Knolly’s Tunnel ...Tabaquite’s hidden treasure
By Paras Ramoutar (T&T Guardian)Aug 2, 2009
It was called the “Manicou Train”. The Trinidad Government Railways train that knitted urban communities like Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Chaguanas to rural and agricultural communities like Tabaquite, Caparo, Brasso, Mamoral, Todds Road and Rio Claro. But, one of the most interesting features of the Jerningham Junction/Rio Claro line was the Knolly’s Tunnel at Tabaquite.
The tunnel was named after the then acting Colonial Governor of Trinidad and Tobago, Courtney Knolly, who officially opened the new system on August 20, 1898. It was an historic moment not only for the agricultural communities in the Tabaquite area, but for the people of the country as Trinidad and Tobago had become the home to the Caribbean’s longest tunnel.
The achives report that there was a great deal of pomp and ceremony and several dignitaries from Port-of-Spain were among the 220 people who witnessed the ceremonial opening which was conducted by Governor Kolly. The Tabaquite Railway Station was built just about quarter mile away. This line was closed down by this country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams on August 30, 1965, some 67 years after its official opening because it was not profitable. Now, the Couva/Tabaquite/ Talparo Regional Corporation (CTTRC) has begun a programme to have Knolly’s Tunnel proclaimed as one of the country’s historical sites.
Councillor Henry Awong, who is also president of the Tabaquite Community Council, said: “Knolly’s Tunnel remains dormant and it is a treasured piece of landscape that the Ministry of Tourism must give serious consideration to achieve some form of national and even international recognition.” Alderman Narinadath Maharaj, chairman of the Corporation’s Tourism Committee, said that his committee has asked the Ministry for $500,000 to restore the tunnel to its pristine glory. Chairman of the Corporation, Councillor Ranjit Ramnarine, pointed out that there are several historical sites and other structures which the CTTRC is giving serious consideration to gain national acknowledgment.
“With the planned demise of Caroni (1975) Limited, Central Trinidad needs some kind of economic stimulus, and we feel that tourism is the way to generate employment opportunities,” Ramnarine said. Construction of the tunnel, which took several years, was necessitated because it was found that a ridge of high ground was barring the train’s mobility to Rio Claro. Thousands of school children and other travellers specifically journeyed on the train to see the tunnel which was about a quarter mile long. Before the train entered the tunnel, the lights would come on as the train became dead dark.
After the closure of the railway system, the National Alliance for Reconstruction Government opted to give life to the tunnel. Then Minister of the Environment, Lincoln Myers, recognising the historical and tourism potential of the tunnel, cleared it and beautified the entire area which spans over several acres of land. The tunnel’s entrance was cleared of tonnes of dirt, old appliances, garbage. It had become the home of several poisonous animals and insects. Two ajoupas and several dining tables were constructed. The train tracks were lifted out just after the closure, and the tracks are now filled with gravel.
To get to the tunnel, one has to either take the Guararcara Tabaquite Road, or the Tabaquite Rio Claro Road in Tabaquite and turn into John Williams Trace, turn left on the first road and proceed until one reaches the tunnel. Visiting the tunnel, one gets an aura of nostalgia, a feeling of the past. The tunnel is in need of complete refurbishing and plans are afoot to give it a new polishing and upgrade it to become Central Trinidad’s premier tourism destination. Awong said: “It is a sad affair that the Government of the day continues to ignore natural historical sites as the Knolly’s Tunnel.
“Government can still update the Knolly’s Tunnel and make it a destination for all the Commonwealth Prime Ministers who will be attending the Conference. It is an ideal spot to host them in the Central part of the nation,” Ramnarine said. “The people of Tabaquite would certainly welcome this gesture to bring our distinguished foreign guests to come and taste a rural community’s hospitality and tranquility.”http://www.youtube.com/v/JTpOVUFELBU