The International Steam Pages

Railways in Haiti

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,

Thomas Kautzor has now visited Haiti in February 2014 with Torsten Schneider and a report of the relics they found is now available.

This piece by Thomas Kautzor originally appeared on the Yahoo CRC newsgroup. There are many old pictures of the railway as well as the trams mentioned below on Allen Morrison's excellent site -

Most of the following information is based on Dr Georges Michel, "Les Chemins de Fer de l'Ile d'Haiti" (1989) and Reg Carter, "Railways of Haiti" (2000).

The Compagnie Nationale des Chemins de Fer (CNCFH, 42-in. gauge) operated three sections of railway between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haïtien. The sections out of Gonaïves and Cap-Haïtien were started by local private investors, soon after nationalized and sold to the U.S.-owned MacDonald company which operated the CNCF until it was nationalized in 1948.

Cap-Haïtien – Grande-Rivière du Nord – Lacombe – Bahon (39 km):

Construction started in 1898, the first 10 km were opened in 1902 and to Grand-Rivière in 1905. This section was initially 30-in. (762mm) gauge and only regauged to 42-in (1067mm). between 1910 and 1912 after having been taken over by MacDonald. In 1913 the extension to Bahon was opened. After 1948 the section to Bahon was first closed, followed by the section to Grande-Rivière in the 1950s. The railway was still used by SHADA (an agro-industrial concern), connecting its sisal plantations at Clérisse and Galifet until the late 50s and lifted in the early 1970s. Some bridges were converted to road use and some station buildings and water tower foundations still survived in 1989.

Gonaïves – Passe-Reine – Ennery (33 km):

Construction started in 1905, the section to Passe-Reine was opened in 1905, to Ennery in 1911. Construction on extending the line to Hinche started with 5 km of platform completed, but then the entire line was closed sometime between the mid-1920s and early 1930s. The track was not lifted, but stolen over the years. A major bridge was converted to road use just before Ennery on the main north-south road.

Port-au-Prince – St-Marc – Les Verrettes (145 km):

This railway was built by the MacDonald company, with construction starting in 1911 and the section along the coast to St-Marc (105 km) opened in 1913. A 40 km extension to Les Verrettes was completed later, probably in the 1930s (after the Gonaïves – Ennery line had closed). A number of plantations and industries were connected to the railway: Caribbean Mills flour mill and Ciment d'Haiti cement factory at Fond-Mombin, La Baudry brick works in Arcahaie, SHADA sisal plantations at Carriès and Cap-St-Marc (which had their own internal networks) a SHADA pite (textile made from sisal) factory at Montrouis and the Standard Fruit Ferme-10 banana plantation at Les Verrettes. A 9 km section between the Haitian-American Sugar Company (HASCO) sugar factory in Port-au-Prince and Sibet was three-rail dual gauge (42/30-in.), over which HASCO had to pay for traffic rights. Two diesel railcars were used in passenger service, covering the distance to St-Marc in two hours. In 1963 the railway was badly hit by Hurricane Flora, when two sections of the line were washed out and never rebuilt, closing the railway which had already been badly affected by the corrupt policies of the Duvalier regime. Ciments d'Haiti continued to use the railway for some time to transport cement to Port-au-Prince (they had their own Moyse diesel loco), but soon enough the rails were lifted and sold for scrap together with the rolling stock. Only the track between Carriès, Montrouis and Tamarin was left in place and taken over by SHADA for sisal traffic (they had their own Davenport diesels). Carriès – Montrouis was however lifted in 1972, followed by Montrouis – Tamarin in 1977 when the factory at Montrouis closed. By 1979 everything was gone. Dr Michel reports that in 1989 some station buildings remained, having been converted to user uses, others as ruins (including Port-au-Prince's Gare MacDonald), plus bridges, a water tank at Ibo Beach, some wagons, and a small section of track on the property of the Xaragua Hotel. A visitor in 2001 went looking for relics around St-Marc and this is what he found: link dead by 25th August 2015. Then there is 4-6-0 No. 3 (Baldwin 36973/1911), 45 meter below water at Freycinau near St-Marc, where it had fallen of the wharf. 

