Haiti Railroads - Urban Rail Way, Haiti 1876

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Original Article on Carl's Corner

The Republic of Haiti occupies the western third of Hispaniola, the Caribbean island which Christopher Columbus visited in 1492 and which was under French rule after 1664. Black slaves declared their independence in 1802 and established a republic in 1820 - the second in the Americas. The capital had two urban railway eras: a horsecar network between 1878 and 1888, and a second system which started with steam locomotives in 1897 and ended with internal combustion engines in 1932.

The first franchise for the construction of a street railway was awarded in 1876 to a group of New York financiers, who founded the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Port-au-Prince. The CCFPP ordered six open cars from the J. G. Brill Co. in Philadelphia in October 1877 and inaugurated a tramway service on 17 January 1878. The first line, which connected Croix des Bossales with the Champ de Mars [see map], was probably the first railway in the country.

The drawing below shows the tramway on Rue des Miracles near Port-au-Prince Bay [see map]. This is the only illustration that has been found of a horsedrawn tram in Haiti [col. AM]:

The tramway was a great success and in the following weeks CCFPP purchased four more cars from Brill and opened another line on the Grand-Rue [see map]. Unfortunately, construction of the line was mediocre, derailments were frequent, maintenance of the cars was nonexistent and omnibus competition began in 1880. The CCFPP went bankrupt in 1885 and the last tram of Port-au-Prince's first tramway ran in April 1888.

The second tramway was a more ambitious and complex affair, with investment from Haiti, the U.S., Belgium and Germany. In 1896 the Comité des Négociants d'Haïti began the restoration of the former tramway system and the construction of two new rural lines - all to be powered by steam locomotives. The new Société des Tramways de Port-au-Prince ordered an 8-ton locomotive from H. K. Porter Co. in Pittsburgh, U.S.A., five 12-ton locomotives from Lokomotivfabrik Krauss in München, Germany, and three locomotives (of unknown power) from Ateliers de Tubize near Brussels, Belgium. It also ordered ten open passenger cars from Jackson & Sharp Co. in Wilmington, U.S.A. - all with eight benches, larger than the Brill cars of 1878, which had disappeared. Here is an advertisement [Street Railway Journal, New York, 1/1898, p. 147]:

The following photograph shows a Jackson & Sharp car and the Porter locomotive in Port-au-Prince on 27 September 1896. The latter was baptized "President Sam" in honor of Haitian president Tirésias Simon Sam - but note the U.S. flag on the left [Street Railway Review, Chicago, 15/3/1897, p. 178]:

On 18 April 1897 the Société des Tramways de Port-au-Prince inaugurated the first line of its steam tramway system, from Portail St-Joseph along Rue du Quai and Rue des Miracles to the tramway depot at Champ de Mars, and thence to Rue des Casernes [see map]. The second line on the Grand-Rue, from Portail St-Joseph to the Cimetière (Cemetery), entered service a week later. In this postcard view the cars are pulled by a Krauss locomotive [col. AM]:

In its first six months of operation the tramway carried 250,000 passengers. Track gauge was 762 mm (30 inches). Here is a train on the Grand-Rue [postcard, col. AM]:

The Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac [Dead End Plain Railway] operated the new rural lines, from Port-au-Prince to Léogâne, on the bay 36 km to the west, and from the capital to Manneville, 43 km to the east [see map]. Its track gauge, like that of the STPP lines, was 762 mm and the two companies shared their rolling stock. In 1901 the CCFPCS bought the STPP. Here is a mixed train, with Krauss locomotive, on Rue du Quai [pc, col. AM]:

For its rural lines, the CCFPCS imported 25-ton locomotives and large double-truck passenger cars. The interurban trains shared the streets with the urban vehicles [pc, col. AM]:

There is no way to know if the following train was doing local or rural service, but it seems that the locomotive was not a very good match for the little passenger cars. The view is south down the Grand-Rue [see map] [pc, col. AM]:

Frequent visits by the U.S. Navy produced a number of photographic souvenirs of Haitian transport [pc, col. AM]:

In 1905 the new Compagnie Nationale or National Railroad built a steam line between Port-au-Prince and Saint-Marc, 100 km to the north [see map]. Its track gauge was 1067 mm (42 inches), wider than that of the CCFPCS.

