Friday 5 August 2011

The History of Transportation

All aboard!

‘Modern’ Trinidad is suffocating in the fumes and the noise of cars, trucks, vans and buses. Perhaps a just punishment for scrapping the coastal steamers and the trams and trains!

Public transport is a major aspect in the development of a country. In Trinidad, the first steps in that direction were taken in 1813, when a regular paddle-steamer service started between San Fernando and Port-of-Spain. The first of these commuter paddle-steamers was called the Woodford, and she was to be followed by a series of steamers that took up service, e.g. in 1837 by the Paria, in 1839 by the Lady McLeod, in 1853 by the Rothsay Castle and the Lord Harris. These steamers included La Brea and Cedros in their schedule. They were joined by the Janet Tennant and the William Burnley (both named after sugar barons of the day), and afterwards by the Alice and the Arthur.

To go down the islands, one had to rely on open boats in the early days. But in the late 19th century and up to the 1950s, there was an island steamer service in place. The first of these steamers was called the Ant and the last one the Lady Hollis, which stopped at Carenage, the Five Islands, Carrera, Gasparee, Monos and Huevos. A popular afternoon outing was a round-trip from Port-of-Spain to Chacachacare, which cost 60 cents including a delightful tea served on board!

Railway Fares (Single ticket, 2nd class)

Port-of-Spain to San Juan

$ 0.16

Port-of-Spain to Arima

$ 0.64

Port-of-Spain to Sangre Grande`

$ 1.07

Port-of-Spain to San Fernando

$ 1.16

Port-of-Spain to Siparia

$ 1.53

Steamer Fares (Cabin)

San Fernando to La Brea

$ 0.72

San Fernando to Cedros

$ 1.87

Port-of-Spain to Icacos

$ 2.89

Islands and Bocas Service (Single ticket, cabin)

Port-of-Spain to Five Islands

S. 1 D. 8

Port-of-Spain to Monos

S. 3 D. 3

Monos to Chacachacare


Coastal Steamer Service (Return ticket, North Route)

Blanchisseuse to Port-of-Spain

$ 4.80

Guayaguyare to Port-of-Spain

$ 3.20

Toco to Scarborough

$ 2.22

Scarborough to Bloody Bay

$ 1.60

Speyside to Port-of-Spain

$ 5.00

Scarborough to Port-of-Spain

$ 3.20

(Source: Franklin’s Yearbook of 1916)

When Tobago became a part of the colony on the 1st January, 1886, most of the vessels exporting produce to Trinidad were owned by Tobagonians. A weekly service to was started to the sister isle in 1910 with the Spey and Kenneth. In 1931, the Belize was one of a number of ships which serviced Tobago, followed by the Trinidad and the Tobago, which operated until 1957, and the City of Port-of-Spain and the Silver Arrow until 1960.

Up to 1844, there was no paved road to San Fernando, only a macadam track called ‘royal road’. Transport was an entirely private task, with horses over the few bridle-paths and Amerindian footwalks, with boats from bay to bay around the island and into the rivers. Streets were almost non-existent in Spanish times and for years after the English conquest. In Port-of-Spain, there were grass markets at Marine Square, just behind the cathedral, and at Sh... pasture, now Victoria Square, where grass for animals was sold.

William Tucker established the first horse-drawn omnibus service for passengers and packages between the capital and Arima in 1848, thus inaugurating the era of public transport on land. This omnibus service continued until 1862, at a charge of 10 cents per mile. It took about a day to get to Arima!

In the same year, Messrs P. & H. Creteau began a system of horse-drawn cabs. These cabs continued in Port-of-Spain until 1930, when the motor-car taxi cab arrived. The competitor for the Creteaus was from 1879 onwards Mr. Roblins of New York, who laid down a system of tramways in the streets of the city. In 1883, Roblins commenced the first mule-drawn tram. On the La Basse, near the railway station, were large mule stables with standing room for about 80 animals. The Red Tram started at Queen’s Wharf (now where City Gate is), along South Quay, up St. Vincent Street, turned west along Tragarete Road and up Cipriani Boulevard to the corner of Queen’s Park. The Blue Tram’s route included Queen’s Wharf, Almond Walk (now Broadway), up Frederick Street to Memorial Park, along Keate Street, along Charlotte Street and the Queen’s Park Savannah east up to the café at Belmont Circular Road.

In 1895, the trams were electrified and the mules went into retirement. The press remarked that their ‘speed was very high, fully 15 miles per hour’. To make room for the rails, the fountain on Marine Square was taken down and promptly disappeared. It was shaped in the form of a child, holding a swan lighlty by the neck, and stood where the statue of Captain A.A. Cipriani now is. The Red Tram ran from the top of Cipriani Boulevard to Tragarete Road and turned westward towards Cocorite. At the corner of Park and Frederick Street was the Transfer Station. The St. Clair, Belmont and Four Roads trams met here, and passengers could get a transfer from one tram to another without paying an extra fee. The trams were abolished in 1950.

What is now the busy ‘City Gate’, where thousands of commuters board the puffing blue buses and try to squeeze yet another basket into the endless stream of maxis, was once a proper railway station. Looking up into the cast-iron roof structure, one can still make out the elegance of the vanished platforms with a little imagination.

The first mule-drawn train ran between Cipero Creek and San Fernando in April 1859. Besides carrying produce from the sugar estates to the Creek, from where it was carried by barges to the steamers offshore, this was also a very popular mode of travel for the country and estate people. In 1864, the first steam locomotive came into operation, pulling the carriages from Cipero Creek all the way to Princes Town. In 1876, the rails from Port-of-Spain towards the east were completed and a train went on its way to Arima. It wasn’t until 1892 that the rails from San Fernando were extended all the way to Port-of-Spain, since transport by rail was much more expensive than by the sea. The two last extensions of the railway system were to Guanapo in 1896 and to Sangre Grande one year later.

During the first world war the locomotives were converted from coal to oil, and in the Second World War, when spare parts for cars were rare, the train saw another boom. The entire railway system, however, was scrapped in 1966, one year after the last train ran to San Fernando, making way for the motor car in its various incarnations, which had been on the scene since 1900.


Unknown said...

"During the first world war the locomotives were converted from coal to oil"
Please tell me where I can find more information about the above - my grandfather Charlemont Wrainsford Walker was an engineer with the railroad at that time. I have very little information about him as we have no living Walker relatives from that generation.
Thank you,
Debbie Walker

Unknown said...

Thank you for the enjoyable article. I would like to offer some corrections for dates stated about the railway. The last extensions of the Arima line was indeed to Sangre Grande in 1897, however the railway continued to expand, first to Siparia in 1913 and then to Rio Claro from Tabaquite in 1914. The opening of the Rio Claro extension railway in 1914 was the final extension of the Government public railway in Trinidad. In the years that followed there were to be other minor extensions like the Cumuto branch line to the American Air force base at Waller Field in 1941, but for all intents and purpose the Trinidad Government railway (TGR) was completed in 1914.
The TGR ran its last train on 28 December 1968 (not 1966) and the railway officially closed on December 31 of the same year.
Glen Beadon

Unknown said...

a bus service company called the arima bus company opertaed between pos and sangere grande,
this was from the 1930's to 1960's the owner as i was told was sookdeo misir
may be you can update this into your reserch. otherwise interesting reading