The Tramways of

as seen on the postcards in the collection of

Allen Morrison

Of the many islands in the Caribbean only four – Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic) – have passenger-carrying railways today. There were railways on other islands in the past, but only four – Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad – had electric lines. Animal-drawn tramways were also rare in the Caribbean, in contrast to, say, Mexico across the way, which had hundreds. There was an unusual situation in Barbados, where residents petitioned the government in 1851 (!) to build an island-wide network of horsedrawn rail lines. The government expressed interest but estimated cost at £5,000 per mile (a huge sum at that time), and no rails were laid for three decades. Eventually Barbados's capital, Bridgetown, had the largest, longest-running and most colorful horsecar network in the Caribbean Sea.

Barbados is a kidney-shaped island about 14 miles wide and 21 miles long, with a population today of about 1/4 million [see map]. It is the easternmost island in the West Indies and was a colony of Great Britain until 1966 [see below]. Barbados is the second most densely populated country in the Americas (after Bermuda) and claims a literacy rate of 99%, the highest in the hemisphere (only 91% of U.S. citizens can read). Principal industries are sugar and tourism. Its west coast is lined with opulent villas, golf courses and resort hotels.

Barbados Railway opened a steam line from Bridgetown to Carrington in 1881 [see map]. It reached its terminus at St. Andrew on the Atlantic coast in 1885. An engineer named A. Fairlie acquired permission to build a street railway in Bridgetown and registered Barbados Tramway Company on 5 December 1882. BTC inaugurated the first 2 miles of its St. Lawrence tram line, as far as Hastings Rocks, on 5 December 1885. The postcard view below shows two trams on this line. The photographer was looking south over Chamberlain Bridge toward Bay Street. The strip of land in the distance is Needham Point:

The second postcard view is looking north, in the opposite direction, across the same bridge. Those are the Parliament buildings [see map]. Bay Street was behind the photographer. The first postcard view was probably taken from that clocktower. Track gauge of the Bridgetown tramway is unknown:

The third view is east. Chamberlain Bridge is out of sight on the right [see map]. These trams are on the Fontabelle, Belleville, Black Rock or Roebuck lines. The Barbados Railway station was across the river in the distance:

Trams on the St. Lawrence line terminated at this stub track next to the statue of Lord Nelson (erected in 1813, 27 years before Nelson's Column in London). Trams on other routes passed on the right or alongside the park in the distance. Unlike most transport systems, the Bridgetown tramway did not pass the railway station [see map]. Instead of numbers Bridgetown trams had names – ALERT, ACTIVE, JUBILEE et al. A list of names has not been found:

Two trams at Hastings Rocks, about midway on the 4-mile-long St. Lawrence line [see map]. When this photograph was taken the line may have terminated here – either before it was extended or after the extension had closed. The names on the trams seen on most postcards are unfortunately illegible:

This is a view west down Broad Street, used by trams on the Fontabelle and Black Rock routes [see map]. Barbados Tramway Company eventually operated 25 tramcars on five lines, extending along 10 miles of track:

The next postcard shows a tram named "JUBILEE" turning from Pine Road onto Belmont Road on the Belleville line [see map]. The view is south:

Another view of Pine Road in "Belloville", but now with utility poles along the east side. Note also the taller palm trees and a different house on the right. This postcard was mailed in 1920, but was probably published much earlier:

The first gasoline-powered buses started carrying passengers on Bridgetown streets in 1907 and there were several bus companies by 1908. In December 1910 the tramway operation was sold to U.S. investors and renamed Bridgetown Tramway Company. The Americans planned extensions north to Speightstown and south to Oistins Town [see map]; but the extensions were never built. The unnamed tram shown on the postcard below is signed BLACK ROCK:

A typical scene at Trafalgar Square. The round shuttered building in the background is also visible in other views on this page:

The U.S. Navy contributed its share of postcard views. The name on the front of this tram is illegible – "- S - OR" – ASTOR? – but the destination board on the roof clearly says BLACK ROCK [see map]. There is another tram in the distance. The picture seems to have been taken at Trafalgar Square:

Not all shore leaves were formal. These sailors did not need a charter:

The mediocre quality of this image reveals a one-of-a-kind "photo card" made with a pocket camera. These guys do not seem to be having a lot of fun [col. AM]:

This detail of another postcard shows the tram design well. The builder of Bridgetown's trams is unknown. The author has never before seen a tram like this with perfectly round brass hoops on each post:

Sailors were not the only people in "Barbodoes" who liked to horse around on the horsecars. The film "The Mysterious Mr. Browning" was produced in 1918, so this photograph was taken that year or later. Note the open-sided buses at the curb:

The photographic quality of the next view is mediocre, but it was used as a model for the painting shown below it. Many details are the same, but the woman boarding the tram has been replaced by a man, and the policeman and urchin with a basket were replaced by a woman. The horses have been turned around and the word ACTIVE (?) on the rear of the car was changed to ALERT:

The Bridgetown tramway system ceased operation on either the last day of July 1925 (according to a local author) or on 21 September 1925 (according to a U.S. Commerce Report: see BIBLIOGRAPHY, below). The same horsetrams had run for 40 years. The system was never electrified. The Barbados steam railway closed in 1937, and as far as is known there have been no rail operations on the island since that time. The British granted internal autonomy to Barbados in 1961 and it became a sovereign state in 1966. The postage stamp below was issued on 13 January 1981:



(in order of publication)

Frederick A. Ober. A Guide to the West Indies. New York, 1908. Brief description of tram operation, p. 415.

Barbados Improvements Association. Tourist's Guide to Barbados. Bridgetown, 1913. Detailed description of each tram route, pp. 9-10.

Edward Goulburn Sinckler. Barbados Handbook. London, 1913. "Barbados Tramway Information", pp. 160-163. List of fares for each tram route and timetable of the "Legislative Cars" (?) on the St. Lawrence line.

Algernon Aspinall. The Pocket Guide to the West Indies [515 pages]. New York, 1923. Nice description of the steam railway, pp. 77-78, a fold-out map that shows it, pp. 72-73, and a good street map of Bridgetown, pp. 80-81. But the author makes only brief references to the city's trams.

United States. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. Commerce Reports, 19 October 1925. A paragraph entitled "Tramway Service Discontinued in Barbados" on p. 158 states that Bridgetown Tramways Co. ceased operations on 21 September 1925.

Warren Alleyne. Historic Bridgetown. Bridgetown, 1978. The tramway history on pp. 80-81 says that tramway service ended 31 July 1925.



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