The International Steam Pages


The Railways of Martinique 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:


Public Railways:

A projected public railway network of three lines from Fort-de-France via Le Lamentin to Le Marin (south), Le Vauclin (Atlantic coast) and Macouba (north) was never realized.

The city of Saint-Pierre on the island’s north Caribbean coast had a narrow gauge mule tram connecting Place du Mouillage in the center of town with the northern suburb of Quartier du Fort and Usine Guérin on the Blanche river. It was destroyed together with the whole city by the eruption of Mount Pelée volcano in 1902.

Sugar Cane Railways:

From the 1870s, when small independent sugar estates were replaced by central sugar factories, until the early 1970s, when most of these factories were closed, over 300 km of railway were used to transport cut sugar cane from the fields to the factories in Martinique, serving mostly the island’s southern part, as well as the northern Atlantic coastal areas. At least 20 sugar factories are known to have had railways, with a wide range of unusual gauges from 780, 1000, 1050, 1160, 1167, 1170, 1200, 1210, 1270 to 1280 mm. In addition on the Caribbean coast northwest of Fort-de-France, where the terrain in the sugar plantations was too steep for railways, the distilleries often had short railways from the factories to the piers, where the products were loaded onto lighters. These lines were however only worked by animal and manpower.

The great majority of steam locomotives in use on the island were built by Corpet (later Corpet-Louvet), with 47 units delivered between 1870 and 1931. Only a few locos were built by other makers (Cail, Decauville, Vulcan I.W.). After WWII, U.S. diesel locos obtained under the Marshall Plan replaced the steam locos. These were built by Brookville, Davenport (100-150 h.p.) and Whitcomb (40-60 h.p.).

By the early 1970s the railways closed, either because the sugar factories had closed or because they replaced the trains with tractor-trailers. Today, apart from the museum railway at St-Marie, very little remains of them.

Le Train des Plantations, Les Rails de la Canne à Sucre (RCS), Musée du Rhum Saint James, D234, 97230 Sainte-Marie:

http://www.rhum-saintjames.com/fr/saint-james.html

http://www.martiniquetourisme.com/Organisez/Histoire-et-Culture/Distilleries/Distillerie-Saint-James (link dead by 25th August 2015)

This society was founded in 1997 by Serge Laforce, a former member of APPEVA, with the objective to rebuild a railway between the Rhum Museum at Distillerie Saint James and the Banana Museum, using the trackbed of one of Usine Sainte-Marie’s (USM) former plantation lines.

USM, which opened in 1872, started using a railway two years later and the network eventually reached 17 km, to which an additional 5,5 km were added when USM absorbed Usine Saint-Jacques’ network. The following locos are known to have been used:

  • Corpet 5t 0-4-0T 186/1873;
  • Corpet 7t 0-6-0T 738/1898;
  • Corpet 7.5t 0-6-0T 1061/1905;
  • Corpet-Louvet 10t 0-6-0T 1626/1923;
  • Corpet-Louvet 11t 0-6-0T 1701/1925, named “Trinité” (preserved);
  • “Délivrance” (1944 ex Usine Vauclin);

After WWII, USM obtained at least one Whitcomb, one Brookville and two Davenport diesel locos. The railway was closed after being damaged by Hurricane Dorothy in 1970.

USM’s original gauge of 1168mm was chosen by RCS to rebuild the railway and Laforce insisted that everything should be done as closely as possible to the original. The first section of line to the 1st loop was opened in 2002, sadly shortly after Laforce had passed away. The rest of the line to Fourniols, which totals 2.8 km, was reopened in stages until 2008. From its covered station next to the rum museum, which also houses plinthed 0-6-0T “Trinité”, the line first runs through a three-track shunting yard (“Gare de Triage”) with an inspection pit and a small crane. It then crosses the Cerise stream on a steel bridge donated by the French Army and runs through cane fields to a disused run-around loop at km 1.3, just before a level crossing. After crossing the D24, it enters a valley where it crosses a stream on another steel bridge. After reaching a 2nd and uncompleted run-around loop it crosses a small concrete bridge, which is also used to access a private property, and ends just a couple of hundred metres short of the Musée de la Banane at Fourniols. The banana museum was supposed to finance construction of the last stretch of track into the museum as well as a station, but ran into financial difficulties at the time and that last section was never completed. On the grounds of the banana museum are the remains of three railway bridges, two of which has been turned into footbridges. On its way to Fourniols the locomotive propels its train.

Apart from the steam locomotive, which survived because it had been plinthed at USM and is now listed as an Historical Monument, RCS was able to preserve the following locos and stock:

  • a six-wheel Davenport diesel loco RCS No. 10 “Moïse” from 1946. This loco survived because after closure it was buried instead of being scrapped like the rest of the equipment. When it was retrieved its frames could be reused, but it needed a new body and was fitted with a 116 h.p. Deutz diesel engine. It is currently RCS’s only operational loco;
  • a four-wheel Whitcomb diesel loco (model 5DM 26A, No. 40475). RCS years ago bought an engine in France to fit to the loco, but then no spares could be found for it. Distillerie Saint James has now donated another engine, which needs to be refurbished and will then be fitted to the loco, so that it can be used on stand-by;
  • two 40-seat four-wheel open coaches, built by GIRAGR in France in 2000 (model 520, No. 520/118 and 520/119);
  • a locally-built 40-seat four-wheel open coach;
  • a locally-built covered van No. F-A1F;
  • an open wagon equipped with a small crane/winch;
  • a tank wagon for weed spraying;
  • three open cane wagons, of which two are replicas built for a movie;
  • two lorries for transporting rails.

