Rail transport in Haiti

Rail transport in Haiti

The capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, has had two urban railroad eras: a horsecar network between 1878 and 1888, and a second system which started with steam locomotives in 1897 and ended with internal combustion engines in 1932. There have also been three rural lines to north, east and west from Port-au-Prince and four plantation tracks in northern Haiti near Cap-Haïtien, Terrier Rouge and Fort Liberte in the early 1900s.

Tramways and street railroads

First tramway era 1878 - 1888, Port-au-Prince

The first franchise for the construction of a street railroad was awarded in 1876 to a group of New York financiers, who founded the "Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Port-au-Prince" (CCFPP). The CCFPP ordered six open cars from the J. G. Brill Co. in Philadelphia, USA in October 1877 and inaugurated a tramway service on 17 January 1878. The first line, which connected Croix des Bossales with the Champ de Mars, was probably the first railroad in the country.

The tramway was a great success and in the following weeks CCFPP purchased four more cars from Brill and opened another line on the Grand-Rue. Unfortunately, construction of the line was mediocre, derailments were frequent, maintenance of the cars was nonexistent and omnibus competition began in 1880. The CCFPP went bankrupt in 1885 and the last tram of Port-au-Prince's first tramway ran in April 1888.

Second tramway era 1897-1932, Port-au-Prince

In 1896 the "Comité des Négociants d'Haïti" began the restoration of the former tramway system which was to be powered by steam locomotives. The second tramway was a more ambitious and complex affair, with investment from Haiti, the USA, Belgium and Germany.

The new "Société des Tramways de Port-au-Prince" (STPP) ordered an 8-ton locomotive from "H. K. Porter, Inc" in Pittsburgh, USA, five 12-ton locomotives from "Lokomotivfabrik Krauss" in München, Germany, and three locomotives (of unknown power) from "Ateliers de Tubize" near Brussels, Belgium. It also ordered ten open passenger cars from "Jackson & Sharp Co." in Wilmington, USA – all with eight benches, larger than the Brill cars of 1878, which had disappeared.

On 18 April 1897 the STPP inaugurated the first line of its 762 mm gauge steam tramway system, from "Portail St-Joseph" along "Rue du Quai" and "Rue des Miracles" to the tramway depot at "Champ de Mars", and thence to "Rue des Casernes". The second line on the "Grand-Rue", from "Portail St-Joseph" to the "Cimetière" (Cemetery), entered service a week later. In its first six months of operation the tramway carried 250,000 passengers.

In 1901 the STPP was bought by the "Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac" (CCFPCS) which was operating rural lines at the time.

After the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, the "Haitian American Sugar Company" (Hasco) acquired the CCFPCS and renamed it "Chemin de Fer Central" or "Central Railroad" (CR). Between 1912 and 1918 the steam tramway company proposed electrification several times, at least of its urban lines, but made no progress in the plan. Hasco attempted improvements like the enclosure of the locomotives for instance.

But the rails and rolling stock were aging and there was new bus competition. An old picture showing a view of "Rue du Quai" in the 1910s shows a train full of passengers, but the same view ten years later shows only a tiny tram almost empty – and automobiles, which had been absent in all preceding illustrations. Between 1912 and 1922 the revenues of the CR (formerly CCFPCS) dropped 64%, from $94,000 to $34,000.

The tramway of Port-au-Prince disappeared completely in 1932. Its rolling stock was probably transferred to coffee or sugar plantations in northern Haiti, where it was probably used until the 1990's.

Rural railroads

La Plaine du Cul-de-Sac 1896-1950's(?)

In 1896 when the "Comité des Négociants d'Haïti" (CNH) began the restoration of the former tramway system, they also started the construction of two new rural lines starting from Port-au-Prince. One to Léogâne, which was located on the bay coast 36 km to the west and another to Manneville, which was located inland 43 km to the east. The CNH was an investment from Haiti, the USA, Belgium and Germany. Available sources suggest the CNH was not an operator, but was only in charge of rebuilding the track (?).

The "Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac" (CCFPCS) had their main office [ [http://www.pearcedale.com/c&b/DL.html Thirty inch lines D to L ] ] at Port-au-Prince where there they operated the new rural lines to Léogâne and to Manneville. The line to Manneville included at least four braches, one south to Croix des Bouquets. For its rural lines, the CCFPCS imported 25-ton steam locomotives and large double-truck passenger cars. The interurban trains shared the streets with the urban vehicles. Its track gauge, like that of the STPP lines, was 762 mm and the two companies shared their rolling stock. In 1901 the CCFPCS purchased the STTP, which was a tramway operator in Port-au-Prince at the time.

In 1910, the German community in Haiti had grown strong and they controlled about 80 percent of the country's international commerce and also operated the tramway in Port-au-Prince and a railroad serving the Plaine de Cul-du-Sac (CCFPCS ?)

