The Bermuda Railway

The Bermuda Railway was the only railroad line built on the Island of Bermuda, entering service in 1931 along a 21.7 mile route between Somerset, on the island's west end to its east end at St. Georges. (Right of way). Despite its relatively short length, it ran across the entire island nation, and took five years to complete, as construction had begun on the line in 1926.

Like many of the short line railroads we discuss on this site, it was not long for this world, but given the remoteness of Bermuda, and the fact that for a long time, this was the only method of transport on the island, it is still a unique part of railway history. 

It was initially built as the most expensive railway per mile, adjusted for inflation into 1931 US Dollars.

Image: Bermuda Railway car via BerNews

In addition to its huge construction expense, like many island railroads, maintenance and construction proved quite costly, but as automobiles were banned from the island, much like Mackinac Island, the railroad enjoyed success amid a lack of competition, albeit briefly. 

The railway was a favorite of vacationers to the island, and certainly helped aid in tourism during its brief run.

Bermdua Railway trestle observed by vacationers, 1946. (Ber News)

The line was extensively used by US and British forces in World War II, but after the war, automobiles were allowed on the island, and the fortunes of the line quickly dried up. The railroad was abandoned in 1946, in favor of bus service between St. Georges and Somerset Village.

Ber News tells the story of the line's rapid decline quite well. "“As World War II drew to a close, the Bermuda Railway faced a bleak future,” transportation historian Simon Horn has said in his comprehensive study of the Bermuda Railway. “Since opening in 1931 it had never made money and, as the years passed, was increasingly unable even to break even. The war had left the railway in a still worse situation, following six years of greatly increased traffic combined with barely any maintenance. Severe structural problems had been discovered in the line’s many bridges and trestles and, as well, large numbers of sleepers needed replacing.”

Steam engine ruins of an old Baldwin locomotive. (Bermuda Online)

"In 1945, the Commission on Public Transport presented a report to the Bermuda government. Its figures showed that, between 1932 and 1944, the Railway’s operating profits ranged from a low of £4,430 in 1935 to a high of £42,495 in 1942, the peak traffic year of the War. But this was without even considering depreciation of equipment or buildings. As for the debt load, nothing was ever paid on investor capital; by the end some £400,000 was owing in unpaid interest.

“The company quickly petitioned the Bermuda Government to buy them out, which it did for some £115,000 under the Railway Purchase Act of January 26, 1946,” said Mr. Horn. “The Government appointed the railway’s chief engineer, Harold Kitchen, to head the now publicly owned company." (BerNews)

After the Bermuda Railway was abandoned, laws against using automobiles on the island were greatly relaxed, and as in other parts of the world, became the predominant form of transport.

While much of the right of way remains today, some ruins of the former track are still visible.

"Railway Bridge, Crawl, Hamilton Parish, taken from the coastal path once the route of the railway" (Bermuda-Online)

In 1984, much of the right of way was converted into the Bermuda Railway Trail, and a museum opened in one of the former stations; sadly however, this museum closed in 2011. At least until the Great American Rail Trail is completed, this is probably one of the only, if not the only, Rails to Trails projects to span an entire country!

Map of the Bermuda Railway via Bermuda Stamps. The Bermuda Trail follows a similar, but not exact, track of the right of way.

Thanks as always for reading!


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