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Sunday October 28, 2018

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Stann Creek Railway and Commerce Bight Pier: Inaugurated 1913, Dismantled 1937. This is the Commerce Bight Pier or "jetty" that served the Stann Creek District for many years. It was the transport services for the Banana Industry and later the Citrus Industry. This is an active Commerce Bight Pier, when a Cargo Ship was being laden, from a Cargo / Passenger Train that came from the Middlesex Station. The railway closed down when the Banana Company closed down because of the cigatoca desease that killed the banana cultivations.



The conductors of the Commerce Bight Pier Railway Station



Train Bridge, close to Marie Sharps in the Stann Creek Valley



Stann Creek Railway Trestle Bridge East of Middlesex



Loading Banana in the Stann Creek Valley



Vaca Falls Railway between Vaca Falls and the Chiquibui Forest





Hill Bank at the New River Lagoon in Belize



Stann Creek (Dangriga) - This was the railway to Commerce Bight. It was operated by
the Tidewater Lumber Company circa 1925. Courtesy Leopold Grinage.






Train on the way to Hill Bank



Heating up the Locomotive in Gallon Jug, Banana Steam Train on Stann Creek Railway, 1900's



Logging in the forest by Wamil Creek



Train Bridge close to the Valley Community in Belize



Locomotive at the Serpon Sugar Mill in Belize



Train boilers for heating the sugar, at the Serpon Sugar Mill in Belize





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Trains, Railroads and Railways in Belize, history and general information

Top photo: The Stann Creek Railroad that ran bananas to the Commerce Bight Pier outside Dangriga Town, near the stone quarry, Macaroni Hill. This is one from the 11 miles switch back on the Stann Creek valley road sometimes called Macaroni Hills because of the overgrown rock quarries. This is in more modern times around the early 1900 hundreds. This is the beginning boundries of the British Honduras Citrus Company farm in historic Pomona Stann Creek.The narrow bridges on the Hummingbird Highway were built to accommodate this railroad. On the Hummingbird Highway heading south on the right hand side, there are obvious remains and evidence of a railway system.

What Happened to the Railroads of Belize?

Those visitors to Belize who drive the Hummingbird Highway and see the old railway bridges, or who, in some remote backabush, peer under palms to spot a rotting railroad tie or rusting skeleton of a narrow gauge railcar, may, if they have more curiosity than a dead stick, wonder what happened to the railroads of Belize.

What kind of railroads were there in British Honduras? What became of them?

A book, Railways of the Caribbean, by David Rollinson (Macmillan Caribbean, Oxford, England, 2001, 144 pp., with many historical photographs from the author’s collection, 15 pounds) offers a start to answering those questions.

While Rollinson, a curator of the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology in Canada before settling on Nevis, focuses mainly on the current and historical railroads of the islands of the Caribbean, particularly Cuba and Jamaica, he does spend a few pages on the railroads of Belize (formerly British Honduras) and Guyana (formerly British Guiana).

As Rollinson patches together the history, the first rail service in Belize was a privately owned light railroad in Stann Creek District. Constructed by the British Honduras Syndicate, it opened in 1892, connecting Stann Creek Town (now Dangriga) with Melinda, about 5 miles away. Later it was extended to Middlesex. It mainly carried agricultural goods.

This private railroad spurred the construction of Belize’s first and only public railroad, the Stann Creek Railway. Construction began in 1907 and continued until 1914. The railroad, a 3 feet 0 inch gauge line, eventually extended 25 miles, from Commerce Bight (a deep water seaport later all but destroyed by a hurricane) to Middlesex. The Stann Creek Railway was important in building banana and other agricultural enterprises in the Stann Creek Valley, and it also carried passengers. However, by 1925 it virtually ceased operations, mainly due to diseases in the banana industry. It had a small resurgence when an American company, the Tidewater Lumber Co., use the railway to transport logs to the coast for shipment to the U.S., and another in the early 1930s, when light passenger cars were introduced and fares were cut, but it closed down in 1937, about the time when a national road building program was begun by the British colonial government. Today, old railroad steel bridges are still in evidence beside the Hummingbird Highway, and indeed a few presently used Hummingbird Highway bridges were originally built for the railroad.

Several other private railroads operated in Belize in the early and mid 19th century. These primarily served the logging industry. A narrow-gauge railroad was built in the mid-1920s by the Mengel Company of Kentucky in the Vaca Falls area. This 15-mile line in the Mountain Pine Ridge ran for the last time in 1952. The Glikston Group of England between 1890 and 1930 built and operated a narrow gauge line between Gallon Jug and Hill Bank in Orange Walk District, a logging line that continued operation, under the auspices of the Belize Estate & Produce Co., until about 1956. According to Rollinson, for a time a diesel-powered passenger car was used on the Gallon Jug-Hill Bank line. Warrie Head resort has a train head, deteriorating in the open. Gallon Jug in the Orange Walk District had a railroad to transport mahogany. The ones in Gallon Jug had flat beds for hauling logs. That caboose had a staked body for the hauling bananas and operated on coal. There was one diesel engine caboose called Beckey before the bottom fell out of the banana industry due to the banana parasite, both in Belize and in Honduras. There was a train from Middlesex to jetty pier (Commerce Beight) in Dangriga.

