'Revive the rail service'

Observer senior reporter

Friday, October 20, 2017

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THERE is a renewed call for the revival of Jamaica's rail service to complement the existing transportation system.

This time, the call is coming from Fitzroy Williams, CEO of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC). He was addressing the Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) recently.

“Rail is still the most viable land transport system,” he said. “We have 172 years of experience [in operating railways]. The country needs to consider the saving, not only to passengers but also a system that can be operated at approximately 20 times less in [terms of] the cost of transportation.”

He said the JRC has been looking at various options over the past 12 months, and is doing its own proposals and preparation of a business plan in event the current memorandum of understanding (MOU) does not bear fruit.

In June, Cabinet reported that it had considered a report from the Ministry of Transport and Mining in connection with the proposed rehabilitation of the rail system to assist overall economic development.

The report outlined a vision for an integrated multi-modal transport system which was being pursued by current Transport and Mining Minister Mike Henry.

The model sees the possibility of a system connecting sea, land and air, including plans for the rehabilitation of the rail system.

In July Cabinet decided on an extension of the MOU which had been signed between Herzog Jamaica Limited and the Government, acting through the transport ministry and the JRC, for three months ending in September.

Nothing more recent has been released about the plans to rehabilitate the rail service, but at the PAAC meeting, Williams confirmed that the MOU with Herzog carries a US$250 million cost, including the cost of repairing, upgrading and operating the rail service, which seems to be the main hurdle to resuming the service.

“We know that we have a viable proposal on the table, and there are still three phases of the proposal,” Williams argued, noting that the Montego Bay-Appleton Estate leg was considered the most viable as a historical attraction for tourists.

“There are strong interests, both local and overseas, waiting to pounce on that option,” he noted.

He said that the a serious challenge has been how to properly link Kingston with the rest of the current miniscule service the JRC has been providing. However, he insists that it can be done.

The Jamaica Railway Corporation is a statutory body established under the Jamaica Corporation Act 1960 which has sole responsibility for the operation of rail services in Jamaica.

Jamaica's railway service is one of the oldest in the western hemisphere, and played a vital role in providing passenger and freight services to the agricultural and mining sectors.

In October 1992 the Government took the decision to suspend train services and commenced efforts to privatise the rail services due to the entity's inability to generate adequate revenues to fund operational costs, capital replacements, and equipment maintenance.










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