What survives of the old railway station at Kings Wharf, San Fernando.
PHOTO by TREVOR WATSON
Restoring the railway station
Richard Charan email@example.com
THERE is an intersection in traffic-choked San Fernando that many harried drivers went out of their way to pass every weekday morning, for a good reason.
The Todds Street traffic lights on Rienzi Kirton Highway were where a particular woman weaved around vehicles, selling the daily newspaper and giving away happiness for free. She often had a kind word to share, and a big, toothy grin to accompany it.
She was so full of life, and love for what she does, that it improved everyone’s mood.
It turns out this is the least of her accomplishments.
Papers vendor Joan Hinds, 61, is also a successful entrepreneur, retired credit union employee and insurance agent, school PTA president, with one son graduating from The University of the West Indies (UWI), another on a football scholarship in the United States and a daughter a FIFA referee.
She is regarded by some as “Miss San Fernando”.
But there is something equally interesting about Hinds. She was witness to an important part of Trinidad’s history.
On August 30, 1965 (the day before the country’s third Independence Day holiday), then 12-year-old Joan and her mother Linda Moore were among the passengers who rode the train on the last day it travelled to the railway station at King’s Wharf, San Fernando.
That was 48 years ago, but Hinds remembers some of it vividly.
“My mother would always travel the trains. Her father lived in Sangre Grande and she visited him often because she loved him and she loved the train.
“She would always take me with her, and it was such a comfortable ride. Not like squeezing up in a taxi. Plus, back then, the bus wasn’t really appreciated, so it was the train.”
Hinds said it was only many years later that she realised how momentous that day was.
“To me, it was just another chance to go on a train ride. But I remember coming back down to San Fernando...and then it happened!”
Hinds said that as the train neared its San Fernando terminal, “people started clapping, people started singing ‘last train to San Fernando, last train to San Fernando’, and when we stopped, people cheered as they came off. And I remember looking back at the train station, and thinking there would be no more.”
The railway station has since been left to fall into ruin, like many of the structures of Trinidad’s impressive locomotive history.
It was one of the most important buildings (in an area now occupied by the PTSC bus terminal) located in an area once known as the Plaza de San Carlos (history records it to be the town’s origin). It is only recognisable now due to the impressive stone walls laid down by the builders more than a century ago (the railway station was established in 1882). The roof is gone and the inside gutted. The doors on the west side of the building look into the kitchen of a squatter’s home. The cast iron columns that supported the eaves have been blow torched by scrap iron dealers and the metal is probably part of a building foundation in India.
A staircase that leads to a room above the main entrance is a coveted location to smoke cocaine while keeping an eye on the police.
In November last year, a public consultation on what should be done with the old railway building was hosted at San Fernando City Hall by Mayor Dr Navi Muradali (who will know tonight whether he has a chance to be mayor for a second term).
The consultation was in conjunction with Dr Vincent Lasse, chairman of the Public Transport Service Corporation, which owns the property.
It was suggested then by several, including Express journalist and historian Louis B Homer, who died two months ago, that the railway station, when restored, be permanent home of the San Fernando Museum.
Architect and urban designer Roger Mohammed was given the task of building a dossier detailing the railway building’s history, architecture and existing state, so that it could be “listed” by the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago.
The listing is required for the building (which has neoclassical influences) to become a national monument, opening it up for funding locally and internationally.
At the opening of the temporary San Fernando museum (at Circular Road) two weeks ago, Mohammed, a member of the Citizens for Conservation group, handed the dossier to a representative of the Minister of National Diversity and Social Integration Rodger Samuel, who is expected to raise the issue in Cabinet to fund the restoration.
The politicians have promised that the process for approval could be completed within six months. The plan is for the museum to be located at the restored building, as part of the San Fernando waterfront mega project.
The public consultation was attended by historians, railway researchers and enthusiasts, urban planners and ministry technocrats, who all shared important information on why this piece of Trinidad’s history needed to be preserved. But it was Hinds everyone remembered.
She showed up at the consultation, confident and bubbly, to tell the stories of her railway trips and how important the station was to people back then.
“Which is why I think it is excellent that they’re planning to bring it back now,” Hinds told the Express last week, “because it was something beautiful, and something we should all be proud of.”
Editor’s Note: If you want to know more about Trinidad’s railway history and the history of San Fernando, you can visit www.citizensforconservationtt.org, read the research of Glen Beadon, Wayne Abraham, and Angelo Bissessarsingh, and the works of historian/writer Michael Anthony (Glimpses of Trinidad and Tobago), and Gerard Besson (San Fernando of the Purest Conception).