Bermuda Historical Stories: Walk the “Trail”, by Land and Sea
By Dr. Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PhD, FSA
Men are seen working on the tracks on the southern approach to the bridge to Somerset Island.
“An Island as beautiful as Bermuda cries out to be explored; there is no finer way to do this than to travel, in your own time, along the right of way which once carried the Bermuda Railway”, so wrote the author Colin A. Pomeroy in 1993.
The great age of railways began in Britain after 1830, an outcome of the invention of the steam engine, and within 20 years most towns there were connected by trains.It took over upward a century before Bermuda was connected by train, from Somerset Island to St. George’s Town, via the City of Hamilton, but the Bermuda Railway lasted but a mere 17 years, being opened in late 1931 and sold to British Guiana in 1948. The bed of the tracks eventually became the ‘Railway Trail’, which was appropriately placed in the National Parks system in 2001.
At Ferry Reach Park: Vincent Astor’s little steam train that connected his property with the ‘main line’ railway.
In 2012, a family foundation completed a study (recommended in 2006 by a U.S. leader in the field of “Rails to Trails”) to define what needed to be done in Bermuda to make the Railway Trail a more usable and appreciated public resource. They joined with Parks Department to experiment with and implement simple low-cost improvements (at their own expense for the public good), mostly on the western sector of the Trail from Trimingham Hill to Somerset Bridge, the aim being to increase usage and instill pride in the resource and make it function better for pedal bikes, pedestrians and horse riders.
The Parks Department has recorded a marked increase in phone calls addressing both interest and concern to maintain the quality of the areas that have been improved. As it is a free resource for all Bermudians, residents and tourists alike to enjoy in a healthful natural setting at a time when our health costs are skyrocketing and quiet open space is less that it once was, we hope the public will join the efforts on what has been started, as the ideas for the restoration of all facets of the Railway Trail become a reality.
An original milestone of the Bermuda Railway has been repainted by a volunteer in its original dark green.
One of the best ideas to come out of the study was the concept of bridging the water gaps of the Railway Trail, reusing the old pylons of the original trestles. The first new bridge, for pedestrians and push-bikes, was be erected across Bailey’s Bay in 2014 and brought almost four kilometers of uninterrupted trail on-line. A second bridge spanned Barker’s Hill in 2015. Those may set an example for other like places, perhaps at Somerset Bridge, which was one of the major above-water structures of the railway.
The marvelous thing about recent developments on this island-wide heritage feature, which is such a unique combination of natural and cultural heritage, is the difference that a few dedicated people, who love this place, can make, by example, to inspire others to care. For many such souls, it is not about the glory, but about saving the guts, the essential heritage of Bermuda, which, in the end, is essential for our sense of place, belonging and wellbeing.