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Don’t abandon rail service, warns Henry

BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter mundlet@jamaicobserver.com

Wednesday, August 15, 2012    

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FORMER Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry is warning the current administration not to turn its back on the railway system as it is critical to the country's development.

"Let us hope to God that we don't think it is not viable or important in the development of the country as no modern world develops without the railway system," Henry told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"So let us just continue to pursue it and not look at the railway system as being abandoned for other movement of traffic by road because that will be at a high cost and will retard the total development of the country," he added.

Henry's warning comes in the wake of an announcement by the Omar Davies-led ministry that the passenger train service, which operates between Spanish Town and Charlemont via Linstead, will be terminated next Tuesday, August 21.

Partial rail service was reintroduced to Jamaica by Henry last April after being dormant for 19 years, to facilitate commuters during the closure of the Bog Walk Gorge and to minimise disruption of pipe-laying by the National Water Commission.

However, the current ministry said that with the works completed and the Gorge reopened, the service has proven to be uneconomical.

Transport Minister Omar Davies told the Observer that the train has been operating at a monthly loss of $2.5 million and as a result will be privatised as Government does not have the resources to keep it afloat. He said an enterprise committee has already been set up to explore privatisation.

As such, it is not yet clear whether under that new dispensation the rail service will be rolled out across the island or if it will be kept to the current routes.

But Henry, known for constant advocation of a "multi-modal" approach to transportation while he headed the ministry, does not agree with the move. According to him, Government should have pursued extending the service to Gregory Park in St Catherine. This, he said, was part of a comprehensive programme he formulated for the revitalisation the railway system.

"If it is that you are looking at passengers, you have to relate that to the amount of people and students who are attending school and it can only be economical when you start to run it from a major section of the island such as Gregory Park to Spanish Town, so you pick up the hub of the large population in Portmore," Henry said.

In addition to that, he said there were plans for the service to operate from Williamsfield to Spanish Town and perhaps Linstead, via May Pen. However, he blamed the management of the Jamaica Railway Corporation for not having bought into his vision.

Henry said his plans also included the privatisation of the system. He reported that he had received an offer from an American company interested in buying and operating the service then transferring it back to the Government. He is now not sure what has become of that offer, he said.

The former minister maintains that the way forward includes a new management and modernisation of the system.

"You can't have an old time management trying to run what must be a modern approach to railway," Henry said.

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