The International Steam Pages
An Industrial Railway in Trinidad, 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.
The start of commercial oil production in 1910 along the coast north and south of San Fernando, saw the use of a number of narrow gauge refinery railways in Trinidad. Where possible, the refineries were also connected to the TGR by private sidings on which equipment was brought in and crude oil transported to the ports for export. The railways were later replaced by pipelines and bulk tankers and almost nothing remains of them today.
At La Brea, 24 km southwest of San Fernando, the Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. It covers 40 ha and is reported to be 75 m deep. It was re-discovered in 1595 by Sir Walter Raleigh, who found immediate use. Asphalt has been extracted from the lake commercially since 1851, since 1949 by The Trinidad Lake Asphalt Company, and exported all over the world. In the early 1970s the UK market switched to coal tar and asphalt became a much less popular product, and in 1978 the Government of T&T took ownership of the asphalt extraction business under the name Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Ltd. (http://www.trinidadlakeasphalt.com/home/index.php), which operates a a processing plant on the edge of the lake where the asphalt is treated (boiled) for export. A 24-inch gauge railway network was in the past laid all over the lake to transport the asphalt extracted by hand. Skips were pushed by hand to the base of a cable-worked incline which connected the lake with the factory. Today, only the incline is still in use, the last railway in operation on Trinidad. At the base, there is a point with two spurs. Asphalt extracted by mobile mechanical diggers is deposited into two rakes of ten skips each, called “buckets”, and winched up the incline for unloading into one of the six boilers. Each skip loads 500 lbs. and ten rakes are needed to fill one boiler, which takes about 16-18 hours. The railway regularly operates Monday-Friday 07.00-16.00, with a one-hour lunch break at 11.00, plus when required. On average, between 150 and 200 tonnes are extracted daily and the company has 175 employees. Sadly, on the day of our visit, the incline had stopped working a few days before because of “cable problems” and was still being repaired. La Brea Pitch Lake is a major tourist attraction (20,000 visitors per year) and half-hour tours taking in the base of the incline start from the Visitor’s Centre daily between 09.00 and 17.00 (cost TT$30/adult).
In the past, an overhead cableway conveyed the barrels of treated/melted asphalt from the factory to the nearby company pier at Brighton. Initially the buckets used could take one barrel, but later the company designed cradles which could load two. Nowadays, the barrels are exported mostly in shipping containers.