South America's First Railway: The Demerara-Berbice Railway

The Demerara-Berbice Railway was the first railroad built in both Guyana, and the continent of South America, beginning service in 1848. It connected Georgetown with Rosignol on Guyana's east coast. (Right of way), and is sometimes referred to as the Demerara-Mahaica Railway.

Guyana National Trust rendition of the Railway Terminus at Cumminsburg in Georgetown

Sadly, opening day ceremonies featured one of its directors being run over by the locomotive.

At that time, the country was known as British Guiana. The railroad was designed by Frederick Catherwood, and financed by the Demerera Sugar Company, as a way to transport sugar from the jungles of Guyana to the Port of Georgetown.

The railway was built to connect the Demerara River with the Berbice River in order to transport goods and people between the two areas. It was initially built as a wooden-railed tramway and was later upgraded to a standard-gauge railway. The railway was considered a major technological and engineering accomplishment at the time and was seen as a symbol of the British colony's economic and industrial progress.

Originally running only to Plaisance upon its opening in 1848, it was extended to Rosignol in stages, eventually becoming over 60 miles in length.

Image from International Steam. "Georgetown Station on Lamaha Street is in use as a garage and workshop for the Ministry of Public Works. The trackbed east of Georgetown has been turned into Railway Embankment Road to relieve the coastal highway (Rupert Craig Hwy.) of some traffic during rush hour"

In 1922, it became under the control of the Colonial Transport Department of the Government. Following the closure of the Bermuda Railway in 1948, the assets (a couple locomotives and a bit of iron) were sent to Guyana to help rejuvenate the railway.

The entire line was abandoned in 1972. "Soon after independence, the then Government of Guyana found it difficult to access more funding for equipment. The high cost of maintaining the railway lines and the cost of upgrading to diesel engines and new carriages became overwhelming and the government decided to close both railway lines. The original railway route is now the Railway Embankment Road, running parallel to the East Coast Road." (Guyanes Online)

Here's a YouTube video that does a good job of explaining the history of the line:

Thanks as always for reading!


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