The International Steam Pages


The Railways of Guadeloupe 2013 

Thomas Kautzor has been to several Caribbean islands to check out what is left of their railways and industrial heritage.

For the full general index, see Railway Relics (and more) in the Caribbean, Other report for the eastern islands in this series comprise:

In February 2014, Thomas was sent some pictures of Beauport in 1995, not so very long after it closed, click here for a selection (added 8th February 2014).

Thomas revisited in 2014 and an update to this report is available. Specific items covered in this later report are indicated (with links) in the text below.


Guadeloupe consists of the twin islands of Grande-Terre and Basse-Terre, both of which had railways in the past (at least 15 on Grande-Terre and 8 on Basse-Terre), as well as a number of smaller islands, of which only Marie-Galante is known to have had railways (at least 4 recorded). All railways (up to 160 km) served the sugar industry. In the 1960s the sugar industry started its decline, accentuated by a succession of hurricanes and recurring droughts, and in the 1980s bananas overtook sugar cane as Guadeloupe’s major export crop. The last to close was the one at Beauport in 1989.

Gauges in use included 500, 600, 750, 1000, 1200 and 1460 mm. Unlike in Martinique, a larger variety of steam locomotive builders were represented in Guadeloupe (Cail, Corpet-Louvet, Decauville, Couillet, Tubize, Franco-Belge, St-Leonard, Borsig and Krauss). After WWII diesel locos from Brookville and CFD Montmirail came to the island. In 1970 there were still 15 active diesel locomotives on the islands (2 large and 13 smaller ones). Locomotives are preserved in at least three locations on the main islands.

Grande-Terre:

This part of the main islands, mostly flat and ideally suited for sugar cane cultivation, is where the two major railway networks branching out from the large central factories at Darboussier (SIAPAP, see below) and Beauport (SAUB, see below) were located. Smaller systems existed at Blanchet (SIAPAP, 1200mm gauge, factory in activity 1864-1979), Usine de Gardel (1870-still active), Usine de Courcelles (600mm gauge, 1862-1965) and Saine-Marthe (Sucrerie d’Outre Mer, SOM, 1864-1974). A projected public railway line between Pointe-à-Pitre and Le Moule (Grande-Terre) was never realized.

Société Agricole et Industrielle de Pointe-à-Pitre (SIAPAP), Usine Darboussier, Pointe-à-Pitre:

Darboussier factory, founded in 1859 by the Souques family, was located on the water’s edge just southeast of the centre of Pointe-à-Pitre. The 1460mm gauge railway, built by Jean-François Cail, opened in 1869. The main line went 12.6 km north around the eastern edge of town and past the tip of the airport to Belle Espérance (north of Les Abymes), with short branches also serving the estates of Dothemare, Goaza, Léonie Boyvinette and La Redoute. Darboussier was also supplied in cane by barges owned by the company.

The railway started with five Cail type 59 0-4-0Ts built in 1867/68. By 1919 only one of those survived, No. 1659/1868 nicknamed “Loupiti”, together with Krauss 0-6-0T No. 5821/1907 (type XXXVzg) nicknamed “L’Allemande” and a Belgian-built loco nicknamed “Belgique”. 

After WWII, two six-wheel diesel locos were acquired, one from Brookville and the other from CFD Montmirail in 1953 or 1955. Those two remained in service, together with circa 100 cane wagons, until closure in 1980 and are now preserved at Distillerie Damoiseau in Le Moule (Grande-Terre). The larger rod-driven CFD loco, recently repainted in red, is on display with two 1200mm gauge Pétolat cane wagons and described as the Brookville on an information board, however what remains of the Brookville (frame and cab) is actually dumped right next to it. 

As to the Cail 0-4-0T, after Darboussier closed it was donated to the Musée Départemental de la Guadeloupe and restored at Usine de Gardel for display at the Musée Archéologique Edgar Clerc in Le Moule where it was plinthed for many years. After Beauport factory reopened as a museum it was transferred there, where it is on display. After the factory closed in 1980, the Darboussier neighborhood went into economic decline and is today one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas in Pointe-à-Pitre. The factory was recently torn down and replaced by a social housing project, but the main gate and the administrative building still stand. There are plans to turn the building into a museum as part of the area’s revitalization project.

Usine de Beauport, Port Louis:

Founded by the Souques family, the factory opened in 1863. In 1864 Jean-François Cail was contracted to build a railway system to supply the factory with sugar cane from the surrounding estates. At the beginning animal traction was used and by 1866 the first metre gauge line reached La Goguette, by 1879 9 km of track had been built, and by 1884 20 km. From 1890, the factory was operated by the Souques-owned ‘Société Anonyme des Sucreries de Port-Louis (SASPL)’, which acquired the nearby factories of Bellevue in 1891 and Clugny in 1901. Four steam locos were acquired through Cail between 1902 and 1908.

