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Operating the Bermuda Railway

Motor coach #12 on Front Street, Hamilton. Judging by the gazes of the onlookers, the train was still a novelty.

We know that this picture was taken in the early years because the stock would be repainted in maroon in 1936.

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The year 1932 saw the Bermuda Railway open and operating. Over the first few months the company fine-tuned the schedules, attempting to match available trains to Bermudians’ actual use of their new transportation system.

Soon the company also undertook an extensive program of rail and sleeper replacement to compensate for some of the poor construction methods that had plagued the railway. It set up a schedule for painting the many bridges and trestles. It also began to provide the various halts and stations with lighting. Innumerable details remained, and took time to resolve. It would be two years before the final negotiations over land acquisitions would be completed.

1932 also saw the addition of some new rolling stock, including two motorized freight vans, four gondola freight cars, and six passenger coaches, nicknamed “toast-racks” because of the way their seat-backs could be flipped over at the end of the line so that passengers were always facing forward.

Over the next few years, the railway seems to have integrated itself into Bermudian society, for tourists and locals alike. Morning and evening trains saw Bermudians on their way to work, often with their bicycles in tow (damage to coaches caused by bicycle handlebars appears to have been a regular headache for the maintenance department). Advertising was placed in all the major Bermuda guidebooks, and some of them included descriptions of a trip on the train, along with railway timetables and maps. As David Raine puts it, “Without a shadow of a doubt, the Bermuda Railway had succeeded in establishing itself as a major tourist attraction, as well as an essential means of travel for all who lived here.” (Raine, 43)

Difficulties Ahead

Raine also points out that what the railway had not succeeded in doing was make a profit. The 1936 Board of Directors meeting was told that the company was unable to meet interest payments on loan capital, and that it was impossible to set aside any reserves at all. By the 1938 meeting, equipment and rolling stock had depreciated to the point that any profits had to be put straight back into maintenance and repairs.

With World War Two approaching, the Bermuda Railway Company was already on shaky ground. Unfortunately, the war itself would simply confirm this state of affairs.

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Bermuda Railway train at Bailey’s Bay

The war years would see the railway carry more passengers than ever before. See World War II on the Bermuda Railway to learn why this traffic still wasn’t enough to save the line.