castle have been preserved:
At Usine Sainte Madeleine (USM), in the much hillier Southern area, the railway remained in use after 1976. The factory had been built in 1870 by George Fletcher & Co. of Derby, England, for the Colonial Co., replaced in 1895 by the New Colonial Co. which in 1913 became the Sainte Madeleine Sugar Co. Ltd. Following its acquisition by the West Indies Sugar Co. Ltd. and Caroni Ltd., day-to-day operations at USM were managed by Henckell, du Buisson & Co. Ltd. A railway was introduced in the late 1800s. Steam locomotives used were mostly small tank engines built by Hunslet and Kerr Stuart, but also included two vertical-boilered Chaplin 0-4-0VBTs delivered in the early 1870s to the Colonial Co. Ltd. and an Aveling & Porter four-wheeled loco with the cylinder on top of the boiler. Between 1927 and 1939 Hunslet delivered three impressive and powerful 2-6-2Ts.
Steam was phased out in 1956/57 after Hunslet delivered five 0-6-0DM of the same type as British Rail’s Class 05, numbered D6 to D10 (HE 5131/56, 5149-50/56 and 5151-2/57, Caroni stock No. 39120/19/21-23). These weighed 30 tons and were equipped with Gardner 8-cylinder 4-stroke 8L3 engines with an output of 204 hp. At the time, five of the remaining steam locos were stored on a siding as an emergency reserve about a half-mile outside the mill and nearly forgotten for almost 50 years as they were overgrown by vegetation:
The 1970s saw the arrival of three more Hunslet diesels to supplement D6-D10 at USM:
Rail haulage of cane at USM lasted until 1998, when two locos were still in use together with 160 Gregg, 60 R. Hudson and 60 Canadian cane cars. On May 15th, 1998, D10 made the last trip from the cane fields to the mill, after which the diesels were stored in the shed. USM itself closed after the 2003 season, when Trinidad stopped producing sugar. In 2002, No.18 “Picton” was was purchased by David Monckton, a member of the Middleton Railway and brought back to the U.K., while the other steam locos were scrapped in 2005, together with diesels D9, D12 and D14. The pictures show Picton in Trinidad 1987 (courtesy of Glen Beadon) and on 1st November 2014 in Leeds, UK.
The other five diesels were luckier however, as they have survived to this day.
In 2011, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar formally announced that Brechin Castle would turned into the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum (http://www.sugarheritagevillage.com/index.php) in order to preserve the memory of the sugar industry. After a decision was made to dismantle USM, in 2012 D6/39120, D7/39119, D8/39121 as D9/39122 (for some reason this loco was renumbered at some point of time, the real D9 was scrapped in 2005) and D10/39123 were moved to Brechin Castle and put on display on short track lengths. Together with the four diesels came a 30-inch gauge flat wagon which was used in the USM workshops.
USM D11/39127, gone from USM by 07/2009, had been sold to an individual who was apparently intending to put her on display inside a planned theme park, and had her stored at The Paramount Transport & Trading Co. Ltd. in the Point Lisas Industrial Estate, not far from Brechin Castle. Allegedly due to incrementing unpaid storage costs, ownership of the loco changed to the Paramount Co., whose owner is pondering what to do with it. One possibility would be to donate her to the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum, another to put her on display in front of the company compound.
A steam locomotive boiler and firebox is plinthed in front of the driveway of a private home on Mon Plaisir Road in Cunupia. It is believed to be from Bronte Sugar Estate (Princes Town) 0-4-0ST No. 2 (A. Barclay 1727/1921). At the end of its career, this oil-fired loco was converted into a mobile boiler, mounted on rubber-tyred wheels.