Saturday, February 24, 2018

On the track to glory

Old Caroni trains to be restored, displayed...


Heavy lifting: Workers prepare to lower one of the Hulslet locomotives onto a flatbed truck for transport to the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum in Couva.

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To the museum: The locomotives travel in convoy along the Solomon Hochoy Highway last week. —Photos: Richard Charan

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THE four locomotives that for decades pulled the sugarcane-laden carriages from Barrackpore to Ste Madeleine, near San Fernando, left the train yard of former Caroni (1975) Ltd for a final time last week.

The diesel-powered locomotives did not rumble out of the location on their own since the massive engines were never maintained after the machines pulled into the work yard in March 1998, on a day that is remembered and mourned by some as the end of rail transportation in all forms in Trinidad and Tobago.

Caroni (1975) Ltd sugar operations would sputter on for another five years, with the sugarcane harvest being brought to the factory by cargo truck.

In 2003, the industry was closed for good.

Back in the day, Caroni Ltd had a British owner—Tate & Lyle—and when Tate & Lyle eventually sold off plantations in a few of the countries in the region where it had established sugar-production facilities, the company went national, becoming Caroni (1975) Ltd.

Last Wednesday, it took much of the day for a mega-crane to lift the 36 metric tonne "locos" from the steel rails that once formed an unbroken route from the Ste Madeleine Sugar Factory to Scale No 7, and bolt the British-built behemoths onto flatbed trucks.

And with a police escort, the engines were moved in a convoy from South Trinidad, rolling past the factory, between still-flowering cane, through the sugar villages of Palmyra and Corinth, before they turned north.

On the Solomon Hochoy Highway, the motorists saw the engines that were out of sight for a decade locked behind the rusted steel doors of a compound that is now a campus for the National Energy Skills Centre.

It was feared that the locomotives were destined for a scrap iron yard, as many before had been condemned.

However, citizens will be pleased to know that no such thing will happen here.

The locomotives—D6, D7, D9 and D10—were trucked to the site of the Brechin Castle Sugar Factory, now the site of the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum, a work in progress.

There, the locomotives that symbolised the sugarcane industry were lowered onto plinths prepared ahead of the move.

The long-term plan is for the locomotives to be restored to a condition similar to when they were first shipped to Trinidad from the Hunslet Company of Leeds, England, in the 1950s, to replace the steam-driven locomotives, one of which is on display at Harris Promenade, San Fernando.

According to the historians, the last diesel locomotive was purchased by Caroni Ltd in the mid-1970s, and the very first ones would have been lowered from the cargo ships dock in Port of Spain directly onto rails, and travelled the still-unbroken line from the capital to Ste Madeleine.

The transfer of the locomotives was supervised by former Caroni Ltd factory manager Arjoon Singh, who is now involved in the development of the Sugar Heritage Village and Museum, a project being overseen by Prof Brinsley Samaroo.

Singh said the short-term plan is to allow citizens a close-up view of the engines that were part of the lives of many who grew up in and around the plantations and cane-weighing scales, thousands of whom have their own stories of how the trains impacted them.

Singh said, "These four engines are an integral part of the history and legacy of Caroni, the equipment, people, culture. Anything could have happened to them here. We have decided they must be saved. So over a period of time, we intend to restore them to the original glory."

NB - If you want to know more about the Caroni Ltd locomotives, you can visit the Facebook page of researcher Wayne Abraham, historian Angelo Bissessar's Virtual Museum of trinidad and tobago, or find youtube videos captured by researcher Glen Beadon.