Tristan da Cunha's Public Works department builds and maintains the island's infrastructure of roads, energy supply, street lighting, water supply, sewage services, as well as harbour works. These have mostly been developed since the establishment of a Royal Navy station - HMS Atlantic Isle - in World War II, with the building of first crawfish canning factory in 1949, and during resettlement after the volcanic interlude of 1961 to 1963. Facilities are mainly confined to the village and the settlement plain. The most recent additions have been street lighting and solar energy panels.
Paved roads are limited to the settlement. The longest road, nicknamed by some the M1, heads out to the Potato Patches at the western end of the settlement plain, and is prone to being blocked by occasional rock falls triggered by heavy storms or rare minor earthquakes. Overland travel to other parts of Tristan Island is by means of narrow and vertiginous footpaths, also known locally as 'roads'. A bus service runs between the settlement and the Patches for pensioners. Vehicles run on diesel fuel. The diesel is held in nine 20,000 litre tanks, which also feed the island's electricity generators.
The island's earliest and most reliable water supply was the Big Watron, a stream on the eastern edge of the village. This was the 'Cascade' where passing sailing ships use to replenish their water barrels. Its water is now stored in a large header tank that distributes water throughout the village via a network of pipes.
At one time, every Tristan house had its outside toilet or latrine, one of which can be seen at the Thatched House Museum. Nowadays, the houses have flush toilets linked to a cess pit, with excess outflow into the sea.
Electricity is supplied from diesel generators based in the fishing factor. An early wind turbine, installed in the 1980s proved to be an expensive failure, but new initiatives to introduce renewable energy have started with the installation of a small solar energy farm. Propane gas is also used.
Street lights were installed for the first time in 2013.
Communications, Internet and Television
For many years, radio was the main real time means of communicating with the outside world. It remains important today, not least for ship to shore communications. Satellite equipment was erected in 2003, which downloads transmissions by the British Forces Broadcasting Service beamed to members of the Armed Forces serving overseas, and rebroadcasts it to Tristan households. The same equipement also allows each home to have a telephone, which prior to 2007 were too costly for everyday use. Similarly, there is also an internet service, although the bandwidth is currently very limited, so video and large email attachments have to be kept to a minimum. There is not yet any mobile phone (cellphone) coverage on Tristan. These facilities are operated by a separate Communications Department.
The Public Works Department is responsible for erecting and maintaining government and community buildings, although external contractors may be brought in for larger projects, and visiting Royal Navy ships also sometimes help. The islanders look after their own domestic housing, forming large teams to undertake tasks such as reroofing a house, a task that can often be done in a day.
Calshot Harbour suffers a lot of wear and tear from severe winter storms, and there can be issue with ocean swells and the shallow draught. It requires continual maintenance. See the separate Calshot Harbour pages for more details.