World Coins: Bermuda 1988 Dollar

The Bermuda 1988 Dollar is often collected for it's railway theme.

A number of commemorative coins are collected today based on the design or theme, yet often the story behind the coin is not always known. For instance, the 1988 Bermuda Dollar features the Bermuda Railway which was both a feat of engineering and a complete failure.

Bermuda is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean, with the next closest land 640 miles away. Its small size of just over 27 square miles and its geology (a long volcanic rock island) offers limited resources, especially for large scale building projects. Over the years, Bermuda has adopted strict building codes to preserve the island. On the other hand, one of Bermuda’s main industries is tourism, which has often resulted in changes in the law allowing construction to promote the island.

Views of terrain from the highest point in Bermuda.

The automobile was banned from use on Bermuda in 1908, yet the need to transport goods and people across the island still existed. People were forced to use ships and horse and buggies for transportation. When Bermuda became a tourist destination in the 1920s, the debate over allowing automobiles was restarted. The government assembly decided to shelve the bill in favor of the Inland Transportation Act that granted the Bermuda Railway Company the right to build a single-track standard gauge line.

The construction of the line began in 1926 at a cost of £400,000 (today over $40 million). This huge sum for a short line was necessary because most of the supplies were shipped to the island from England. The railway was built near the beaches in order to preserve as much precious land as possible. The railway was completed and began operating in 1931. It was successful for transporting sightseeing tourists around the island as well as goods and local residents to their destinations. When World War II broke out, Bermuda became a strategic area and the United State opened an army base there in 1941. The railway was used heavily by American and British troops during the war. Combined with its close proximity to the ocean, the railway had significantly deteriorated by the end of the war.

The final blow to the Bermuda railway came when automobiles were allowed in 1946. The passenger volume of the railway was cut in half in just one year. The significant repair and maintenance costs and loss of passengers led the government to close the railway in 1948 in favor of buses that are still used today. The trains and stock were shipped to British Guiana where they were used until the 1950s. The location of the former rail lines was converted to an 18 mile hiking and biking trail. Nothing with a motor is allowed on the trail, and is subject to significant fines and/or prison time. Today Bermuda’s transportation needs are served by ferry, car or bus. Only citizens can own cars and drive on the island.

Upper Right: Shipment of construction materials by ferry.
Above Left to Right: Cars on Front Street; Cars Just Imported into the country.

Bermuda commemorated the Bermuda Railway in 1988 by featuring it on a dollar coin. The coin features a railcar on tracks beside a palm tree on the reverse and the obverse features Queen Elizabeth II. The coin was minted in a copper-nickel Mint State version with a mintage of 2 million, and silver uncirculated and proof versions with a mintage of 5,000 each. While the coin is often collected for its railroad themed design, the history it commemorates is often neglected.

Articles List