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Get the Appleton to Montego Bay rail service up and running, please

Monday, October 02, 2017

This newspaper notes with interest word from chairman of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) Mr Ferris Ziadie regarding plans for the long-contemplated revival of passenger rail services in Jamaica.

Readers will recall that the JRC was once a cornerstone of Jamaica's transportation system. Trains travelled daily carrying passengers and cargo, linking Kingston to the north-eastern town of Port Antonio through the hills of St Catherine and St Mary, and for several miles along the magnificent north eastern coastline.

A much longer journey linked Kingston to Montego Bay in the west, skirting the Cockpit Country, providing views as spectacular as those to the east.

After well in excess of 100 years of service, declining economic viability meant Jamaica's passenger rail service went into decline. The north-eastern leg was closed down in the 1980s and total collapse followed with the closure of the Kingston-Montego Bay service in the early 90s.

For historical purposes, it should be noted that Kingston's tram car service, which closed down in the late 1940s, was run by the electricity provider of the time, not the JRC.

But to get back to the main discussion: an attempt pushed by Mr Mike Henry a few years ago — transport minister then as he is now — to revive the cross-country rail passenger service got off the ground in 2011 from Kingston through St Catherine to Clarendon. But that was quickly scrapped because of financial losses.

So now Mr Ziadie tells us that the plan is to revive the railway in three phases. The first will involve a tourism project linking Montego Bay to Appleton in northern St Elizabeth to facilitate the world-famous Appleton tour.

Indeed, Gruppo Campari, parent company of Jamaican company J Wray & Nephew, is spending US$7.2 million in expanding the popular tourist attraction Appleton Estate Rum Tour with the understanding that the Jamaican Government is committed to executing the Montego Bay to Appleton rail link.

Mr Clement “Jimmy” Lawrence, chairman of J Wray & Nephew, told journalists and others at a function at Appleton in August that the expansion and renovation project will lead to 200,000 visitors annually to the Appleton Rum Tour up from 50,000. The natural beauty of Jamaica's interior and the storied history of Appleton Estate apart, visitors will be exposed to Jamaican cuisine and prized Appleton rum.

The intention is for a classic synergy of Jamaica's tourism product and promotion of its cuisine and beverages.

But success will be heavily dependent on very comfortable, even luxurious, transportation from the north coast to Appleton on the southern fringe of the Cockpit Country — which a rail link can provide.

Back in August Industry Minister Karl Samuda spoke of his own “disappointment” that the proposed rail project between Montego Bay and Appleton was not “further ahead”. He also noted that Mr Edmund Bartlett, the tourism minister, was “very anxious” to at least get the Montego Bay to Appleton rail service going.

This newspaper concurs. In our view, phase two and three can wait. The service from Montego Bay to Appleton seems to us to be a low-hanging fruit which can only bring benefit to the country. The Government needs to act quickly and get it done.