READY FOR THE ROAD!
Trains ready to roll outFriday, January 07, 2022
BY BALFORD HENRY
COME Monday morning, members of Jamaica's student population going into Kingston will be offered another means of transportation – the rail service.
This comes seven months after Transport and Mining Minister Robert Montague told Parliament that his ministry was working to accommodate a rail service for students in St Catherine.
He is hoping to not only provide a service in St Catherine, but to expand it over time.
“This is not talk; this is a clear demonstration of the will of this Government to build back stronger,” he told guests at the recent launch of the new service, Jamaica Railway Corporation's (JRC) “Back on Track School Train Service”, at his Kingston office.
He also pointed out that the train had gone on a test run from Spanish Town to Linstead and back the week before.
He explained that under the agreement, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses will pick up students at the Spanish Town Railway Station and drop them off at various schools in Spanish Town, and the reverse would take effect in the afternoons at the end of school.
He said that the service would be available to St Catherine high school students. However, he said that his hope is really that the JRC will be able to expand the service over time to accommodate more Jamaicans.
He also pointed out that the JRC has been working with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) to restore station houses, especially in Old Harbour, adding a renewed interest in the heritage sites along the route.
According to the acting general manager for the JRC, Donald Hanson, the corporation had been mandated to commence the train programme in time for the new school year, and that it would include Spanish Town to Old Harbour, and Spanish Town to Linstead, doing two round trips per day.
“I believe this is the start of something great,” he told the press, noting that there is a possibility that a similar service could be created in the Corporate Area, linking Papine with Half-Way-Tree and Cross Roads.
Montague, like his predecessor at the Transport Ministry, Mike Henry, believes the rail service could provide an alternative means of transport for commuters across the island, if it gets the right funding.
“I said in Parliament that we are going to reintroduce passenger trains because, if we can use these lines for cargo, certainly we can use them for people, and I am seeing the reality of that happening right now,” he stated.
Some 400 students will be able to use the St Catherine service daily, beginning Monday. They attend six of the main high schools – Jose Marti, Jonathan Grant, St Catherine High, St Jago, Innswood, and Spanish Town High. The students were selected by the schools and were given a card to travel on the trains. All students using the service are on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
Successive governments have been severely criticised for putting the country's railway system to sleep.
One critic had suggested that it was a lack of interest in the trains by successive governments since Independence in 1962 that crippled the service, and led to the country's dependence on private buses and route taxis to transport the citizenry. A system which most urban commuters believe is way below what is expected of urban areas like Kingston and St Andrew, for example.
Despite several attempts by Mike Henry as transport minister, including critical test runs for the trains in St Catherine and Clarendon, the system closed down.