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The tiny independent nation of Barbados has an operating railway once more after a gap of more than 80 years. Keith Fender and Glen Beadon look at the Caribbean island’s troubled railway history and the development of the latest venture. 

BARBADOS’ first female Prime Minister, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, opened a rebuilt railway on the island on March 11.  

The new line is the brainchild of local businessman Larry Warren and his son Simon, who own the historic St Nicholas Abbey estate, a major tourist attraction visited by more than 35,000 people annually.

The first legislation for the construction of a railway in Barbados was passed in July 1846, although the proposed line from the capital of Bridgetown to Speightstown, on the west coast, was never actually built.

Arnold Jung-built ‘Mallet’ No. 5 Tjepper storms through one of the new cuttings on March 1. GLEN BEADON

In 1873 a new proposal for a line from Bridgetown to Belleplaine (St Andrews) was put forward, and an engineering assessment of the new line was made by well-known narrow gauge engineer Robert Fairlie. 

Construction of the 1,067mm- (3ft 6in-) gauge line was started in June 1877 by the private Barbados General Railway Company. Construction would cost £200,000 and was undertaken by the British engineering contractors Leathon Earle Ross & Edward Davis Mathews, which were to build 21½ miles of main line plus another 3½ miles of sidings and depots.

The station, along with the locomotive and carriage shed. The Simplex loco is left of picture. GLEN BEADON

The railway’s general manager was a Mr Grundy, recruited from the Great Western Railway. However, he died of yellow fever before the line opened, and his son succeeded him.

The first section of the new railway opened on Thursday, October 20, 1881, but the line closed a few days later following a derailment on the opening day. It opened once again, following extensive adjustments to the track, on December 15, 1881, although its poor quality trackwork would be a perennial problem. 

Financial difficulties however, meant the railway did not open through its full length to Belleplaine, St Andrews, until August 15, 1883.

Read more and view more images in the June 2019 issue of The RM – on sale now!

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