Sugar Cane Transport
Sugar cane is cultivated all over the world in the tropics and subtropics and accounts for about 70% of the entire sugar production. In 2014, about 1.8 billion tons of sugar cane was grown whereby the 20 main growing countries brought in about 92% of the harvest. The largest sugar cane producers are currently (in descending order) Brazil, India, PR China, Thailand, Pakistan, Mexico, the Philippines, the USA, Indonesia, Australia, Argentina, Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, Vietnam, Egypt, Cuba, Peru, Myanmar, and El Salvador. Naturally, sugar cane is also cultivated to a lesser extent on many islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean (in front rank the Fiji Islands). Sugar cane railroads were used mostly starting at the end of the 19th century to transport sugar cane stalks to the sugar refineries that usually located in the operational sphere of the fields. They were usually done in narrow gauge, 610 mm / 24”, or 914 mm / 36”, more seldom in the gauges of 700 mm / 27-1/2”, 1,000 mm / 39”, and 1,067 mm / 42” (cape gauge) too. Even standard gauge sugar cane railroads could and still are to be found occasionally. By the end of World War II steam motive power predominated on the sugar cane railroads, yet then came successively the switch to diesel locomotives and later also the partial abandonment of rail operations with the introduction of truck transport. The last steam locomotives could be found on Cuba and in Indonesia, though even here the final hour has struck in the meantime. The most fascinating modern narrow gauge systems (610 mm / 24”) worldwide for transporting sugar cane are presently in the Australian federal state of Queensland. The cultivation of raw sugar cane and the 20 sugar refineries still in existence are located in a 1,430 kilometer / 894 mile long strip from Childers in the south to Mossman in the north of Queensland. The only job of these railroads is to transport freshly harvested sugar cane within 12 to 18 hours (maximum 24 hours) for processing in the sugar refinery. There the work goes on 24 hours a day and mostly seven days a week during the season from June to December.
The extent of these sugar railroads is remarkable. Their route length is around 4,000 kilometers / 2,500 miles of which around 3,000 kilometers / 1,875 miles rate as “main lines”. Up to 36 million tons of sugar cane are transported per season. Around 250 diesel-hydraulic locomotives are used, each one with up to 520 kilowatts / 697 horsepower of output, as well as 52,000 sugar cane cars known as “bins”. On average the trains travel around 35 kilometers / 22 miles from the fields to the sugar mill, although the farthest run to a sugar mill is 119 kilometers / 74 miles. The trains can run at speeds up to 40 km/h / 25 mph, haul up to 2,000 tons of sugar cane, and have a length of up to one kilometer / 0.625 miles.