Stann Creek Railway carrying bananas to Commerce Bight Pier for export, 1910
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Tuesday April 29, 2019

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Train At Commerce Bight Stann Creek 1924. - The Stann Creek Railway was used from 1908 to 1938 as a 25 miles (40 km) long 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge from Commerce Bight to Middlesex Stann Creek District. British Honduras, Belize.

Stann Creek Railway 1916. Narrow-gauge railways...the spacing between the rails were closer than the standard railways, popular in mountain areas and they are cheaper to build. probably where the kriol term “narrow gauge” comes from meaning to pass close to something.

Train Laden With Bananas ready for export. Commerce Bight, Stann Creek District 1923. courtesy UK Archives.

1935 "Sam King / left & Patrick Barrow Sr. / right
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Stann Creek Railway carrying bananas to Commerce Bight Pier for export, on Macaroni Hill, 1910. And a bit about the history of the railroad

The Stann Creek Railway operated from 1908 — 1938 between Middlesex Village and Commerce Bight, the port south of Dangriga. The railway covered approximately 30 miles and transported timber, copra, grapefruit, bananas, coconuts, and cohune for export. In 1933, the railway was managed by 35 staff members.

The Hummingbird Highway ends at Middlesex Village, where the Stann Creek Valley road begins. There were a couple "railroad bridges" (single lane) between Middlesex and Armenia. 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. Their destination were the railroad pier or jetty, about 2 miles below Dangriga. There was also a switch located on the left side heading north in Bowman Estate one mile above Old Pomona Citrus Company of British Honduras. Those old trains at the PW Deptartment were supposedly sold as scrap metal to Guatemalan buyers and shipped to steel mills overseas.

The top photo is one from the 11 miles switch back on the Stann Creek valley road sometimes called macaroni hills because of the overgrown rock quarries. That 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. This is in more modern times around the early 1900 hundreds. Grandma was born 1900. She said she was 15 years old around this time. This is the beginning boundries of the British Honduras Citrus Company farm in historic Pomona stann creek.

The trains in Gallon Jug had flat beds for hauling logs. That caboose had 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 here and in Honduras.

Three locomotives and 21 freight cars were used for transportation of crops and goods. The railway turntable was located at the main entrance of Dangriga, known as "The Y". Today, this is the site of the Drums of our Fathers Monument.

The route was built by the colonial government of British Honduras, with the help of Jamaican immigrant workers, for a well above budget total of BH$ 846,140 or about £ 123,000, or about € 15 million, adjusted for inflation. It had a gauge of 3 feet (914 mm) and was opened in sections from 17 October 1908 to 31 March 1911. It took a detour through the banana plantations on Melinda Road and Old Mullins River Road. The bridges were designed as steel bridges with concrete foundations.

After banana production was reduced to 5,000 stems a week in 1924 and the United Fruit Company ceased operations, the government procured two diesel shunting locomotives capable of handling the entire line at 8 mph (13 km/h). From 1925, the United States based Tidewater Lumber Company used the railroad to transport mahogany wood from Middlesex to the Commerce Bight pier for shipment to the United States of America. After the decline of the timber industry in Stann Creek Valley in 1929, the railway was still used in the 1930s for passenger transport. The United Fruit Company used the Stann Creek Railway until 1937. The track was dismantled in 1938 and reused elsewhere in Belize and Jamaica.

L-R: Stann Creek Railway ca. 1920s and Drums of our Fathers Monument, 2019

  • The Stann Creek Railway was originally created to transport timber from the Maya Mountains to the port in Dangriga at the turn of the 20th Century.
  • The construction of the railway was undertaken by the British Colonial authorities, in an effort to deter external control and the formation of “Banana Republics” by the United Fruit Company as was seen across Central America.
  • At the time, Dangriga was the second largest town with a high population and a high number of persons were employed in the area.
  • The major corporations that used the railway and pier include the United Fruit Company, Tidewater Lumber Company, and the American Palm Products Company.
  • The railway eventually fell into disuse as the timber industry declined and the Panama disease affected the banana plantations.
  • The location of the Drums of our Fathers Monument was previously the site for the turntable of the Stann Creek Railway

Railroad comes to Stann Creek 1908

October 17th 1908 ... The first section (to Hope Creek, 9 1/4 miles) of the Stann Creek Railway opened.

March 17th, 1909 ... The second section (Hope Creek to Macarono Hill, 9 1/4 to 15 1/4 mile) of Stann Creek Railway opened.

March 4th, 1910 ... The third section (15 1/4 to 18 mile) of Stann Creek Railway opened.

North Stann Creek Banana Railway

North Stann Creek Banana Railway

History of Stann Creek Railway

Metzgen, Monrad & Henry Cain, Handbook of British Honduras, 1925.

The Stann Creek Railway, a Government enterprise, was constructed in 1905 and extends for a distance of twenty-five miles from the Railway Pier at Commerce Bight to Middlesex, traversing and tapping the rich alluvial soil of the Stann Creek Valley.

The Railway was built from Loans raised in England for the purpose and was completed at a total cost of $846,140.

The track is a three-foot gauge and all waterways and other depressions crossing the line, are spanned by steel bridges with steel girders and braces embedded in concrete bases.

About seven miles north of the Pier head and about a mile and a half south of Stann Creek Town, are the Station Buildings, consisting of quarters, engine houses, offices, storerooms and a limited number of wooden dwellings for employees all in good state of repair.

Owing to the blight in the form of "Panama Disease" which has fallen upon the banana and completely crippled a promising industry, the activities of the railway have been greatly reduced and stringent economies have been effected in order to keep the expenditure on maintenance within limits of the depleted revenue.

There are at present two trains per week one on Monday and another on Thursday. The Monday or "work train" leaves the station at 6.30 a.m. distributing goods and work gangs along the route and proceeding to the furthest point where it is desired to convey gangs of labourers. The Thursday or "fruit" train leaves the station at the same hour and proceeds to the furthest points where fruit may be available. All fruit and other local produce collected are held for shipment to United States of America by the United Fruit Company's steamers which call at the Railway Pier at Commerce Bight the next day to discharge merchandise consigned to the local merchants at Stann Creek.

The tariff of charges for conveyance of cargo and passengers may be had on application to the Superintendent of Railway.

An agreement has recently been concluded between the Government and the Tidewater Lumber Company, an American Corporation, for extensive use of the railway for the purpose of conveying timber from Middlesex to the Pier for shipment to the United States of America.

Photograph courtesy of the George Clarke Collection

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