Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Barbados Railway 1873 - 1937

To many people the story of the Barbados Railway is a relatively unknown one. Many Barbadians of the younger generations have never even heard of its existence.

For me I have heard stories of the old train line as long as I can remember. Growing up as a child I spent many a summer just a literal stones throw from where it ran. In fact I am here now in that same place enjoying a two week vacation. As children we hiked the old railway line through Bathsheba and over Joe's River Bridge onto Cattlewash. My mother along with her brothers and cousins hiked the same railway line through tents bay, Martins Bay, Congo Bay and into Bath. My Grandmother, she rode on the train and so told me any wonderful stories of glorious train rides from Bridgetown to Bathsheba where they to spent summer vacation.

The first plans to build a railway in Barbados came about in 1848, Sir Charles Grey the Governor of Barbados at the time was a railway buff himself and had planed to have a railway built between Bridgetown to Speightstown. Work was to beguine before Old Years day 1848 but this never came about.

The dream was dormant but not dead and in 1873 it re-emerged with a new route from Bridgetown to Belleplaine. It is said the original route was abandoned because land owners along the route were asking exorbitant sums of money for the land. The new route would run from Bridgetown to the Valley, Carrington, Bushy Park, Codrington Colledge, Bathsheba and end at Belleplaine.

The plan for the new line was that the gauge was to be 3'6' wide and to be 24 miles in length. In the 1920's the railway was declared unique in two ways by Mr Ernest Biffin general Manager of the Railway. It had the most sever curve of any line he knew and it had one of the steepest gradients of any railway in the world.
It is actually said that curves were placed in the track because the railway company from England did not build lines less than 21 miles long. The train line also had a total of 98 bridges of which  remnants can be seen today

Fares are said to have been attractive for the 40 minute journey: Single first class return fixed at BDS$0.48 and the impoverished could travel for BDS$0.12 This was however at a time when a fair number of labourers only worked for BDS$1.00 a week.

When Operations began in 1873 it was with 5 locomotives 2 from English Vulcan Foundry in Lamcahire. 2 from the Avonside Engine Company of Bristol and a Black Hawthorne named St Michael. A further two were ordered from Namgnell's of Stafford England. The original locomotives were named after the parishes through which the lines ran. Later in 1898  when the gauge was reduced to 2'6' four Baldwin locomotives were brought from Philadelphia and served to the final closure of the runway. They were given ladies names: Beatrice, Alice, Catherine and Dorothy.

The Railway Changed Hands several times. It was first owned in 1873 by the Barbados Railway Company Ltd. but was later sold after the company did not allocate maintenance fees for the line and it ran into difficulties when maintenance and upgrades were needed. The line was then sold and renamed the Bridgetown and St Andrew Railway Limited. By 1905 it changed hands again under financial difficulties and was renamed the Barbados Light Railway Company it was initially successful and a new track was laid between Carrington and the Crane but this track was solely for goods. However with few passengers, limited fright and essential maintenance ignored the company survived only 10 years at which time it was sold to the Government in 1916. Profits were made in the first 3 years unfortunately mismanagement again crept in with maintenance having a low priority. Several serious derailments of train carriages and the cry "mind the doors please" assumed real significance as the doors were literally dropping off. The carriages were also infested with "Mahogany Birds" Coca Roaches. In 1937 on the advise of railway expert Mr Bland the Government of Barbados shut the railway down permanently.

There are also several stories of tragedy associated with the Barbados Railway. One took place in Bathsheba by the water tank. it is said young boys often liked to swing from one side of the track to the other and one day they did not see the train coming and swung across to their death as they were hit but the train.
Another took place on the upward gradient of Consett Point. three boys had hitched a lift on an open fright train leaving Bath station with canes. the wagons broke loose and raced backwards. Two boys jumped to safety but the third was killed. Another accident took place one night whet the train derailed and one of the carriages capsized. many passengers received minor injuries but one person was killed when a window came down and stuck the back of a ladies neck breaking it and killing her.

