Knollys' Tunnel Closed Because Of Trinidad's Economic Shift
By: Trademark Attorney Melissa Goolsarran Ramnauth (Fort Lauderdale)
About Knollys' Tunnel
Knollys’ Tunnel was closed on August 30, 1965, only 67 years after its opening. There are stories of locals throwing stones at the last train, reflecting the population’s dismay at the closure.
The railway tunnel is named after Sir Clement Courtenay Knollys, a colonial governor, who opened it on August 20, 1898. The tunnel is approximately 660 feet long and located off the main road in Tabaquite (central Trinidad). It was the longest tunnel in the Caribbean at the time.
The tunnel was mainly built by African and Indian workers. Construction lasted two years. The tunnel’s opening included a large ceremony with officials and spectators. Locals were very excited to have a railway in the area.
One reason for the closure was the decline of the cocoa industry and the rise of the modern oil and gas industry.
Trinidad's Sugar Industry
When Britain colonized Trinidad and Tobago, sugar was the dominant industry. The sugar industry boomed because of slavery, indentured servitude, and later factories. In the 1880s, several small estates struggled to profit and sold their estates to the large sugar plantations. (The large sugar factories were also referred to as “usines.”) Other British companies abandoned sugar altogether. The remaining sugar plantations and factories were mainly in central Trinidad and around San Fernando. The large factories would grind the sugar canes from local estates and farms, often run by Indians. By the 1960s, nearly all of Trinidad’s sugar was produced by the British company, Caroni Ltd. The government bought this company in 1975 and it was later shut down. As for Tobago, “King Sugar” died there in the 1880s and has not been resurrected since.
Trinidad's Cocoa Industry
The cocoa industry came next. The tunnel was built to improve the transportation of cocoa to the capital, Port of Spain. The tunnel was opened during the height of the cocoa industry. Cocoa became Trinidad’s successful export around the 1880s. It was grown all throughout Trinidad. The cocoa industry also afforded Tobagonians an opportunity to work after the fall of the sugar industry in Tobago. The cocoa industry’s dominance ended in the 1920s for two reasons. First, crop prices around the world dropped. Second, the “witchbroom” disease afflicted the cocoa trees and the trees never fully recovered.
With sugar and cocoa at the wayside, small farmers contributed to Trinidad and Tobago’s economy and sustenance by growing food to eat and food to feed the animals. For example, they grew fruits and vegetables including beans and provisions. Farming did not often elevate the economic status of the farmer. Many farmers remained in poverty. However, owning their own land fostered a sense of fulfillment and nationality.
Trinidad's Modern Oil and Gas Industry
In the 1920s, the agricultural market was surpassed by the modern oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry still reigns today. The three major oil pioneers were Walter Darwent, John Lee Lum, and Randolph Rust. Darwent, a former soldier in the American Civil War, drilled the first successful oil well at Aripero in 1865. He died of yellow fever in 1868 and the oil industry was on hold for 30 years until Lee Lum arrived in Trinidad. The successful Chinese businessman acquired land and partnered with Rust to form a company to prospect the area. Rust’s efforts paid off and, in 1913, large-scale oil production began in Trinidad. Rust’s Guayaguayare oil site is still maintained by Trinidad’s national oil company Petrotrin, and has been designated as a historic site.
The Restoration of Knollys' Tunnel in 1991
Knollys’ Tunnel was restored and reopened in 1991. Cars and pedestrians now utilize the tunnel instead of the trains. Knollys’ Tunnel is also the official residence to the local bats. The tunnel is now a national heritage site in Trinidad.
The closure of the architectural and cultural marvel echoes the closure of the old Pennsylvania Station in New York. The old Pennsylvania Station was a privately owned station in New York City known for its grandeur architecture. The owners sold the site, after the railway industry declined, and the station was demolished only 54 years after its opening.
In closing, Trinidad’s restoration of Knollys’ Tunnel signifies the broader notion that knowledge and preservation of history is important to both a nation’s legacy and future.
Photos from https://nationaltrust.tt/location/knollys-tunnel/.
Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq. is a trial-winning trademark and contracts \. She primarily helps new and small businesses with trademarks, contracts, and name clearance searches. She writes articles on the importance of trademarks, trademark law updates, and also West Indian history (with an emphasis on India, Trinidad, Guyana, and the United States).
MDGR Law, P.A.
PO Box 101794 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33310-1794