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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

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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Top photo: The Stann Creek Railroad that ran bananas to the Commerce Bight Pier outside Dangriga Town, near the stone quarry, Macaroni Hill. The narrow bridges on the Hummingbird Highway were built to accommodate this railroad.

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.

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,

"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

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

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