Linking the three sections of the CNCFH had always been a plan, and only two sections totaling 90 km would have been needed to create a link between Haiti's two largest cities. A line linking Port-au-Prince with Leogane and Les Cayes, on the southern peninsula, was also planned but never built.

Compagnie des Chemins de fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac (PCS) operated two 30" (762mm) gauge lines out of Port-au-Prince's Gare du Nord. The first went east to Croix-de-Bouquets, Thomazeau and Manneville on lake Azuei, where a wharf was built for onward service to the Dominican Republic. It was 42.5 km and opened in 1903. The second line followed the coast west to Carrefour and Léogâne, a distance of 36 km opened in 1907 and 1910. In 1917, following a deadly accident on the Thor ramp, the section between Bizoton and Mariani was realigned. Construction on a third line to Chancerelles and Pétionville was commenced in 1907 but later abandoned. Both the PCS and the Haitian American Sugar Company (HASCO) were owned the same consortium, which also controlled the Port-au-Prince wharf, through Adminstration de Port au Prince (APP). HASCO also operated branched into its sugarcane plantations at Croix-de-Bouquet (25-27 km) and Léogâne (6 km) using its own locos. The APP had its own Davenport diesel loco, which reverted to HASCO when the connection to the port was lifted. In 1932 the PCS was absorbed by HASCO, but remained a separate entity. It however at that time stopped public passenger and freight service and only concentrated on transporting cane for HASCO to its sugar mill at Port-au-Prince. The connection to Gare du Nord remained in place and the station was used for sugar storage until the 1980s, when it was converted into a market. In 1983 the line to Léogâne was closed, lifted and the rails stored with the intension of opening more branches in the plantations of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. However the HASCO sugar factory and railway were also closed in c.1990. At that time HASCO/PCS operated a fleet of nine diesels (the two Whitcombs are the electrics mentioned in the Railway Directory):

  • 0-6-0DM 1 Davenport 25-ton 2718/1945;
  • 0-6-0DM 2 Davenport 25-ton 2719/1945;
  • 0-6-0DE 3 Davenport 15-ton 3178/1949, ex-APP;
  • 0-6-0DM 4 Davenport 35-ton 3216/1949;
  • B-B DE 5 Whitcomb 44-ton 300hp 61094/1951;
  • B-B DE 6 Whitcomb 50DE-46 44-ton 61272/1952;
  • 0-6-0DT 7 Plymouth WDT 35-ton 5818/1954;
  • 0-6-0DT 8 Plymouth WDT 35-ton 6055/1957;
  • 0-6-0DT 9 Plymouth WDT 45-ton 7112/1976.

The two Whitcombs survive at the closed HASCO factory in Port-au-Prince, just next to the large Cité Soleil slum, see for photos.

The frame of PCS 2-6-0 No. 20 (HK Porter 4778/1911) was turned into a scale test wagon while PCS 2-6-0 No. 21 survives in preservation at the Musée de la Canne à Sucre in Tabarre, close to Port-au-Prince International Airport, see,174327 and for photos.

From 1901 PCS also operated the 30" (762mm) gauge Port-au-Prince tramway network (using HK Porter, Krauss and Tubize steam locos, later replaced by gasoline railcars), described in detail at It was closed in 1932.

Apart from the already mentioned industrial or plantation railways, a number of others existed, the most important being the ones at the Haitian American Development Corp. Plantation Dauphin (30-in. gauge, still in use in 1989), those serving three cocoa factories at Dame-Marie (500mm gauge) and the Madras sisal factory in the north (30-in. (762mm) gauge, closed in the 1960s). There also cableways at Port-de-Paix – Bassin Bleu (north) and Ganthier – Forêt-des-Pins.

Rob Dickinson