The locomotive arrives in September in time for the start of the upcoming 2012/2013 cruise ship season and Winter Season.
“We have begun construction of a new locomotive specifically designed for curves and grades on a narrow gauge railway which was used under sugar. We have installed the motive and electrical power necessary. The construction of the basic plant has been done. It is mounted on two trucks, each having two hydraulically driven axles instead of the one single unit with three axles as in the case of our current locomotives. This gives us a much shorter wheel base so that we can conquer the curves with greater ease,” said the company’s Vice President, Mr. Thomas Williams.
He told the Communications Unit of the Office of the Prime Minister (CUOPM) in an exclusive interview that each of the axles on the new US$650,000 locomotive will be driven by its own power.
“So we no longer will be using the side rods which are currently a feature of the old technology on our current locomotives. The new locomotive would be more powerful, more efficient and of course it would improve safety and operating conditions for the railway,” said Mr. Williams.
He said when he last saw the unit at the manufacturing plant in Washington State it was 70 percent complete with the major components installed and just the coach work and painting that needed to be done.
Mr. Williams said he expects the new locomotive to be locally tested and employees trained before it is commissioned and spoke of plans for a second locomotive as soon as the new one is commissioned.
A sixth railcar that would be ADA compliant, providing a service for physically challenged passengers will be introduced for the 2013/2014 cruise season.
“It’s under construction already. It’s going to be ADA compatible; that is for dealing with persons with limited mobility, and along with that we are purchasing a new bus with similar features. These features facilitate persons with wheelchairs who come off the ship or land-based customers who would be picked up by the bus and taken to the Train Car. Whereas at the current moment we are taking ADA persons on the first floor only of the car, this new car one will have a built-in elevator which accepts wheel chairs and take our guests straight to the top so that they may the same privileges on the observation deck as anybody else,” said Mr. Williams.
He said the company plans to keep the existing locomotives in service.
“We don’t really plan to take them out of service. They possess some of the old charm; some people still prefer to have a locomotive with side rods, ‘noises bells and whistles’ just to relive some of the history. These units will have a role to play in the expansion beyond our core product to bring new, fresh and exciting attractions to the destination and significantly increase employment opportunities with our company,” said Mr. Williams.
He disclosed that the St. Kitts Scenic Railway is also investing US$150,000 in the first set of steel ties and accessories to upgrade the railway track.
“This will be followed by regular orders of the same magnitude. A new Tamper, a track alignment and ballasting machine, is also being modified to suit our narrow gauge tracks to work in tandem with a crushing machine that would facilitate our rate and flexibility of operations to continue the upgrade during peak season,” said Mr. Williams.
“We plan to rebuild and upgrade our track over the next two or three years, but starting immediately, to put in steel ties or sleepers to hold our rails together. The upgrade will extend to the twelve miles on the other side of the island. The clearing process on that side is already in progress,” he said.
Mr. Williams said the steel ties will hold the track together so that some of the minor incidents with wet or rotting wooden ties would be avoided
“Those wood ties are very costly and don’t last too long because they’re placed in mud and dirt, get moist and rot fast. So we are putting in a ballast of rock, that is an inch and a half cut size rock and we’re going to place the railway on ballast, like any railway that you will see internationally,” said Mr. Williams.
“It provides for greater safety and stability and causes the wooden as well as steel ties to last much longer. We will continue the process of keeping those steel ties coming, while maintaining the flow of wooden ties because we can’t get away from it immediately. They have to work together for a period,” said the Scenic Railway official said.
He said the 100-year old former sugarcane railway line, which belonged to the defunct St. Kitts Sugar Factory is one of the few remaining industrial Caribbean railways, the only Caribbean Scenic railway.
“Embedded in the dirt for the last 100 years, the National railway has served St. Kitts and Nevis well as the backbone of the sugar-based economy, but loftily perched on a protective bed of crushed rock along with upgraded materials and technology, our future generations will be assured, as it assumes a new pivotal role in our Tourism-based economy,” said Mr. Williams.