Let's hope this taximan's train service predictions are badly off track
Robert Montague has his ePay card, which grants access to thetrain service for students, scanned by a bus driver on Monday. Atthe time Montague was the transport and mining minister.(Photo: Xavier Allen)

Mr Robert Montague's last hurrah as transport minister — the Back on Track School Train Service which rolled out on Monday in St Catherine — was not a spectacular success, with only seven of 400 students meant to take the inaugural ride doing so.

That, however, is no big deal and does not take away from what is a practical idea to ferry the participating high school students from Jose Marti, Jonathan Grant, St Catherine, St Jago, Innswood, and Spanish Town by rail to avoid the traffic-choked roads.

The success of this service holds out the possibility for extension to other areas of the country, and even a revival of commuter train service as most Jamaicans over 30 know it, and can recall the heyday of one of the oldest train services in the western hemisphere.

Mr Montague's explanation of the small number of seven students on the Monday roll-out, although a tad exaggerated by him adding that he did not expect as many, was mostly credible, and suggests that as time goes on participation will grow.

“All the students from the six participating schools would not have yet collected their cards… The Ministry of Education indicated that they will get it [during the week] in full, because all the students don't come back at the same time and the same day… It's gonna take a couple days to go up to the full 400 students allowed,” he said.

“We had about six students this morning in total on both trains. We weren't even anticipating so much, but we still insisted that we would run the train so that people can see it; get familiar with it.

“…The train hasn't run for passengers for a little, while so you will find that some of the children are a little scared or a little apprehensive in going on. So by having the train running and they see it and feel it and get the vibes and, you know, they hear from others who would have been on it, by about Wednesday, Thursday we should be up to full speed.”

What has struck us, though, are the comments from a taximan who was interviewed by a television reporter, telling us that the service would not work, unless music — we presume dancehall music of the extreme kind — was on the train.

And even though we are aware that taxis are in competition with the train, we admit to some apprehension that he could be right, based on a good deal of experience with public transportation, including the troubling 'no-panty days'.

This is where parents and guardians of these children will have to play an important role in seeing to it that they use the train service, which is always going to be safer, especially given the novel coronavirus pandemic and, if operated efficiently, more likely to get them to school on-time.

Mr Montague has also touched on a very crucial point, that of getting the students' buy-in, because many of them have no knowledge of or experience riding the train. We hope that the necessary public education is taking place to reach sceptical parents and students.

We commend the ministries of transportation and education, the Jamaica Urban Transit Company, and the Jamaica Railway Corporation for staging the Back on Track School Train Service.

Mr Montague hopes revival of the train service will be part of the celebration to mark the nation's 60th anniversary of Independence. We hope this wish comes true.

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