Gov't announces another plan to get trains rolling again

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Gov't announces another plan to get trains rolling again

BY ARTHUR HALL
Editor-at-Large
halla@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 17, 2020

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THE Government is to try a new approach to restore passenger rail service to Jamaica, almost 28 years after the trains stopped rolling. Minister with portfolio responsibility for information Karl Samuda on Wednesday announced a change in the approach to the privatisation of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC), the State-owned company which operated rail service in Jamaica for several decades.

According to Samuda, the Government now plans to pursue a development lease for the rail system from Montego Bay, St James, to Appleton in St Elizabeth.A development lease allows private sector companies the opportunity to develop and maintain government assets while governing the use, agreed development and maintenance of the assets over the life of the lease.

“Cabinet has given approval for the establishment of an enterprise team to oversee and manage the strategic engagement with potential partners for the privatisation,” Samuda told a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

“Cabinet has given approval for the engagement of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) as the transaction manager,” added Samuda.

He said attorney-at-law Howard Mitchell has been named to head the enterprise team, which includes managing director of the DBJ Milverton Reynolds, Fitzroy Williams, Michael Schloss, and representatives of the Ministry of Transport and Mining, the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, and the solicitor general or a nominee from that office.

“This is a very positive step and I am certain that shortly we will see the reactivation and the remobilisation of the Jamaica railway service,” said Samuda.

The Andrew Holness-led Administration has long touted the resumption of passenger rail service.

Delivering the Throne Speech at the ceremonial opening of the 2019/20 legislative year in Gordon House last February, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen said the implementation of the first phase of the privatisation of the rail service from Montego Bay to Appleton would be done during the year, which ends on March 31, 2020.

In the Throne Speech, which is a synopsis of the Administration’s plans for the year, Sir Patrick said that, in addition to rail-related activities, the process would include the relocation of squatters and informal settlers from within the rail reservation.

The Holness Administration also used the 2019/20 Public Bodies Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure to indicate that negotiations were under way for phase-one rehabilitation of the railway service from Montego Bay to Appleton.

According to the presentation in the estimates, the project was to start during the soon-to-end fiscal year, through a joint-venture arrangement between the JRC and private investors.

Months later, in June, Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague told the House of Representatives that the Government was in the last phase of completing an arrangement with a private consortium, which would take over 34 kilometres of the rails, improve and relay the tracks, buy their own engine and coaches, and maintain the equipment and tracks.

At that time, Montague also announced that the Government was to shortly introduce a school train service from Old Harbour to Spanish Town, and Spanish Town to Linstead in St Catherine.

“The technical requirements are here and the expertise is inhouse. What we need is some funds and I am confident that when our discussions with the Ministry of Finance are complete we will know if we will start one leg, then the next, or both at once,” Montague announced then.

But to date, neither of the announcements by the transport minister has materialised.

The Jamaican railway originated in 1843 and was the first railway opened to traffic outside of Europe and North America.


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