|Location Map ( geo)|
St Helena is a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, forming part of the same territory as Ascension Island and Tristan da Cuhna. The main industries on the island are tourism and the sale of stamps and currency to collectors! At present, the island's only connection with the outside world is via the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, although by 2015 it is expected that the new airport will be operational.
The island has approximately 50 miles (80 km) of surfaced road, around the port and island capital of Jamestown and linking to the other island communities. Road signs and markings are broadly based on those of the UK, although with low traffic levels there is no publicised classification system (until I wrote the bit below).
Construction and materials
Road construction is historically compacted stone with 10 mm surface dressing on top. In 2011 an Indian 20TPH asphalt plant arrived on the island, however it quickly became apparent that it didn't meet European safety standards and so was unsafe to use, amongst other failings. Despite this, structural condition is good on the vast majority of roads with only surface deterioration and ride quality to resolve.
There are no concrete roads.
Aggregate from local quarries is available, although it doesn't meet UK standards for road construction. However the cost of importing aggregate is excessive so the local stone has been assessed and a selection has been approved for local use. Bitumen emulsion is shipped in from South Africa when available, as are all other materials, tools etc.
There isn't a large-scale highway drainage system. Most roads have gullies draining into adjacent land; where this is not possible the preferred option is to use open drains rather than piped drains.
There is a national speed limit of 30 mph, with local speed limits of 20, 15 or 10 mph in residential areas, or on steep hills. There are 2 speed humps, these are located in Jamestown either side of Pilling Primary School. There are no other traffic calming features on the island, although speed limit repeaters/changes are starting to appear. There are many hairpin bends on the network as roads climb up (or down) the hills, many of these bends are blind and it is common for Saints to honk prior to negotiating the bend.
In all cases traffic coming uphill has priority, in some locations this goes against driver behaviour found in the UK, such as passing stationary vehicles and on some narrow sections. On flatter sections where there is no uphill or in dips where both approaches are downhill it is not uncommon to have temporary gridlock as everyone tries to give way. This can be problematic as in many locations the topography allows drivers to see oncoming vehicles from a distance, but loose sight as they approach a bend; thus the two vehicles both waiting for the other cannot see each other.
Cyclists are banned from cycling down some of the steeper hills, but curiously do not appear to be banned from going up. However the number of cyclists on Island are very few.
There are two formal roundabouts: one is a Mini in the middle of Jamestown outside the Cannister (Tourist office); the other has a central island (tree) and is in Scotland. There are no traffic signals; however, there is an unused set of temporary signals in the roads depot.
In Jamestown there are a number of one-way sections and/or no-entries. Outside Jamestown there is a one-way road leading to the Governor's House from White Gate. There are also a few no-entries at junctions with central islands.
There are parking restrictions using similar markings to the UK. However observation suggests that these restrictions are widely ignored.
The National Weight Restriction is 14T, although there are a large number of vehicles on island larger than this and they require permission from the Police prior to being moved. There are some local structural weight limits lower than 14T.
Note: Google Maps road mapping is inaccurate, turn the road layer off and use the satellite images to see the roads.
There are generally three classifications of Road: Network, District Roads and Community Roads.
- Community Roads access between three and six properties and are private, although residents can request some support from the Highways Authority for maintenance costs
- District roads access at least six properties, but are not part of the network. They are maintained by the Roads Section, but to a lower standard than the network. These are generally culs-de-sac although as development has taken place a number are now through routes as you would find in any housing estate.
- The network is split into A, B and C roads for the purposes of the Roads Section. This consists of all roads which serve a strategic purpose - i.e. they access a community or form part of the main road network.
Everything comes onto St Helena through Jamestown; this then passes under the Archway which is the only height restriction on the Island still forming part of the network.
There are three roads coming out of Jamestown:
- To the right is Ladder Hill (because of Jacobs Ladder) which is the busiest route on St Helena taking aprox 1200v/12hr; this is technically the A1, and goes from the Canister up to Half Tree Hollow. DSV of Ladder Hill
- The second road out of Jamestown is Side Path and goes to the left towards Longwood; at approximately 1000v/12hr this is classified as the A2.
- The third road goes up the valley (gut) and zigzags up to meet Side Path just after the junction with Field Road, the access to Ruperts and the Power Station.
Ladder Hill Road continues as the A1 through Half Tree Hollow, past Tre Tanks, White Wall, Red Hill, Red Gate to White Gate. To the right a number of roads lead off. These provide access to Sapper Way, St Pauls, Scotland, Rosemary Plain, Thomsons Hill, Thomsons Wood amongst other areas. At White Gate is the first significant road to the left (ignoring the road to Francis Plain and Prince Andrew's School) this forms part of a figure 8 in the centre of the island and eventually leads to Longwood. Carrying straight on at White Gate leads to Blue Hill and Horse Pasture unless you take the following left which heads towards Sandy Bay DSV of Road to Sandy Bay (and around the M25 to Level Wood and Longwood).
Side Path, after meeting the other road out of Jamestown, continues to zigzag up the hill and links into the other end of the figure 8. These areas are called The Briars, Alarm Forest, Gordans Post [needs clarification on which bit is where]. Keeping to the left on the figure 8 lead you either towards Long Wood and Dead Wood or onto the M25 towards Level Wood and Sandy Bay.
Note: the M25 isn't a motorway, but being a road which circles around the centre of the island and it's highest peak those of us familiar with the M25 have drawn the comparison. In general it is single track with passing places.
Whilst not strictly a road it is worth noting that Ladder Hill is called Ladder Hill because of Jacobs Ladder. This was built as a railway to haul waste out of Jamestown, but fell into disuse and was rebuilt as a staircase (with very tall steps) linking Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow. This is now a Tourist Attraction and the record for climbing up it is held by a German ex-military at just over five minutes. This record was achieved on all-fours.
