Tue | Aug 21, 2018

Mike Henry | Full steam ahead with trains

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Mike Henry

I read with interest the editorial in the Thursday, February 1, edition of your newspaper captioned 'Mike Henry off the rails'. At a glance, I was ready to dismiss it as the nattering nabobs of negativity at it again. But upon deeper thought, I recognised that I am not unaccustomed to being the butt of jokes. However, I recall that The Gleaner was the same journal that berated me for creating a four-lane footpath to the Norman Manley International Airport; but then, plantocratic minds are not easily retrained, and that makes it difficult for many to re-educate the vision to move from personality and individual motivation to the wider vision of tomorrow.

Any good leader will tell you that he or she must be able to see further down the track than those around him or her can. It's not easy when one who is never second class is surrounded by those who can only see the trees instead of the forest. Without such a vision, the people perish. It's against this background that I use this opportunity to chlorinate the thoughts of those who think otherwise and invite them to drink from the reservoir of information that abounds.

Leaders in any industrialised country will tell you that rail service is absolutely essential to development and is the most economic form of transportation. The rail service in Jamaica was once classified among the 11 wonders of the world. Has it helped us? Indeed! It has. The network it provides made the development of the bauxite-alumina industry in the 1950s-1970s viable.

I cannot accept that I suffer from a "crisis of confidence and credibility". If I suffer any at all, it is from an unwillingness to believe that as a people, and, by extension, Government, we cannot achieve the things that are so important and vital to our development. When we stopped the trains from running many years ago, we took away time from the lives of the people. Recall that the train, the aeroplane, and the ship are among the very few modes of transport that run on time. They don't wait for you. If you are late, they are gone. Catch the next available one.

I have no apology to make for the decision I took back in 2011 to restart the passenger rail service between Spanish Town and Linstead. Let's not forget that in many areas across the Jamaica, the rails and its attendant bridges and stations were being stolen and vandalised to sell to the scrap metal trade. Had I not taken that decision, we would have nothing left to entice those who now have an interest in rail, whether for cargo, passenger, or speciality tours.

 

JUST IN-TIME WORLD

 

I am at a loss to think that we cannot recognise that the very challenges we have had over the years served as deterrents to the further development of the rail system. I can understand the sense of impatience that now resides in the minds of many people, given the unsuccessful attempts to get Rail India, the Chinese, and, more recently, Herzog, to solidify the efforts to resuscitate the services.

We are currently on the cusp of the emerging development of a logistics hub, special economic zones, and the mining and minerals sector. Let's not forget that we are living in a just-in-time world and people, goods and services cannot move seamlessly unless there is a multimodal mix of transportation, which includes the rail.

Several international entities have expressed strong interests in the JRC. We are pursuing them vigorously. The JRC 2016 annual report indicated that a net operating profit of $9.71 million was realised. This is $2.5 million above what was projected. It's still a viable entity with good assets.

Resuscitating the rail service in phases will be done through investments that will be facilitated by the Government as we create an environment that is free from bureaucracy and worthy of people doing business with relative ease.

Yes, it may be long in coming, but I can't be impatient. It's often said that the darkest part of the night is just before dawn. I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the best is yet to come.

- Mike Henry is Jamaica's minister of transport and mining. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.