The International Steam Pages
The Railways of Surinam, 2014 - Suriname Landspoorweg
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,
He reports on his visit with Torsten Schneider to Surinam (Suriname), 9th - 22nd September 2014.
An earlier report on the railway is also available on this website.
The government has now (14tth November 2014) announced plans to build a 'new' railway to link Paramaribo, Onverwacht and the airport, see http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/infrastructure/single-view/view/suriname-railway-plan-announced.html.
The Suriname Landspoorweg (SL) was formerly known until 1950 as Koloniale Landsspoorwegen (KS):
The track was lightly-laid, with sand used as ballast. At Kabel, the line was interrupted by the Suriname River, so a cableway was built to connect both ends. This opened in 1911 and was replaced by a ferry in 1923.
The railway’s motive power consisted of:
The two Jung locos weighed only 6.69 tonnes and were so designed for use on the Kabel – Dam section, as they had to be taken apart for transportation across the river by cableway. The railway also had a four-wheel steam crane.
A significant traffic for the railway until 1959 was aviation fuel in tank cars from the port at Paramaribo to the international airport at Zanderij. The railway had a fleet of one hundred bogie tank cars for this traffic. A worrying thought, especially with the trains being hauled by wood-fired steam locomotives.
The early 1950s saw an attempt to modernize the railway with the introduction of diesel railcars. No. 1 was US-built and still in use in 1961, but decommissioned by 1974. No. 2 to 4 were three three-car DMUs built by LHB/Büssing in Germany in 1954 and made up of a railcar (160 hp) with 1st and 2nd class compartments (14/26 seats), a 3rd class intermediate trailer (56 seats) and a composite 3rd class and baggage trailer (31 seats and 3 tonnes capacity). No. 5 “Ethel” and 6 “Lucia” were two four-wheel inspection railcars built or converted by the railway in the 1940s, while No. 11 and 12 were motor trolleys.
The section from Paramaribo to Beekhuizen, the site of the railway’s workshops and pier, and which included a swing bridge, was closed on 2nd October 1957, followed by the section from Beekhuizen to Onverwacht on 16th September 1961. A small open-sided shed was built at Onverwacht to maintain the rolling stock. From then on, passengers would first travel by bus to Onverwacht and change to the train.
At the other end, the section from Kabel to Dam was already closed in 1930, but the track was left in place and it reopened during World War II. In 1959, locals were still using trolleys to get around on that section. In the mid-1960s however, most of the area south of Brownsweg was flooded following the construction of the Brokopondo Dam. The section from Brownsweg to Kabel closed on 10th April.1964.
From then on, the 86 km section between Onverwacht and Brownsweg remained in use mainly to serve the small village of Kwakoegron, a gateway to the gold mining camps up the Saramacca River, and the Dutch military camp at Brownsweg. In May 1986, twice weekly trains still operated to Kwakoegron to the following schedule: Mo/Fr Onverwacht 08.00 – Kwakoegron 11.00/14.00 – Onverwacht 17.30. Shortly thereafter, the railway was closed (by 1988). Between 1994 and 1996, an attempt to turn it into a tourist railway was not successful. After that, the track remained in place and the surviving locos and rolling stock were stored at Onverwacht, where the small station building was still manned in May 2010.
Around 2012 however, the present (Bouterse) government scrapped almost everything that was left of the railway, which included all of the track between Onverwacht and Brownsweg and most of the rolling stock stored at Onverwacht.
In Onverwacht (km 29.5), except for PARA (B&R 300/1916) with two wooden coaches, the station grounds have been cleared and are being prepared for a new housing scheme. The loco and coaches have been repainted on one side (as visible from the road), but still have their old paint scheme on the other side. PARA was the last steam loco in use on the railway. The coaches were two of a dozen built in Belgium by Metallurgique for the railway between 1905 and 1912, with another four later rebuilt from flatcars.
Across the road in a small park, DAM (Krauss 6074/1908) is plinthed in front of the District Commissioner’s office.
Onverwacht is the capital of Para District and in view of their heritage, they have adopted a 2-4-2 steam loco as their emblem. This is displayed on official signs, on official vehicles and on bus shelters, such as the one at Republiek. Just south of Onverwacht station, a steel bridge survives.
At Republiek (km 41), we found a length of track embedded into the pavement, as well as the station sign.
At Kwakoegron (km 79.5), a 45 minute drive from Zanderij over unpaved roads, we found the only surviving station building as well as the water tower. Part of the building is inhabited by two elderly ladies. In 1907 a tax on gold came into force requiring the gold industry to contribute to the exploitation costs of the colonial railway. Given that all the gold mining camps served by the railway lay beyond Kwakugroen, a central checkpoint (“visitatiekamer”) was set up at the station. Kwakoegron is still a gateway to the gold miners' camps up the Saramacca River today.
At Brownsweg (km 116.5), I followed the line where it has been turned into an unpaved road for a couple of km towards Onverwacht to access a new cemetery. Beyond that, only the wooden sleepers are left on the right-of-way. At the station site, below the Dutch Army camp now used by Nationaal Leger, all I could find were two cut up Metallurgique frames and four bogies.
PS: It is ironic that no other locomotives were preserved, especially in view of the fact that a couple of years later (on 1st August, 2014) the same (Bouterse) government had half the Nationaal Leger’s’ (National Army) armoured fleet (two Dutch 1980 DAF YP408, two Brazilian 1985 EE-9 Cascavel and eight Brazilian 1985 EE-11 Urutu) plinthed as a memorial outside Ayoko Kazerne near the International Airport at Zanderij. An older armoured car from the Dutch colonial period is preserved at Fort Nieuw Amsterdam in Commewijne District.