The International Steam Pages
The St Nicholas Abbey Sugar Mill Railway, Barbados, 2021
This railway and parent sugar mill were first
mentioned on this website in 2018, now Clive Hepworth has visited and
has sent me a report, an edited version of which appears below.
He has also sent a number of photographs which follow, click on a thumbnail for a full sized image and click on the image to return to this page.
In order to get into the USA, I became almost an "accidental tourist" to Barbados to serve my 14 days out of the UK...........what a great choice because it allowed me to visit this superb railway! This short but magnificently engineered 30" gauge railway has everything from a lakeside loop that allows elevation to be gained (à la Darjeeling!) for the climb to the terminus at Cherry Tree Hill to deep cuttings, 2 stations and a halt, triangle, turntable, spectacular ocean views and ' best of all, 2 steam locomotive s restored to the highest standards.
The line is a product of the dreams of the Warren family who worked closely with Cromar White and Statfold Barn from the UK. The railway operates on Fri/Sat/Sun/Mon/ with 4 round trips each day at 10.00 / 11.30am and 13.30 / 14.30pm. The journeys take approximately 50 minutes and are incorporated with ticketing that includes a visit to the Great House and Gardens, Rum Distillery, Steam Mill, Rum and Sugar Bond, B$40 (£15) on Saturday / Sunday and B$ 60 (£22) Friday and Monday.
This is a genuinely historic site that must be the best visitor attraction on the island. The plantation complex dates back to 1658 and the Warren family have gone to great lengths to preserve as much of the heritage as possible while still producing the best rum in the Caribbean!
The train journey involves a departure from the attractively designed main station complex (Larry Warren is one of the island's foremost architects and is an expert in conserving old building and in sympathetically creating new ones as in the main station). The 3 coach train runs around the lakeside loop to help gain elevation for the climb to Cherry Hill. The train then accesses the single line 1.6km branch via the triangle before climbing through tropical vegetation before and blasting through narrow cuttings before reaching the the terminus at Cherry Hill where the locomotive s are turned before running around the loop in preparation for the return trip. Passengers are able to alight to watch the locomotive being turned and take in the spectacular views of the Barbadian eastern Atlantic Coast.
The return journey is a gentle run back down the grade passing through the main station and stopping at the lakeside Croquet Lawn Halt where most passengers disembark to visit the rest of the site. Meanwhile, the train runs around the loop and returns to the main station by using the triangle.
Adjacent to the main station is a 140ft 2-road engine and storage shed which can house all the line's 5 locomotive s and rolling stock.
The locomotive roster consists of 2 re-engined Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0DMs dating from 1971 and both originally working together at Shotton Steelworks until closure. These locomotives operated the early trains on the line after opening in January 2019 until the first steam locomotive arrived. For track inspection, "Sludge" a 4wDM Simplex formerly owned by Severn Trent Water is used.
The real highlight, however, is the presence of 2 magnificently restored and operational ng steam locomotive s still burning the finest Pennsylvanian Anthracite now that Welsh steam coal is no longer available. The operating locomotive is kept warm over the weekend operations with the crew arriving around 07.00 to clean the fire and start to raise steam again. One of the HC diesels seems to be used to drag the locomotive and coaches out of the shed to the ash pit and wood/coal store. The line was able to benefit from the knowledge of a couple of certified boilermen from the 2 sugar mills that still used steam engines for grinding the cane. Statfold Barn also provided intensive training in all aspects of the railway's operation.
The first steam locomotive to arrive was0-4-4-0T Mallet "Tjepper" No. 5 (Jung 2279/1914) formerly of Ceper Baru sugar mill in Central Java, Indonesia which had been restored by Statfold Barn in the UK. It arrived in Barbados on 7th February 2019. The second locomotive is an 0-4-0T "Winston" built by La Meuse (3243/1926) which formerly worked the internal rail system at SA Hoboken in Antwerp. Restored to the same high quality by Statfold Barn it just before Covid lockdown and pretty much saved the railway by being able to continue steam haulage when the Mallet was out of action. This more powerful locomotivehas a wonderful chime whistle and a real "bark" as it climbs through the narrow cuttings.
There is a 5 year-plan to extend the railway for a further 2km using a trestle to cross Cherry Hill Avenue, run into the cane fields and traverse a cliff line with views of both sides of the island.
This railway is an absolute delight to visit and is a magnificent tribute to the commitment, professionalism and sheer enthusiasm of all of those involved. Thanks to Larry Warren, Simon Warren, Railway Manager Justin Corbin and train crew Jamie, Tyrone and Michael for making my visit so enjoyable and thanks to Anna for arranging everything. Photography is best on the first and last runs as the tropical sun is fierce and overhead for most of the time.