In 1908 the factory was taken over by three Bordeaux families, who operated it as ‘Société Anonyme des Usines de Beauport (SAUB)’. A decision was made to modernize the railway system. The track gauge was converted to 1200mm and three steam locos and a boiler bought, together with steel cane wagons. In 1920 mule traction was discontinued. In 1928 Usine Duval in Petit-Canal and its rail network were taken over. At its greatest extent, the network consisted of three lines totaling 50 km of track:

One to the northeast past Anse Bertrand serving the estates of Pouzzols, La Goguette, Blonzac, La Mahaudière and La Berthaudière (10,5 km);

One to the east to Bellevue estate, then south to Duval, Chabert and Girard (a steam loco was based at Duval during the cutting season);

To the southwest past Petit-Canal, serving the estates of Habitation Sylvain, Gaschet, Clugny Charropin. Maisoncelle and Balin

Branching off from the southeastern line at Clugny, a 2 km branch gave access to the company port at Beautiran (northwest of Petit-Canal), on an island separated from the mainland by mangroves. From here the refined sugar was shipped by barge to Pointe-à-Pitre for export. In recent times the trackbed been incorporated into the “Sentier de Beautiran” walking path which starts behind the church at Petit-Canal (an additional 2 km). At Beautiran the gantry crane is still in place, as well as the ruined remains of two sugar warehouses. A number of cane wagon frames as well as a boiler can be found along the forested path through the mangroves.

In 1945 seven steam locos and 130 cane wagons with an average capacity of 9 tons were in use.

In October 1947 there were 49.6 km of track in use (41,0 main and 8,6 sidings) and the roster was as follows:

Steam loco “Éclair” (St. Léonard 789/1902) out-of-use;
Steam loco “Adrienne” (St. Léonard 1251/1903) out-of-use;
Steam loco “Fernande” (St. Léonard 1313/1904);
Steam loco “Odette” (Corpet-Louvet 937/1908);
Steam loco “Marine” (Fives-Lille 109/1912);
Steam loco “Jimmy” (Vulcan I.W. 3017/1920);
0-6-0T steam loco “Pierre” (Krauss K 3/3 8496/1931);
Diesel loco “Jean Marie” (Brookville 453561/1947, Caterpillar DI3.000 engine);
182 10-ton cane wagons (Pétolat 1929/30), 5 out-of-use;
9 sugar wagons (Pétolat);
3 open wagons (Gregg);
3 flat wagons (Gregg);
4 trucks (Pétolat), 2 out-of-use;
20 wagons with tarps;
Motor trolley, out-of-use.

At the time, except for the diesel and the sugar wagons, the entire stock was considered in very poor condition.

A total of five or six six-wheel Brookville diesel locos with Caterpillar engines were acquired in the 1940s/50s to replace the steam locos. The track was relaid in the 1950s, using the services of an SNCF technical employee. In 1960 the three-line system still totaled 50 km with 18 transfer and seven loading stations (five with and two without scales). In 1976, the stock comprised six diesel locos, 266 cane wagons, 4 sugar wagons, 7 Gregg flat wagons, 2 trucks and 1 weed-spraying tank wagon. In the 1980s, the network had been reduced to 40 km.

In 1981 SAUB went bankrupt and the factory was taken over by the ‘Société Sucrière de Marie-Galante (SOSUMAG)’ until 1984. In 1985 a worker’s cooperative, ‘Société Coopérative Ouvrière de Production (SCOP)’, took over. The railway closed after being severely damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, while Beauport factory closed on June 30, 1990, at the end of that year’s campaign. 

While the cane cultivated around Beauport is now milled at Usine de Gardel, some buildings, such as the workshops, are still in use today by SOCADEG, a company that provides technical, economic and financial services to cane planters in the north of Grande-Terre. The cane receiving yard was used as a transfer centre until 2001.

Starting in 1998, within the frameworks of an economic development project for rural areas financed by the EU, a number of ecotourism projects were developed. In February 2004 the factory was reopened as “Beauport Pays de la Canne (Centre de Culture Scientifique Technique et Industriel)” (http://www.beauportlepaysdelacanne.com/, open 09.00-17.00 daily except Mondays and public holidays, admission EUR 6,50/10,50 including train ride), a cultural and scientific centre owned by the Conseil Régional de la Guadeloupe. The site includes various displays on the history of sugar cane cultivation (including one on railways with a short video presentation), a research centre, a library, a children’s playground, three restaurants, a gift shop, a cane maze and a memorial to the people who worked at Beauport. The former bagasse shed now houses a railway exhibit with the following stock on display:

one Usine Darboussier Cail type 59 0-4-0T No. 1659/1868 (1460mm gauge) ;
two Usine de Beauport Brookville 6wDM diesel locos with Caterpillar DI3000 engines (1200mm gauge) ;
two Usine de Beauport Pétolat steel cane wagons (1200mm gauge) ;
one Usine de Beauport Gregg bogie steel flat wagon (1200mm gauge).