Between 1912 and 1918 the steam tramway company proposed electrification several times, at least of its urban lines, but made no progress in the plan. After the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1915, the Haitian American Sugar Corporation ("Hasco") acquired the CCFPCS and renamed it Chemin de Fer Central or Central Railroad. Hasco attempted improvements, e.g., the enclosure of the locomotives [pc. col. AM]:

The postcard view below shows an enclosed locomotive with two trailers [col. AM]:

This train is on Rue des Casernes [see map] [pc, col. AM]:

The rails and rolling stock were aging and there was new bus competition. Between 1912 and 1922 the revenues of the Central Railway (ex-CCFPCS) dropped 64%, from $94,000 to $34,000. This view of Rue du Quai in the 1910s [see map] shows a train full of passengers [pc, col. AM]:

But the same view ten years later shows a tiny tram that is almost empty - and automobiles, which had been absent in all preceding illustrations [pc, col. AM]:

An American magazine described the new model [Popular Mechanics, Chicago, 5/1922]:

This postcard from the 1920s shows a four-axle tram with center door. Its origin is unknown [col. AM]:

Lest one think that all in Port-au-Prince was poverty and disorder, here is the Champ de Mars district in 1930 [see map]. The American flag marks the U.S. Embassy. The tram is headed for the tram depot, a large building that was later replaced by the Palais de l'Exposition. The spot is occupied today by the Musée d'Art Haïtien [pc, col. AM]:

The courageous tramway of Port-au-Prince disappeared completely in 1932. Its rolling stock was probably transferred to coffee or sugar plantations, where it may still run today . . . Topographic maps of the 1950s suggest, but do not indicate clearly, that the Compagnie Nationale des Chemins de Fer d'Haïti may have taken over the rural lines of the CCFPCS.


"A Street Railway in Hayti" in Street Railway Review (Chicago), 15/3/1897, pp. 178-179. Description and two illustrations of the Port-au-Prince project.

L.[?] Gentil Tippenhauer. Plan de la Ville de Port-au-Prince. Port-au-Prince, 1904. Large city map at scale 1:6,000. Extraordinary detail of the tramway system.

Haïti. Direction générale des travaux publics. Documents relatifs au service des tramways de la capitale et du Chemin de Fer de la Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. Port-au-Prince, 1906. Compilation of tramway texts from 1897, 1898 and 1904. Nice descriptions of the rolling stock.

"Haiti: General Features of the Republic" en Trade Promotion Series #5, pp. 283-284, du U.S. Bureau of Foreign & Domestic Commerce. Washington, 1925. Good survey of the railways of Haiti.

Haïti. Direction Générale des Travaux Publics. "Port-au-Prince", 1930. City map shows the tram routes. [Copy furnished by Stanley F. X. Worris]

Robert Debs Heinl. Written in blood: the story of the Haitian people, 1492-1971. Boston, 1978. One of the few histories of Haiti that mentions its tramways, p. 337.

Georges Corvington. Port-au-Prince au cours des ans. Port-au-Prince, 1972-1993. Major illustrated work of six volumes with extraordinary passages about the city's tramways: v. 3, pp. 231-2, 283-5; v. 4, pp. 20-1, 71-4, 127-8, 184-5; v. 5, pp. 169-61; v. 6, pp. 164-5.

Dr. Georges Michel. Les chemins de fer de l'Ile d'Haïti. Port-au-Prince, 1989. Detailed description of all the railways on the island.

In addition, the author wishes to express his gratitude to Prof. Harold E. Cox of Wilkes University for the information that he provided about the construction of Haiti's first trams by the J. G. Brill Company.

Tags: RailRoads in Haiti

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