Topographic maps of the 1950s suggest, but do not indicate clearly, that the "Compagnie Nationale des Chemins de Fer d'Haïti" may have taken over the rural lines of the CCFPCS.

Note: The "Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac" (CCFPCS) is sometimes abbreviated in the French language as "Cie. des C.F. de La Plaine du Cul-de-Sac". It means "Dead End Plain Railroad".

Saint-Marc 1905-1960's(?)

In 1905, the new "Compagnie Nationale" (Compagnie de Fer Nationale? / CFN?) or "National Railroad" built 100km of steam track north from Port-au-Prince to Saint-Marc, which was later extended another (approx.) 30km to Verrettes (by SHADA ?). Its track gauge was 1067 mm, wider than that of the CCFPCS.

In August 1941, the Societe Haitiano-Americaine de Developpement Agricole (SHADA) was established and its stock was 100% owned by the Haitian government. In August 1942, SHADA began planting sisal at Cap-Haitien. SHADA bought a sisal plantation at Saint-Marc and began to expand it. SHADA bought the railroad at Cap-Haitien in order to transport sisal in the north Haitian plain. SHADA helped to repair the Haitian National Railroad from Port-au-Prince to Saint-Marc in order to service the Saint-Marc sisal plantations. [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/leftover/rubber.htm Haitian Rubber Timeline (1903-1945)]

No known history from 1944 to the demise of the railroad (around 1960s).

The story of the demise of the railroad is that it was sold and physically picked up, put on ships and sent off to Asia during the Papa Doc period (approx 1957-1971).

Gonaives-Ennery (early 1900s)

Yet another rural railroad in Haiti was built sometime in early 1900s from Gonaives to Ennery, which was about 30km E/NE up into a valley. Walter Posner mentioned the Gonaives railroad on his book [American marines in Haiti, 1915-1922, Walter Posner *] claiming that "Rudolphe Gardere, a Haitian, had received a contract to build a railroad from Gonaives to Hinche in July, 1904." The railroad from Gonaives to Ennery was built sometime between 1904 and 1920, because it was shown on a Haitian railroad map in 1920 [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/bookreviews/michel.htm Charlemagne Peralte and the first American occupation of Haiti, George Michel (1996)] .

It's currently unknown if the Gonaives railroad ever reached its full length to Hinche, which would had been about 70km furthermore from Ennery. Also there is not much known about the Gonaives railroad overall, but at least one picture [http://www.antanlontan-antilles.com/haiti-18.htm Haïti : Chemin de fer à Gonaives] remains. The end and disappearance of this railroad is unknown as well.

Plantation Railroads

Little is known about the plantation railroad at the northern coast of Haiti, but some information can be found from maps (see below). Also read above under "Second rural railroad era".

Panama Railroad Company

The Panama Railroad Company (Panama line), which often is mis-related to be a railroad company in Port-au-Prince, is actually an owner of (owned by?) a railroad in Panama and a shipline with three steam ocean liners that travelled between New York (USA), Port-au-Prince, and Cristóbal, Panama. Some old documents and for instance, an envelope, shows the text "Panama Railroad Co, Port-au-Prince, Haiti" only because the company had facilities in Port-au-Prince and their ocean liners stopped there. It has not had any known railroad operations in Haiti.

Haitian railroads on maps

outh from Cap-Haïtien

outh from Cap-Haïtien

An FAA flight map of Haiti shows former railroad track (perhaps mostly just roadbeds) from Cap-Haïtien down south to Grande-Riviere-du-Nord (about 20 km). In Rear Admiral William B. Caperton's "History of Flag Career", [U.S. Navy (1919) "History of flag career of Rear Admiral W.B. Caperton, U.S. Navy, commencing January 5, 1915." U.S. Navy, Washington, DC [http://worldcat.org/oclc/12279314 OCLC 12279314] ] he states that some of his staff had been ordered to accompany Mr. Woolard (the manager of the railroad at Cap-Haitien) in a tour to inspect the tracks as far as the train could go. This took place on 23 July 1915. They were able to go as far as five miles past Bahon. At this point they were at least 40 km's inland and as far as documentation shows, the tracks kept going. A thick jungle had grown over the track during three months of disuse which prevented them from going any further.

Near Terrier Rouge

Haitian Agricultural Corporation plantation
Multiple maps, including FAA flight maps, show railroad track including one branch E/NE from "Terrier Rouge" on the west side of Riviere Trou du Nord. It begins from the coastal town of "Boue" (east of "Caracol") at "Baie de Caracol" (Caracol bay). After going south about 4 km, it turns SW crossing fields and a road 121. A mile before it ends it turns towards west. A branch splits about 3 miles from "Boue" and goes west near Riviere Trou du Nord and curves south a mile before it ends. Available maps suggests track being not connected to other railroads and it was most likely a plantation track taking crops to the coastline. Total length shown from available maps is around 12km.