As part of the ecotourism project, a 7 km section of track to Trou-à-Sirop (Petit-Canal) was rebuilt after January 2000, with SNCF and SYSTRA providing technical expertise as well as rehabilitated used wooden sleepers. Two Guadeloupean team leaders were trained at an SNCF infrastructure school. As little original rolling stock was available on the island, SNCF advised the use of metre gauge to facilitate any future acquisitions of rolling stock.

Although a station has been built in the former rail yard north of Beauport, this has never been in use. Trains instead depart from a platform with a run-around loop next to the former bagasse shed within the museum complex. After leaving the complex the line crosses the D128 and another road at level and runs through canefields, passing through Gaschet (run-around loop), crossing the Ravine de Gaschet gully on a steel bridge, and ending at Poyen (km 5,5, run-around loop and station). The metre gauge track has been relaid further via Clugny all the way to Trou-à-Sirop (km 7) on the outskirts of Petit-Canal, but the missing level crossing with the N6 at Clugny means that this section was never put into service. Known as “Flech’kann”, the train operates 50 minute round trips departing at 11.00 and 15.00 Tuesdays-Sundays (except on public holidays).

The following metre gauge rolling stock is available for service- each of the types is illustrated in turn except for the flat car):

one SOCOFER type 324-3 4wDH diesel loco No. 681/2002 with Deutz engine;
three SOCOFER 40-seat four-wheel open passenger coaches (2002);
two ex-SNCF type 3M motor trolleys No. 023/2001 and 032/2002;
one ex-SNCF type 3M motor trolley No. 039/2002 (engine removed);
three ex-SNCF type 2P 12-seat passenger trailers No. 1-3/2002;
one ex-SNCF flat trailer, used for trackwork.

All of the ex-SNCF stock was obtained second-hand from Train Touristique Guîtres-Marcenais (TTGM) in 2000 and refurbished and regauged from standard gauge at the SNCF Equipment workshops in Brive in 2001/02. The rolling stock is stored and maintained in the factory’s old workshop and in the SOCADEG garage. A three-rail 1000/1200mm dual gauge section of track exists outside the SOCADEG garage. There are plans to also relay part of the northeastern line towards L’Anse-Bertrand. In the cane yard, a home-built four-seat rail pedal car sits on short section of metre gauge track.

The pictures below show first a cane pit and the depot at the mill, then two of the level crossings, the station at Poyen, a bridge near Cluny and the unused track towards Trou-à-Sirop.

Pictures of the train in action are available in the 2014 update.

The picture below shows a Usine Sainte-Marthe (Grande-Terre) 0-6-0T. It is one of a number of photos on display at the Musée du Rhum at Distillerie Reimonenq in Sainte-Rose (Basse-Terre).

Basse-Terre:

This part of the main islands is very mountainous and railways were only found in the more level northeast and southeast, the major ones being Usine Bonne Mêre in Le Boucan (SOM, 1000mm, 1863-1973), Usine Marquisat in Capesterre (SOM, 1884-1968) and Usine du Comté in Ste-Rose (see below). A projected tramway line between Basse-Terre and St-Claude, with the idea to later extend it all the way to Pointe-à-Pitre, was never realized.

Usine du Comté de Lohéac, Sainte-Rose:

After closure, both the plantation house and the sugar factory were turned into separate hotels. The first (Habitation du Comté) is still open, but the later, consisting of bungalows spread around the ruined factory buildings, is abandoned and for sale. A cabless 0-4-0T now known to be a 1930s Jung sits on a plinth in the parking lot at the entrance. http://www.steamlocomotive.info/vlocomotive.cfm?Display=20044 has it as ex-Marchand (a dealer or contractor) No. LV210, built in 1939, other sources show it as built in 1930. The urtica plants (related to the UK's stinging nettle..) covering it prevented a closer inspection. A stretch of 1000mm gauge track emerges from under the plinth and crosses the property towards the empty swimming pool. Much better pictures are available in the 2014 update.

Marie Galante:

Located southeast of Guadeloupe, Marie Galante had a number of sugar factories with narrow gauge railways. No remnants of these could be found during my visit.

Sources :

W. Rodney Long, “Railways of Central America and the West Indies”, Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, 1925;

Robert R. Darsley, “Caribbean Cane Tramways – (1) The Lesser Antilles”, in Industrial Railway Record No. 93, June 1982;

David Rollinson, “Railways of the Caribbean”, Oxford: MacMillan Caribbean, 2001;

“Beauport – Le Pays de la Canne” (guidebook), Le Moule, 2007.


Rob Dickinson

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