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Rustic railway rots
While grandiose and possibly unattainable plans have been laid for a sugar industry museum, the last intact sugarcane railway engines rot silently in a forgotten corner of the Usine Ste Madeleine compound. The first local railway, the Cipero Tramroad, was founded in 1847 for the purpose of bringing canes from inland estates to a shipping-place or Embacadere, at the mouth of the Cipero River near San Fernando.
Even when the Trinidad Government Railway was established in 1876, and until its demise in 1965, sugarcane carts were part of the rolling stock. Researcher Glen Beadon, who has devoted great energy to the documentation of local railways, asserts that in the late 19th century, Usine Ste Madeleine began its own rail network to facilitate the transportation of cut canes during harvest time into the factory.
Initially, steam engines manufactured by Hunslet of England were the primary movers. In 1939, the Usine acquired two Whitcomb diesel locomotives for shunting or light work in the factory which proved so powerful and efficient that in 1956 to 1957, engines D6-D10 were imported.
These powerful Gardner motors produced over 200 horsepower. The five working steam engines were sidelined if ever needed to be pressed into service again. All were cut up and sold for scrap metal in 2005, the sole survivor being No. 18 which was rescued and taken to the Middleton Historic Railway in Leeds, England.
According to Mr Beadon: “The USM railway system ran its last train on the afternoon of March 15, 1998. On this day, D10, followed by D6, came up the line for the last time and entered the shed at Ste Madeleine, ending the final chapter of railways in Trinidad, the final straw being the estimated cost of $100 million needed to replace life-expired rails. “At this date, Caroni turned over exclusively to road transport.”
The sight of the rugged green diesel locomotives hauling endless lines of laden cane carts through the rolling fields is now gone forever. In addition to the Hunslet engines, other makes that had been acquired by Usine Ste Madeleine were cut up for scrap in 2007, the only intact example being the one which was displayed at the Divali Nagar site, and which is now falling apart from sheer neglect.
Another diesel engine which worked at the Brechin Castle factory is on display there and may be the only exhibit of the planned sugar museum. Of the 122 miles of cane railways that once spread across the sugar estates of the Naparimas, nothing now remains except the occasional bit of iron where a crossing barrier once existed. All the rails were torn up and sold for scrap in 1999. Even the wooden sleepers were discarded.
Today, Usine Ste Madeleine Hunslet engines D6, D8 A and D10 are neglected and are slowly decaying into rusty, vine-covered hulks near the large workshop that once provided care for them and which now falls under the National Energy Skills Centre. Soon, they will be just memories.
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