Most network A and B roads are at least capable of taking two-way traffic for most of their length. They will sometimes narrow to one lane, normally on bends, at changes in gradient, or where climbing steeply up a cliff. C roads are generally single track with passing places. Most network roads which are culs-de-sac will have a turning space at the end.
District Roads are often very narrow and not places to take a 3-wheeler. Passing places will often only be in driveways. As they are normally culs-de-sac there is often no turning space at the end, forcing the lost visitor to reverse; owing to the hills, driveways are often sharp forks and provide no space to turn.
Community Roads are sometimes narrower than your car and only have passing space using driveways.
Bridges and walls
There are many road bridges over streams and guts; there are also many retaining walls, although not as many as you might expect on such a steep network (probably less than are needed in reality). These tend to be local stone and cement en-masse, although recently gabions have made an appearance as a quick and simple approach to repairing failures.
Bridges are a mix of stone archway, concrete, culverts and steel. Most are old and many are in need of repair.
Casualty collisions are few and far between; damage-only's occur fairly often either vehicle-vehicle or more often vehicle-wall/cliff on a sharp turn. There is no UK spec Collision Datatbase: details of notable past collisions are well recorded in the newspaper archives.
Health and safety on the road network is good with next to no injuries. Workers wear 'normal' PPE and high-vis. Chapter 8 is not the same as you would find in the UK: excavations are coned/barriered off and illuminated through the hours of darkness, but advance warning isn't compliant with Chapter 8. However the level of signing and guarding employed is entirely in keeping with the nature of the road and it is clear to drivers what is expected of them. For those who may consider chapter 8 to be OTT in quiet rural situations, on St Helena the considered proportionate approach has been taken.
Unlike most countries, St Helena has no comprehensive public transport network. The only railway ever built was dismantled; there is no airport, and certainly no internal flights; there is no boat system as there is only one safe port connected to the rest of the island (there are a few safe coves which are only readily accessible by sea); the public bus system is obscure and poorly publicised. International travel is only by RMS until the airport is built.
However, reliance on the private car is not as great as you would think. As working hours are basically either 8:30am to 4pm or 9am to 5pm most employers (and all large employers) arrange what is called home-to-duty transport. What this amounts to is that each employer has a fleet of buses, landrovers, and whatever, which are stationed at the far outreaches of the island. Each morning the drivers of these vehicles pick people up on their way into work. Similarly at the end of the day there is a mass exodus as the buses leave promptly, don't wait, and there isn't another one. Therefore commuting private cars are generally used only senior management who keep irregular hours, self-employed, and those few who choose to drive themselves in.
Other organised activities seem to follow a similar line. On a Sunday morning groups of people can be seen waiting at the bus stops, presumably for their church bus. The Scouts and Guides have buses to pick up members, etc.
Despite this, private car ownership is high. Many houses have more than two cars; however, as vehicles never leave St Helena it is entirely possible that many of the visible vehicles are no longer in use.
Travel for tourists
Tourists come in four categories. The first category is cruise ship visitors on a day trip. On cruise days many of the buses, after their role as home-to-duty transport, spend the day acting as tour buses. Most are pre-booked by the tourists before coming ashore. Additionally many of the taxis, some of which also do home-to-duty transport, will wait near the Wharf to offer trips to the visitors. It is noticeable that many of these taxis only appear on cruise days and are little better than trucks with patio furniture screwed to the load bed.
The second category is yachtees: these are people who arrive on their own yacht. The third category is visitors arriving via the RMS. These two groups tend to use hire cars or taxis, although some do manage to work out the public bus service.
The last group are those visiting relatives. I guess these just use relatives' cars.
The Saint Helena Government is currently reconsidering transport provision in light of the airport development. It is not intended to import a significantly larger hire-car fleet and alternative travel options for tourists will need to be provided.
Vehicle and driver registration
There are a number of registration systems in use:
- Private vehicles use a simple numerical system without leading zeros, so the first is 1 and the series goes up to over 3700.
- Government Vehicles use a similar system preceded by SHG (for Saint Helena Government). Issues in this series number more than 300 at present. Three vehicles, being the two cranes and a container reach-stacker on the wharf, have numbers with leading zeros.
- Motorbikes are also separately numbered from 1, extending to over 500; it is believed that quadbikes are included in this series.
- Private trailers also seem to have their own numbering system, although the highest noted was 48.
For example '1' is a private Landrover, whilst SHG001 is one of the cranes used on the Wharf. It appears that old numbers are reused, so the fact that the current system goes beyond 3700 suggests there are that many vehicles registered, although possibly not MOT'd. In total there seem to be over 4500 active registration numbers.
- The Governor's cars have Crowns instead of numbers; however, old Governor's cars are re-registered on the SHG system for use by SHG staff. SHG vehicles subsequently sold off are given a private number.
It is not possible to confirm the age of vehicles from their registrations, obviously. Whilst most vehicles have the UK standard white front / yellow rear plates, a number of vehicles have old-style silver on black plates. However, the legality of these on newer vehicles is uncertain.
Vehicles have to pass a rigorous annual MOT. All vehicles are inspected by a licensed garage (as in the UK).
Insurance on most private vehicles will cover anyone the owner allows to drive who is over 21 and has a valid licence. It seems like a self-regulating system to keep premiums down as owners decide whom they trust to drive, but it works.
Drivers are permitted to drive on international licences for up to three months provided they register with the police (for free). Gaining a St Helena driving licence is a simple matter of filling out a form at the Customer Service Centre (provided you have a licence already). Driving licences need to be renewed annually. Driving tests are carried out by the police.