Railway to return for studentsFriday, May 28, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
There is great hope for the resumption of a rail service soon in St Catherine, to meet the transportation needs primarily of students.
Minister of Transport and Mining Robert Montague, in reporting Government's renewed interest in a rail service between Old Harbour and Linstead, via Spanish Town, promised that the system would be “moving to create a safe and orderly system to take our children to and from school”.
He told the House of Representatives on Wednesday that the Jamaica Railway Corporation's (JRC) workshop in Kingston has been restored, and a solar light project there has been completed, in order to restart the school train service from between the three St Catherine communities.
“We are working with the Jamaica Heritage Trust to restore our station houses, especially the Old Harbour Station,” he said in the Sectoral debate in Parliament on Wednesday.
“In partnership with the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) and the Ministry of Education, we are hoping to move our children from Old Harbour and Linstead into Spanish Town by train. Then the JUTC will pick up and drop them off at the various schools in Spanish Town,” he said.
“In the afternoon the reverse will take effect. Along with the students, teachers, parents, health care and other essential workers will be prioritised for this service at first. Last Thursday, the train went to Linstead on a test run. This is not talk, this is a clear demonstration of the will of this Government to build back stronger,” the minister said.
A revived rail system for the island, mainly in these very areas, has been on the horizon for years. Former Transport Minister Mike Henry insisted that it would have played an important role in his multi-modal transport system. Now his successor, Montague, says he is determined to get it started and expanded to include the city of Kingston.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to expand this over time. We will have one train in Kingston to move between downtown and Marcus Garvey Drive to provide transportation and leisure trips or just to give train experience,” Montague said.
“This will bring economic activities for the communities along the line, as the train will stop in these communities and allow persons to vend and to offer other services. No big box stores will be allowed. This is an opportunity for the 'little person',” he stated.
“Only the people from these communities will be allowed to interact with passengers. In addition, we want to rent outcoaches to different businesses, so as you ride you can shop. Can you imagine an ice cream snack shop, pastry, souvenirs, juice bar, hairdresser, sports bar, a restaurant, etcetera as you move along. You can stop and buy your cane, peanuts, food, natural juice and other items (right there),” Montague added.
He said that, in addition, his ministry is working with the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), through an Enterprise Team, headed by Howard Mitchell, to offer a Developmental Lease to a bidder for the Montego Bay to Appleton Line.
According to the ministry's website, the Jamaican railway originated as a private and comparatively small undertaking in 1843, when the Smith's Brother (William and David) proposed to construct a rail system. This was favourably received by the House of Assembly and construction started in 1844.
It was the first railway system opened to traffic outside Europe and North America, and Jamaica became the second British colony, after Canada, to start a rail service, just 20 years after it started in the United Kingdom.
Its major role, initially, was the mass transportation of goods and people. The subsequent rail track extended throughout the island, allowing more access to the fertile interior areas where the agriculture industries need support, which effected closer social and economic integration and extended domestic markets.
Then the discovery of bauxite deposits in the 1940s, brought about the relative need to utilised railway as the preferred mode of transporting the bauxite extract to be processed and shipped.
After 34 years (1845 - 1879), the Government bought the railway from the Railway Company, ending the first phase of the railway history under private management.
In 1992, public rail transport services ceased operating in Jamaica, although bauxite industry continue to operate, in part using the JRC lines. However, the railway is seen now as poised to command a major role in the development of an integrated National Transport System, significantly reducing the carnage and congestion on the nation's roads, while enhancing production in the offering of a safe, reliable, and viable transportation alternative.
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