The Camber Railway was a single line of 24-inch gauge approximately 3.5 miles in length and was built during 1915 and 1916. It remained in use until the late 1920s.
The railway was required when in World War One the Admiralty installed a new communications system, a powerful spark transmitter with an array of high aerials that could be seen to dominate the horizon to the west of town. Unfortunately, during the first trials too much power was applied and many miles of wiring were burnt out.
Modifications were made to the giant transmitters and so powerful were the resulting signals that they were picked up by the US Navy on patrol in the North Sea.
To produce the massive amounts of power required by the spark transmitter, its own steam generating plant had to be built. The narrow gauge railway supplied the coal to the generating station.
The line ran along the northern bank of the inner harbour from the Camber Depot at Navy Point to the station at Moody Brook.
To operate the railway two engines were built by Kerr Stuart and Co Ltd of Stoke-on-Trent and shipped to the Falklands in 1915 by the firm of contractors, W Cubitt and Company, which constructed the line.
There were two KS “Wren” class engines (2388 and 2392 of 1915), these engines were of the earlier “Wren” type with low boiler, inside valve gear 6″ x 9″ cylinders, 0-4-0 ST and 20″ diameter wheels of 24″ gauge.
The invention of the wireless valve soon made the transmitter obsolete and the huge generators were no longer required.
In the second half of the 1920s the railway fell into disuse and the two locomotives together with their wagons were pushed off the end of the jetty at Navy Point.
The inshore end of this breakwater was a large scrap dump and over the years more junk was piled on the top until the engines and rolling stock virtually disappeared.
The Royal Engineers undertook the recovery of both engines from the scrap dump in the mid 1980s and placed them in a container for safety. It was hoped they could be restored and preserved but sadly they remain in the containers to this day.
Engines & Wagons
There were two KS “Wren” class engines (KS 2388/15, 2392/15, early type with low boiler and inside valve gear, unlike later UK survivors, e.g. ‘Pixie,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Lorna Doone’).
The photo opposite shows an engine as new, and two with the addition of cab side screens, and hauling the same three four wheeled wagons, though in one photo two of them have locally added woodwork (‘lift-off’) forming seat backs for transport of workmen.
The same photo shows ‘Falkland Island Express’ painted on the tank, and the hulk of S.S. Great Britain dimly visible behind (This is the photo on which a Falklands stamp was based).
Railway workers in windy areas have occasionally rigged a mast and sail on a four-wheeled wagon.
In the Falklands however this was elevated to a fine art. An early sail-driven wagon is pictured on one of the stamps, though by the 1920s the design was more advanced.
The wagon was rigged with a single standing lugsail but with a lever geared to the back axle to permit hand-powered movement against the wind. Presumably the westerly winds made it easy to run down from Moody Brook to Navy Point but the return journey would have needed more effort.
The Railway Line
An old Admiralty chart, shows the area of the railway in more detail.
Stanley is lower right with the harbour running across from east to west north of the town. Above that is the long headland known as the Camber with Navy Point at its eastern end. Moody Brook, the site of the radio station, is at the far western end of the harbour.
The water there is shallow and coal and materials were therefore to be unloaded at the Camber Depot just south of Navy Point.
Hence the need for the railway, which shows up as a thin black line along the north side of the harbour.
There is very little left of the Camber line, though the route can clearly be seen, as can old sleepers and some track at various places along the route.
Tourism has become an important part of the Falkland Islands economy, a small narrow gauge railway would be a huge attraction.
The line would have to be completely relayed and a new engine would also be required along with new rolling stock.
Could it be rebuilt, would any train enthusiasts be interested and how much would such a project cost?
Although the line and its sail-powered wagons was used unofficially for many years by local children and others, eventually it seemed to have been almost forgotten, although rails found a variety of other uses as cattle grids and shed rafters. However, the 1982 conflict changed this along with everything else.
BBC TV news broadcast maps at the time showed the railway line and this alerted a number of enthusiasts who, however, were initially too busy to bother about such details.
Eventually, Richard Gardner, Raymond Selkirk and others explored the remains. Both of the above reported on their findings in issues of the Railway Magazine.
At that time in late 1982 there were a number of sidings visible at the Camber with the remains of wagon turntables.
Both steam locos were buried under a pile of scrap. Several wagons lay around and in the water. There was also a standard gauge steam crane. West of Navy Point the rails had all gone but a few sleepers still lay on what had become an unmade track. Some rails had been utilised during the conflict to support the roofs of bunkers on Wireless Ridge.A pair of wagon wheels lay at Moody Brook but the original wireless station has long since gone.
The Royal Engineers later undertook the recovery of both engines from the scrap dump and placed them inside a container for safety.
It was hoped that one or both of them could be restored and preserved, either out in the Falklands or back in Britain.
Neither action seems to have occurred and a recent report via Bob Darvill suggests that one visitor (Kevin Prince) found the container half buried in gravel.
Kevin himself reports that Jubilee type track can still be found up on the hills in an old quarry.
The sidings at Navy Point have since been largely hidden under new port facilities. Anecdotal reports suggest that next to nothing is visible at Moody Brook apart from the anchors for the cables which once stayed the wireless masts.
Camber Railway Stamp Issues
There have been two sets of stamps issued in the Falkland islands depicting the Camber Railway:
Falkland Islands Camber Railway Issue 1985
Falkland Islands 90th Anniversary of the Camber Railway 2005
In 2005, the 90th anniversary of the railway was commemorated by the issue of four stamps. Three of the photos used are old black and white pictures and one recent colour one by Zacchary Stephenson showing the trackbed in 2002.