Businessman, diplomat give nod to revitalising rail service
Business mogul Adam Stewart and Canada's high commissioner to Jamaica, Sylvain Fabi, on Thursday gave resounding endorsements of the Government's effort to revitalise the passenger segment of the Jamaica Railway Corporation's (JRC) rail network.
Stewart and Fabi signalled their approval following their trip on a train ride from the Spanish Town railway station to Linstead, St Catherine, and back.
"It brought a lot of things into perspective. The first one is the natural beauty of Jamaica," said Stewart.
"Many of us in my generation never rode on the rail line. We've spent a bit of time looking at it, and I think the whole nostalgia of the rail has some appeal. Clearly, my value-added in this process is simply around the tourism side, what we call the historic side, and a major part of the first phase is Montego Bay to Appleton," added Stewart, chief executive officer of Sandals Resorts International.
Stewart pointed out that when the JRC ceased commercial operations in 1992, Jamaica had less than one-third of the hotel-room stock now in the local tourism sector and since then the number of visitors have gone up significantly.
"These new generations - the X generation, the millenials, they are explorers; they are people who want to get out there and see things," he said.
"So my group and the Chukka Group have come together in a joint venture - Chukka Caribbean Adventures to put a proposal to the JRC as to how we work with the cruise lines, the land-based hotels, the airlines, the US tour operators, North American tour operators and European tour operators," said Stewart, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours.
"The idea is to monetise and get significant cash flows from that portion to start off the line and have a tour that is second to none that, overall lifts the prestige of brand Jamaica," he added.
Government recently signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with the United States-based Herzog Jamaica Limited, which has started preliminary preparatory work centred on checking the integrity of some of the railway infrastructure targeted for the first phase of rehabilitation.
High Commissioner Fabi, who along with Stewart and a crew from Island Tours rode in the 'Clarendon Express' coach with Minister of Transport and Mining Mike Henry, was very impressed by his first Jamaican journey via rail.
"It was good to see that you were able to ride a passenger train between Spanish Town and where we landed in Linstead ... and I told the minister, 'If you ever have a train that links the north coast to Kingston, I will fly from abroad and I will come and ride it'," he said.
The diplomat also pointed to the potential of the railway as an integral component of a country's growth agenda, recounting the value of merchandise and freight railroad in Canada's development.
"The rail is almost always a crucial part of any country's economic development, so not looking at rail in Jamaica, you would be missing one of the pieces of the puzzle and one of the pieces for any solution for growth, which is this Government's key priority," Fabi said.
"So I'm glad to see that it's working. I'm glad to see that the minister is committed to that and he is talking to international partners who are willing to come in and make initial investments," he added.
"There is certainly a great potential to use the railway to supplement your tourism offer, that's great. I know the railway will start again from Montego Bay to Appleton, but that's one part, right. Eventually, being able to connect Kingston in a foreigner's point of view, I think would be great because then you could get your citizens and tourists directly from Ocho Rios to Kingston. So I think it's a good start. It's a sign of things to come, and I really do hope that it works," Fabi said.
That cannot happen too soon for Stewart, who is not just looking ahead, but planning for when that first leg of the railway from Montego Bay in St James to Appleton, St Elizabeth, gets going.
"Dunn's River Falls is our number one attraction in Jamaica, and I think this will be our Dunns River Falls of the west. This is a gold mine in so many ways, certainly from the tourism point of view," Stewart told Sunday Business.
He also put some measure of faith in endorsement of the railway by his seven-year old son, Aston, who accompanied him on the train trip. When asked if he enjoyed the trip the youngster answered in the affirmative.
"He loved it, man, and the visitors are gonna love it same way," Stewart said.