By Nadia Ali. Located in Tabaquite, Central Trinidad, amid serene surroundings is the longest train tunnel in the Caribbean known as Knolly’s Tunnel. Although no longer functioning for the flow of trains, it is open to foot and vehicular traffic.
The drive to the tunnel is mostly along the Tabaquite Main Road which meanders through lush woodland. The closer you get the prettier it gets. You can see the orange flowers of the Parakeet Heliconia that grows in the wild along the roadside. The shafts of sunlight beaming through the trees highlights the robust red cocoa beans hidden under the foliage of green leaves of sporadic cocoa trees. It brings to mind the image of yesteryears vast fields of cocoa trees in the peak of the cocoa industry.
Then, as we turned a corner in the road, there were the broken remains of an old cocoa drying house. It’s a place where cocoa plantation workers would have manually heaped cocoa to different stations to facilitate the drying process. We slowed down just to get a couple of photos and then continued through the woodland.
Once on the long road approach to the tunnel, the surrounding area is well kept with occasional picnic tables to facilitate family gatherings. Then behold, there it is straight ahead. Unfortunately, there are no visitor’s information panels to relate the story behind the construction of the tunnel or even a name plate identifying it.
Knolly’s Tunnel more 100 years old
I do however know that it was built over 100-years ago and is steeped in colonial history. It was used to facilitate the expansion of the railway to transport cocoa from Tabaquite to Port of Spain. It took a number of years to complete the 100-metre long tunnel which was named after Sir Clement C Knolly, the Acting Governor of Trinidad and Tobago.
In August 1898, it was officially opened amid much fanfare with invited dignitaries to commission the longest tunnel in the Caribbean. Visitors specially frequented the area to ride on the train through Knolly’s Tunnel. But as the years progressed, the discovery of oil in the area led to the decline in cocoa production. Sadly, the need for the train system lessened and in August 1965 the last train rolled through Knolly’s Tunnel.
As we parked to the side of the road and walked to the entrance we got an idea of the enormity of it. Some say it is 600-feet in length, but I could not tell. Looking into the darkness, the sound of bats fluttering close to the ceiling can be seen against the bright light of the exit at the other end.
We then walked up the concrete steps aided by the hand railings at the side of the tunnel. This led up the green grass slopes to a visitor’s picnic area on the hilltop above the tunnel. Having admired the view, fauna and foliage, we headed back to the car to drive through the tunnel.
Once inside, it seems a lot longer. With the car’s high-beam on it sent the resident bats above and in front of us into a flurry. The wing flapping could be heard as we bravely rolled down the windows to listen. Having reached the other end, we opted to turn around and go out the way we came in through the tunnel.
It is free to visit and there are a number of signs on the roadways indicating which direction to head.
Knolly’s Tunnel has also been added to many a tour operator’s itinerary as part of the history of Trinidad’s local cocoa industry.
June 2014 – Issue 10 www.sweettntmagazine.com
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