West Bay Plantation
There is another railroad track shown on same maps at N/E from Terrier Rouge around the town of "Phaeton" with multiple branches. Track passes the village of "Degal" and two of the south branches crosses the road 121. Its west branch ends at the village of "Majonas" and north branch to the coastline. Another branch goes east near to the "Baie de Mancenille". The total length is about 40km and it has been a plantation track originally built by "La Plantation Dauphin, S.A."(Dauphin Plantation [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/dauphin/dauphin.htm Dauphin Plantation] ) sometime between 1929 and 1944.

East Bay Plantation
Yet another railroad track can be found from the same maps on the North East corner of Haiti. Its mainline, which passes the former (abandoned 1943) Haitian American block/village of "Angot" (Bouque), splits on two South legs which both crosses the road 121. About 4km North of Angot where the main line curves west, a branch splits going first North, then turning towards East. About 2 km after the split there's another split going North to coast. Mainline continues about 5km and ends. The total length is about 25km and it has been a plantation track, originally built by "La Plantation Dauphin, S.A."(Dauphin Plantation [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/dauphin/dauphin.htm Dauphin Plantation] ) in 1944.

North from Port-au-Prince

Old US Army maps, which are drawn on top of a satellite picture, show two railroads side by side in a basin at Hasco. Today Hasco has been grown seamlessly into Port-au-Prince, but in the old maps it can be found between Port-au-Prince and the Port-au-Prince International Airport.

The "Compagnie des Chemin de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac" (CCFPCS) begins at Hasco and passes the city of Duvivier towards the mountains. At this long stretch of a straight track, one side track can be found on some of the maps, going towards the coast and then turning North. After about 10km from Hasco the main track makes a 90 degree turn towards the E/NE and continues mainly between the road #100 and the coastline.

There are two different variations found from maps; Some shows that the track follows the coastline all the way on its way to the Saint-Marc around the Mont Rouis and making a long round curve at the tip of the Pointe de Saint-Marc. Others shows that the track turns off the coast at Pointe de Montrouis and cuts through the valley on the east side of Mount Rouis and alongside of the road #100. Both variations end to the Saint-Marc.

From Saint-Marc the track continues alongside the road #100 turning slowly east. From Lafonde (or Pont Sonde) it continues between the road #109 and the river thru the valley to its end at the Verrettes.

East from Gonaives

According to Bob Corbett's book review, there is at least one map from 1920s on George Michel's book [ [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/bookreviews/michel.htm Charlemagne Peralte and the first American occupation of Haiti] , George Michel (1996)] showing the railroad from Gonaives towards E/NE to Ennery.

Haitian railroads today

Total known railroad

40 km single track, privately owned industrial line. 760mm (762mm?) gauge. Closed in early 1990s. [http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps35389/2000/railways.html CIA -- The World Fact Book 2000]


* Short pieces of track near Port-au-Prince International Airport (2003) and Harbor (1997), also at Leogane (1997)
* Roadbeds can still be found at many places (2001)
* At least two rail cars has been found [http://www.lyalls.net/haiti/rroad.html Searching for the Railroad in Haiti] at village (Ravine Seche?) (2001), which has been built upon the remains of a rail switching yard
* Bridges made of rail tracks, axles, rails and other railroad related items can be laying on ground in some places [http://www.lyalls.net/haiti/rroad.html Searching for the Railroad in Haiti]


*) The credibility of this reference has not been checked yet

Further reading


* [http://www.tramz.com/ht/ppe.html The Tramways of Haiti]
* [http://www.lyalls.net/haiti/rroad.html Searching for the Rail Road in Haiti]
* [http://www.webster.edu/~corbetre/haiti/misctopic/leftover/rubber.htm Haitian rubber timeline 1903-1945]
* [http://www.fallingrain.com/world/HA/index.html Directory of Cities, Towns, and Regions in Haiti]
* [http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/haiti_cap.htm History of Flag Career of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, US Navy, Commencing January 5, 1915.]
* [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1995/BPL.htm Foundations On Sand: An Analysis Of The First United States Occupation Of Haiti 1915-1934]
* [http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps35389/2000/railways.html CIA -- The World Fact Book 2000]
* [http://www.pearcedale.com/c&b/DL.html#hait World wide 30inch gauge railroads]
* [http://www.haitiinnovation.org/node/365 Haiti Innovation]

Other resources, documents and printed material

*Webster: "Haitian rubber timeline"
*Soy Devoid: "Searching for the Railroad in Haiti"
*Georges Michel: "Les chemins de fer de l'Ile d'Haïti"
*Allen Morrison: "The Tramways of Haiti"
*Caperton, William B.: "History of Flag Career of Rear Admiral William B. Caperton, US Navy, Commencing January 5, 1915" (Records Administration, Washington, DC)
*Robert Debs Heinl, Nancy Gordon Heinl: "Written in Blood" (University Press of America; Revised edition of March 26, 1996)

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