Rollinson mentions several other short railway lines that once existed in Belize, including one near Punta Gorda, one at Monkey River and at least two in Northern Belize. However, the information on these lines, as presented by Rollinson, is sketchy at best.

-- Lan Sluder, Belize First Magazine, http://www.belizefirst.com/

"Tracks, train engine and parts marked 1926 from Alabama still rusting under bush on Vaca Plateaua at Che Chem Ha, the Morales family farm."

-- Katie Valk

Frank Derkits "old sawmill" 50 years ago and just re-discovered inna bush 2019 with some old rail tracks, photos courtesy Belize Wood Works Ltd.





















For more information on the Trains and Railroads of Belize, see Railways and Trains in Belize. A Guide to the Past.

Currently, Belize does not offer any rail transport. Historically, Belize had 3 mayor railway Lines, but there was never a railway connections to other countries. The planned FERISTSA Railway would connect Mexico with Panama with 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1/2 in) gauge but would bypass Belize unless branches were built.

Railroads were once used for sugar cane, logging or to haul bananas, both within the farms and from the plantations to the ports, but today trucks handle most of the business to dockside, where palletized or containerized banana boxes are loaded on reefers for the water journey to overseas markets.

There were a few short railway lines, one in Orange Walk, a other one along the Monkey River and one near Punta Gorda.

Stann Creek Railway

The construction of the Stann Creek Railway started in 1907. The British Honduras Syndicate build the railway with wooden trestle railway bridges and concrete steel bridges from Dangriga over Melinda to Middlesex Estate trough the wild jungle along the Stann Creek Valley.

In Dangriga, facilities including the Commerce Bight Pier with rail tracks on it where the banana boats tied up where build. The original estimate, twenty miles with a 36-inch (914 mm) gauge, was carried out by a resident engineer under the supervision of consulting engineers in England. Some of the building was done by immigrants from the West Indian islands, who came to the Stann Creek area between 1880 and 1890 attracted by the prosperity of the banana plantations in the area. The Stann Creek Railway, subsequently increased their track to twenty-five miles till the 31st March, 1911.

Despite the fact that in construction the railway cost approximately £ 123,000 and was over budget.

In 1911 the fruit industry looked so promising that the United Fruit Company from the United States of America bought the Middlesex Estate, one of the most productive grape-fruit valleys in the British Colony. The United fruit Company used the Stan Creek Railway from 1913 till 1937.

But plant disease, poor production methods and marketing problems were major obstacles to the success of this project. By the 1930's production of Bananas stopped in the Stann Creek Valley.

That railway, however, has never been a paying proposition, and 1937 decided the hon. 1452 members of the British Empire, after an expert inquiry, to scrap the railway and build in its place a motor road. Many remains are still visible along the Hummingbird Highway (between Dangriga and Belmopan).

This road uses some of the old railroad bridges, though they are gradually disappearing due to modernization effort in the years to come.

United Fruit Company

The United Fruit Company was founded in 1899 by the merger of the Boston Fruit Company and several other companies producing and marketing bananas from the Caribbean islands, Central America, and Columbia.

By the early 1930s, the company had absorbed more than twenty rival firms making it the largest employer in Central America. United Fruit cleared and planted undeveloped tracts of land, created extensive railroad and port facilities, and operated a large steamship unit known as “The Great White Fleet.”

The company had a deep and long-lasting impact in the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the so-called "banana republics".

After a period of financial decline, United Fruit was merged with AMK in 1970 to become the United Brands Company. In 1984, transformed United Brands into the present-day Chiquita Brands International.

Today the most of the Bananas from Belize are exported trough Fyffes witch build the Big Creek Port.

Vaca Falls Railway

The steepest railway was the Vaca Falls railway between Vaca Falls and the Chiquibui Forrest and was used to logging mahogany trees.

The 15-mile long Vaca Falls Railway line, in the Mountain Pine Ridge was also owned from the Belize Estate and Produce Company Ltd. and ran for the last time in 1952.

In the area around Arenal, south of Benque Viejo del Carmen, on the way to the Mollejon Power Station are still remains and skeleton from the Locomotive.

The Gallon Jug Hillbank Railway

The logging operation depended on the transfer of logs first of all from the bush to the river, which was usually accomplished by oxen. These same oxen when old or wounded were used to feed the workers. Because the absence of a river in the west through Sierra de Agua are between Hill Bank and Gallon Jug a small rail line were built.

The Belize Estate and Produce Company Ltd. B.E.C. used the Glikston Group of England for the Railway construction. The construction started with the railway with tracks and the buildings in Hill Bank on the New River Lagoon, just 10 miles south of Lamanai.

