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DERAILED? - Gov’t changes tracks on railway

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior Observer reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, December 06, 2013    

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IN a bid to quickly exit the railway business, the government is shifting its policy from selling the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) as a single entity, and looking at breaking it up into several parts, in order to attract investors.

"All the government is going to do is be a regulator," Joseph A. Matalon, JRC chairman, told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) at Gordon House on Wednesday.

Matalon explained that initially the current enterprise team, which is leading the divestment exercise, contemplated creating an entity from what was left of the JRC, and divesting it as a total entity. However, "incentive requirements" for its development proved too costly, and the policy now is to seek to divest the component parts, as soon as investors are identified and the process completed.

"That, in a general sense, is where the shift in policy has been," the chairman told the PAAC.

He said the JRC is still looking at two unsolicited proposals for the sale of the JRC, but in the event that neither of them come to the table, the corporation will break up the corporation and sell the parts.

He said that the Appleton Estate Express which once offered tourists a chance to tour the rum estate and factory by train, has been identified among the separated assets. It has already attracted approaches from investors wanting to resume the service. However, the JRC wants to divest it to investors who can reinstate and operate a rail service on their own, as the government would no longer be leasing a rail service.

He said the corporation's bauxite operations would also be divested as a separate entity.

But Matalon gave no indication as to whether there was interest in the heritage value of the JRC, including the aged train stations. There is no confirmation as to whether a passenger service will be resumed in the near future.

Former Minister of Transport and Works, Mike Henry, told the committee that the previous government wanted to divest the JRC as a single entity complete with departments involved in passenger, cargo, data and heritage interests. However, he agreed to hold further questions, pending the committee's receipt of a full report from the ministry on the issues raised by Matalon.

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