Knollys’ Tunnel is a national heritage site in Trinidad. 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. It is 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 and construction lasted two years. The tunnel’s opening included a large ceremony with officials and spectators. Locals were very excited to have a railway.
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.
Knollys’ tunnel was closed on August 30, 1965, only 67 years after its opening. One reason for the closure was the decline of the cocoa industry and the rise of the modern oil and gas industry. There are some stories of locals throwing stones at the last train’s ride reflecting the population’s dismay at the closure. 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. The public outcry led to NYC's designation of heritage sites for preservation.
Fortunately, 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.
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 civil transaction/litigation and bankruptcy attorney. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a minor degree in History that focused on the slavery and indentured servitude eras, a minor degree in Criminology, and a Juris Doctor degree.
MDGR Law, P.A.