St. Kitts Scenic Railway: Explore the Undiscovered Caribbean
The St. Kitts Scenic Railway takes passengers on a 3-hour tour that makes a 30-mile circle around the beautiful Eastern Caribbean island of St. Kitts, with 18 miles by narrow gauge train and 12 miles on sightseeing buses.
Built between 1912 and 1926 to transport sugar cane from the island’s sugar plantations to the sugar factory in the capital city of Basseterre, today the “Last Railway in the West Indies” provides visitors an unsurpassed opportunity to experience the scenery and culture of this unspoiled country.
History of St. Kitts and the Sugar Train
Sugar cane was introduced in St. Kitts in 1643 and it became as valuable as oil is today. Control of the Caribbean sugar islands sent European armies and navies to war and sugar built empires. By 1775, with 200 estates producing sugar, St. Kitts was the wealthiest of the British possessions. But the introduction of the sugar beet and international market competition drove prices steadily downward and by the beginning of the 20th Century, the local industry was on its last legs.
Believing that profitability could be achieved with economies of scale, in 1912 a group of investors built a modern central sugar factory near Basseterre and began construction of a narrow-gauge railway around the island to bring in cane from the outlying estates for processing. Completed in 1926, the railway ran seasonally from February to June for the annual sugar harvest, called “Crop.”
The new system allowed sugar production to continue on St. Kitts much longer than on other islands. The island of Nevis stopped growing cane in the mid–1930s. Antigua ended sugar production in 1971. But with a now antiquated factory and railway, diminishing acreage and intense international competition, losses mounted. Finally, Prime Minister Denzil L. Douglas announced that the industry would be closed at the end of the 2005 Crop. The last “sugar train” rattled into the yard and the factory machinery was shut down on July 31, 2005, bringing an end to over 350 years of sugar production on the island.
But the “Sugar Train” survived. In a unique partnership between Government and private enterprise, the privately–owned St. Kitts Scenic Railway started running tourist excursions on January 28, 2003. It now proudly carries the national flag as the “Last Railway in the West Indies”, a living link to a past when sugar ruled the island’s economy.
On our train you can hear this story from our own people, hear the songs we sing, have a cool drink with us and wave at our children as we pass through the villages where many of us live. This is the real Caribbean, the way it has always been, on an island that most people have never seen or heard about. Our story is told in the warm trade winds and in the clickety–clack of the wheels on the rail joints. Come with us on an amazing journey of beauty and discovery. It is our pleasure to show you our home.
The Sugar Train
The “Island Series” railcars of the St. Kitts Scenic Railway are unlike any other railcars anywhere in the world. They are double-decked, with an upper open–air observation platform that puts you high above the top of the sugar cane and island vegetation for unobstructed 360 degree viewing and a lower air-conditioned “parlour”.
The carpeted parlour has huge six–foot vaulted windows and is furnished with cushioned rattan chairs at inlaid tables. There is a service bar, a restroom and paintings by local artists hang on the walls.
Complimentary drinks (rum punch, frozen daiquiris, soft drinks, fruit juices and bottled water) are served throughout the trip. Guests are treated to a colourful narration of the history of the Caribbean and St. Kitts by the Tour Director and are entertained by the three–voice a cappella St. Kitts Railway Choir singing Caribbean folk songs, children’s songs and familiar hymns.
St. Kitts Scenic Railway Tour
The narrow gauge St. Kitts Scenic Railway is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. Originally built between 1912 and 1926 to deliver sugar cane from the fields to the sugar mill in Basseterre, the “Last Railway in the West Indies” now provides a fascinating way for visitors to see the island from the comfort of modern passenger train cars and sightseeing buses.
The Railway hugs the Northeastern coastline where spectacular vistas of the ocean, surf, cliffs and lush vegetation surround you. The train rolls across tall steel bridges spanning deep “ghuts”, or canyons and winds through small villages and farms. Dark green rain forests are skirted by rippling fields of sugar cane, with the volcanic cone of Mt. Liamuiga rising above the railway.
This unique rail and highway experience allows visitors to see the country in a very short period of time.* Your tour conductor will point out all the sights as the train passes old sugar cane estates with abandoned windmills and chimneys. See St. Paul’s Village, home of St. Kitts Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas; Brimstone Hill Fortress, the British “Gibraltar of the Caribbean”; and Old Road Town, where Sir Thomas Warner, founder of the English colony on St. Kitts is buried beside his friend Samuel Jefferson, American President Thomas Jefferson’s great great grandfather. (Alexander Hamilton was born on the neighbouring island of Nevis.)