The US Company C. C. Mengel & Brothers Co, from Louisville, Kentucky, build 1905 the first Shay Steam Locomotive together with trucks. A train station was constructed after 28 miles in Gallon Jug around 1910. In the following years, Mengel & Brothers also delivered 3 more the last 1910.

Trains delivered to B.E.C. in Belize

Nr.
Shop Number
Built
Type
#1
1640
12-23-1905
Class
A
15-2
#2
1872
04-23-1907
Class
B
32-2
#3
1142
           1908
Class
B

#4
2372
08-31-1910
Class
B
20-2

These four locomotives were delivered for logging of mahogany to B.E.C. in Belize and used for the Gallon Jug Hillbank Logging Railway and the Vaca Falls Railway.

The Shay locomotives were built to the patents of Ephraim Shay, The Class B Shay geared steam locomotive was a low locomotive with ample starting tractive effort for loggings operations. All 4 Locomotives where built in licence from the C. C. Mengel & Brothers in Louisville.

The last delivered locomotive #4 2372 was a Baler, B 20-2, with a weight of 32 Tons, 2 Trucks, and 1000 gallons water boiler with 160 psi. The hauling capacity for this logging Locomotive was 1736 Tons.

Shay geared Locomotives

Shay locomotives had regular fire-tube boilers offset to the left to provide space for a two or three cylinder "motor," mounted vertically on the right with longitudinal drive shafts extending fore and aft from the crankshaft at wheel axle height. These shafts had universal joints and square sliding slip joints to accommodate motion of the swiveling trucks. Each axle was driven by a separate bevel gear, and used no side rods.

Driving all wheels, including those of the tender, together with small diameter wheels were the strength of these engines, their entire weight developing tractive effort. A high ratio of piston strokes to wheel revolutions allowed them to run at partial slip, where a conventional rod engine would spin its drive wheels and burn rails, losing all traction.

Around 1940, heavy trucks starting to replaced the small rail lines for transporting logs from Gallon Jug to Hill Bank. The last years, a diesel propelled passenger car was used to carry loggers and passengers till late summer 1956.

Some parts of the Railway found the way back to the U.S., other parts just left abandoned in the Belizean Jungle. A few lighter pieces also found the way to Guatemala and Mexico to be smelted.

Belize Estate and Produce Company Ltd.

Forestry dominated the economy of British Honduras. Initially, the focus was upon logwood, which was used in dye manufacture. Falling prices for logwood in the 1770s led to a shift toward logging mahogany. The British Honduras Company began operations in 1858 and was a major force in the country.

This company's name was changed to the Belize Estate and Produce Company in 1875. To finance there operation, the B.E.C. sold shares to Londons Investors.

Serpon Sugar Mill Train

Hidden in the jungle one mile in on the access road to the village of Sittee River are the remnants of the steam powered Serpon Sugar Mill which was established in 1865 and marked the start of Belize’s industrial era. The Serpon Sugar Mill used 0-4-0GTVB Steam Trains to carry the sugarcane along the Sitter River.

Estimates are that at its peak, the Serpon Sugar Mill was producing and shipping 1,700 pounds of sugar a month. In the late 19th century, Serpon was a technological marvel with a 3-wheel main crusher, still on its original foundation; the boilers that created the steam needed to power the equipment and the beam engine, which dates back to the 1940’s. There was an evaporating furnace measuring 75 feet in length, a hot air exchanger, which was used as an exhaust for heat travelling the length of the furnace, Steam Trains witch where used to run sugar around the mill and the tredegar engine, which pumped water from the river.

But at the turn of the 20th century, sugar production became more profitable in the northern districts and by 1910 the Serpon Sugar Mill was abandoned. While the majority of the machinery is still in place, not all of it was salvaged, but the railway tracks are missing.

The Serpon Sugar Mill is easy to visit, by using the Southern Higway, and take the road to Sittee River.


At mile 17 3/4 of the Stann Creek Valley Road... Remaining viaducts of the railroad ... Gone are the rail road tracks and bridges. Photo by Ernest Raymond Sr


This switch back was located at the old rock quarry at 11 miles where the Public Works Department extracted the stones that was used to build roads in the entire Stann Creek District and half the Hummingbird Highway. The Hummingbird Highway ends at Middlesex village, where the Stann Creek Valley road begins. The train yard was located at what is now the BDF camp in Dangriga town, then the Department of Public Works. They basically moved banana and pineapple from Unity Valley in Altavista and above Steadfast Village vicinity, where the old trestles were visible and might still be There, then Middlesex. Their destination were the railroad pier or jetty, about 1and a 1/2 miles below Griga Town. There was also a switch located on the left side heading north, in Bowman Estate one mile above Old Pomona's, Citrus Company of British Honduras. As young kid, I played on those old trains at the PW dept. They were supposedly sold as scrap metal to Guatemalan buyers and shipped to steel mills overseas.

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