There are also several humorous stories to be told about the train line. Drunk and disorderly travellers were entreated by all gentle means to stop the nuisance or possibly more effectively dumped unceremoniously at the next station. On some outings to Bathsheba when gentleman would become overly intoxicated and missed the train they would have a 16 mile walk back to Bridgetown. A certain cure for hangovers!
No washrooms were aboard but agile gentleman were able to jump off the front relieve themselves and join the train at the rear. I have also read about people who would transport their goats for goat races but that though they were mostly contained that there was one lady who drank only fresh Goats milk and so whenever she went to Bathsheba weather for a day or longer she took her goat so that she would have a fresh supply of goats milk. This story is especially amusing to me as my Grandmother would tell me stories of when  she travelled on the train as a girl with her parents who took their goat to have fresh milk and chickens so they might have eggs........ I wonder could this lady be my Great Great Grandmother..... she was supposed to be quite the lady.

It was also to the amusement of Mrs Thomas Griffiths who owned Atlantis Hotel that the train stopped as she put it "just in front her entrance". Mrs Grifiths was aware that Mr. Carter managed the Crane hotel and was equally solicitous haven sending his horse and carriage to meet guest at the Bushy Park Station. Mrs Griffiths would on her part add that the drive to her hotel was a delight and the cuisine excellent.

This article was published in the Barbados Advocate on the 20th of March 1937

Come bid de ole Railway goodbye
liz gal muh heart pain
Nuh moah I'll hear de whistle, nor
De toot-toot of de train

Nuh moah train-outin Lizzie gal
nuh strains from brumlee band
Thanks to de position Liz
En dat man Mistuh Bland

De railway opponents succeed
At last duh get duh wish
Um is de usual big fish tale
Big fish eat little fish

Duh ent accept de fine report
uh Mister Gilling Liz
But we de masses well uhware
Just when de bisnis is.

Duh gwine to substitute fuh trains
uh moatuh service here
Well Lizzie an Joe gwine resort
once moah to "Sharks" ole mate.

We too en got nuh horse en cart
Farless uh moatuh car
Duh snatch away we Railway Liz
From outins we debar

Um mean moah mouth traffic gal
Moah death en broken bone
Moah mouth murduhs daily liz
De record will be shown

Hotels en bungalows gwine spring
like mushrooms in de night
Dat's why Railway satellites
Had such un bitter fight

De imigrashun scheme dat plan
Well dat en needed still
Wah surplus populashun here
lorries en bus kin kill.

Each maunin as yah wake hear
uh lorry car or bus
Knock down someone unconscious Liz
Walk careful now; yah mus

Yah seldom hear bout railway smash
When we did have we train
We uise to drink; get drunk en all
At outins to Belleplaine

Dah force we now say goodbye
De parting ful uh pain
Nuh moore train drive to Martin Bay,
Goodbye! Goodbye! Ole train

All that is left of the train line today aside from old photographs and paintings are a few rusty steaks in the ground or out to sea in places such as Bath. Pathways where the train once ran have become pedestrian pathways between communities, some only used by hikers

I often wish we still had a train line as my grandmother always made it sound like such a wonderful journey. I am thank full that I have her many stories to entertain me. I remember her telling me a few times that the trains ran on coal and manjack. Manjack is a form of tar or pitch, rich in bitumen and found in the Scotalnd District. It was known in Barbados from very early days and is referred to as 'Mountjack' by Richard Ligon in his 1657 True and Exact History of the Island of Barbadoes. In the late ninteenth century it was mined comercially and exported for use in manufacture of black paint. During World War I manjack was used as train fuel. There has been no manjack mining in Barbados since 1920.

Provided with the compliments of your friends at Glory Tours. The #1 Provider of Sightseeing Tours in Barbados


  1. Excellent! I was telling a friend some months ago (before you wrote this-before Crop Over), I wanted to know more about the railway. It's fascinating:D

  2. This is a great article!

    I've always heard of the railroad in Barbados, but never any detailed info about its history.