Eight decades after the last train chugged off the line and into Barbadian legend, the heritage railway on the grounds of St Nicholas Abbey mansion and plantation has seen visitors to the 17th Century tourist attraction doubled, its owner, architect Larry Warren, has revealed.
It was in 1937 that the Barbados Government Railway, whose single line ran from Fairchild Street, Bridgetown to Belleplaine, St Andrew, traversing the parishes of St George, St Philip and St. John, closed down.
Now, 82 years and $8 million later, the St Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway, which began running on Errol Barrow Day was opened officially today by Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Warren described the narrow-gauge railway as a welcomed addition to the three-centuries-old Great House, one of the oldest surviving of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The Jacobean-style mansion, so described for its design period of the early 17th Century reign of King James I, dates back to 1658.
The railway project had taken 14 months to complete since work began in 2017.
Warren said: “Our visitor arrivals at St Nicholas have doubled or more since the train has been operating. Visitors are coming here, they’re taking the trip and then they enter the Abbey and return here two or three hours later.”
He said the investment was a joint venture that had been undertaken by a group of local and overseas investors.
He also pointed out that along with encouraging increased tourism to the northern parish, the railway also provided additional jobs for Barbadians at the plantation house, museum and craft rum distillery.
He said: “The railway gives us another dimension to the traditional tourism and expands on the heritage stream already established here, while providing additional marketing opportunities.
“Together with St Nicholas Abbey, the overall attraction and distillery now directly employs 52 people, mainly from the northern parishes.”
Prime Minister Mottley praised the initiative, pointing out that its investors had taken on great risks.
She said: “This is something of great value that you have added to this country and I want on behalf of the people of Barbados to thank you sincerely for taking the risks in this investment.
“We assume a lot, but we don’t realize that taking that risk is a significant step, and you’ve taken a risk which by your own admission, really reflects the best of all that Barbados has to offer.”
The Prime Minister said it was clear that the project had not only been pursued for profit, as persons in the surrounding communities had benefited greatly through job opportunities.
She continued: “You could so carefully highlight the commitment to the people of this community and these communities to the north speaks volumes to me because it recognizes that this effort was not simply that of a profit being made and a bottom line and numbers being attained.
“But it is of a total experience that will add great value in the same way you have sought to ensure that the mistake of centuries where we exported bulk commodity, is not to be the mistake of the future where we add value and extract the best possible experience for those who are with us.”