The train is run entirely by volunteers and operates 30-45 min. roundtrips on Tu/Th 09.30-13.30 and Sa 14.00-16.00 (the rum museum is open daily 09.00-17.00). The fare is EUR 5,00.

Habitation Gaigneron, D3, Le Lamentin:

On display at this private property very close to Fort-de-France’s international airport are three US-built diesel locos with some cane wagons. Habitation Gaigneron provided cane for nearby Usine Lareinty (now a commercial zone opposite the airport), which had a 1280mm gauge railway from 1873/74 serving the cane fields in the Lamentin plain. The locos on display are:

  • four-wheel Deutz (probably Type PMZ230 F No. 9525 or 9526/1929, new to M.M. Bickert Frêres, Paris-Martinique) with Caterpillar engine, with three open cane wagons (not a four-wheel Brookville with Caterpillar engine as suggested by other sources).
  • a four-wheel Whitcomb with two open cane wagons;
  • a four-wheel Whitcomb (model 8DM66 No. 40572) with a single open cane wagon;

 

Habitation Clément, Domaine de l’Acajou, D6, 97240 Le François:

http://www.habitation-clement.fr/ and http://www.rhum-clement.com/fr/

The former sugar factory and distillery, active as Usine du François from 1917 to 1998, was never served by a railway. It was opened to the public as a museum in 2005 (open daily 09.00-18.00, admission Eur. 12). There are two ex-Lareinty diesel locos on display here:

  • a small four-wheel Whitcomb (model 5DM66 No. 40565) with four open cane wagons, on display inside the property;
  • a larger four-wheel Whitcomb (model 8DM66 No. 40x4x) with one open cane wagon, on display by the road at the entrance to the property.

Distillerie Simon, N6, Le Simon, 97240 Le François:

This modern distillery produces Saint-Etienne, Clément and Monna rums. It used to have a railway network serving the cane fields west of the factory. On display outside the factory are the remains of two 1200mm gauge Whitcomb four-wheel diesel locos, one the frame and axles with the engine and cab, the other only the frame and axles, as well as a single wagon axle.

Maison de la Canne, route des Trois-Ilets (D7), Pointe Vatable, 97229 Les Trois Ilets:

http://www.accueil-martinique.fr/FR/visite-maison-de-la-canne-_9335.html

Martinique’s sugar cane museum is housed in the former Distillerie Vatable and opened in 1987 (open Tu-Th 08.30-17.30, Fr/Sa 08.30-17.00, Su 09.00-17.00, admission EUR 3,00). An exhibit on Martinique’s railways was held here from July 2004 to July 2005 and the information panels are still on display. A brochure was published for the occasion (see sources below) and is on sale here while stocks last. Two locos are on display in the museum’s grounds:

  • a four-wheel Whitcomb diesel loco, ex-Usine Lareinty (covered in plastic and under restoration at the time of my visit);
  • a standard gauge 0-6-0T that was obtained from Usine Darboussier in Guadeloupe. The museum claims that it was built by Corpet-Louvet.

Distillerie Trois Rivières, D7, Quartier Trois-Rivières, 97228 Sainte-Luce:

http://www.rhumdemartinique.com/troisrivieres/

This former distillery opened as a sugar factory in 1894. A railway served the canefields to the north. After sugar production ended the distillery continued producing rum until 2003, when the distilling equipment was moved to Distillerie La Mauny in Rivière Pilote. Since then it has become a museum and is open Mo-Fr 09.00-17.30, Sa 09.00-13.00 (a guided tour costs EUR 2,50). On display near the entrance are the remains of a 1167mm gauge Corpet-Louvet 0-6-0T with Brown gear. It is probably the loco shown on a picture dumped in the Pilote river at Distillerie La Mauny. One source gives it as CL 1665/1925, which was a 1167mm gauge 7-ton 0-6-0T delivered new to Usine du Galion in La Trinité. For an explanation of the Brown gear see http://www.irsociety.co.uk/Archives/27/CL_2.htm and http://www.irsociety.co.uk/Archives/60/Letters_60.htm#SLM, this is the system that is used on a number of Swiss rack locomotives.

Other discoveries

Single wagon axles were found both at Distillerie La Favorite in Le Lamentin, which was served by a railway (left), and at Distillerie Neisson in Le Carbet, which is not known to ever have had any rail service (right).

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;

“Quand la Canne partait en Train… - Mémoire d’hommes et d’usines”, Fort-de-France: Service des Musées Régionaux, 2004.


Rob Dickinson

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