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Freight Traffic on the Bermuda Railway

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Motor freight van number 100. A freight compartment (see the open doors) replaced the passenger seating provided in the regular motor cars. Motors on both the front and rear wheelsets made these locomotives twice as powerful as a standard motor car.
Freight, or goods, traffic on the Bermuda Railway seems to have been a secondary consideration from the start. In most sources I’ve seen, goods traffic is an afterthought if it’s mentioned at all, clearly taking second place to the passenger traffic that was the underlying reason for the railway.

The available rolling stock confirms this. When the railway opened, motive power included two motorized freight vans, that is, locomotives with a freight compartment instead of the passenger seating provided in the more common motor coaches. Two other, more powerful motor freight vans were added in 1932. More often than not a motor freight van would be seen pulling a regular passenger train.

Aside from the four motor freight vans, specific freight stock was very limited, including only nine assorted goods wagons: two flat cars, four gondolas, two “trailer freight vans” (i.e., box cars), and a bulk oil tanker. A few more were added over the life of the line.

The railway did run specific freight services, however. This Royal Gazette advertisement from September 1936 announces “Augmented Freight Service”, with eight trains a week between Hamilton and St. George’s, although only two were regularly scheduled between the capital and Somerset.
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Augmented Freight Service advertisement
Another freight operation was the regular transfer of fuel oil — in the railway’s one oil tanker — from the West India Oil Company, at Oil Docks station in St. George’s parish, to a siding at Ord Road station in south shore Paget. From there the oil was pumped to the Elbow Beach Hotel. (Even today, all of Bermuda’s oil comes off ships at those same oil docks and, as a result, the area is unfortunately off-limits to walkers on the Railway Trail.)

A regular freight working saw the transport of vegetables from Southampton parish to Hamilton Docks for shipment overseas. Centred around Evans Bay station, this seems to have been a substantial operation. In a retrospective on the Railway that appeared in the Royal Gazette in 1985, one former worker remembers 20 to 25 men working making crates and packing vegetables onto the trains.

In the list of stations provided by Pomeroy, 11 are marked with a # symbol, meaning: “Stations marked # handled freight as well as passengers.” Pictures of these stations show small, stone-built structures housing two, or perhaps three, rooms, at least one of which had the large double doors that would have made it suitable for handling parcels and small freight shipments.
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Aquarium Station handled freight as well as the many passengers who disembarked for Flatts Village or the Government Aquarium.
It seems likely that the Bermuda of the 1930s would have had a growing need to transport goods from one part of the islands to another. Remember, too, that this was a country without motor transportation. The choices for getting a crate of imported equipment from the Hamilton docks to Somerset would have been boat, horse-drawn cart or the railway. The railway would also have been useful to carry parcels and smaller freight (what North American railroads would call “less-than-carload” traffic).

So, how much did freight traffic end up contributing to railway traffic? The 1922 Foxlee Report (see Deciding to Build a Railway) had considered potential goods traffic, even estimating that it would provide 30% of revenue, although it clearly stated that the tourist trade was the single factor that made a railway feasible at all. As it turned out, according to figures from the 1945 Commission on Public Transport report to the Bermuda government, between 1932 and 1944, non-passenger traffic accounted for only about 15% of revenue.

This shortfall was no doubt one factor contributing to the general uneconomic nature of Bermuda Railway operations, and this despite the heavier freight use of the railway during World War II when the U. S. bases were being constructed.
Learn about the Bermuda Railway’s Rolling Stock