Sun | Nov 18, 2018

Railway revival setback - American firm fails to deliver on MOU

Published:Sunday | December 17, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
In this April 2011 file photo, Transport Minister Mike Henry peeks out of a window of a Jamaica Railway Corporation train during a test run of the rail service.

The latest effort to restart commercial operations of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) has collapsed due to the failure of Herzog Jamaica Limited to meet the deliverables of a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with the Ministry of Transport and Mining one year ago.

"The Government, through the ministry, has written to them, thanked them very much for their efforts and told them we are sorry they didn't put their business plan on the table as was required, and told them the MOU has expired.

"So we move on to the next player that's lined up," Ferris Ziadie, chairman of the board of the JRC, confirmed last week.

Rail revitalisation plan still alive

According to Ziadie, while the breakdown of the deal with the subsidiary of the United States-based Herzog International Incorporated has set back the planned phased revitalisation of local passenger rail service, it has not derailed this ambitious business plan.

"It's still on. It's still going to happen. However, we are looking at other proposals now. All that happens now is that the process is going to be later than we envisaged. But basically, we're looking at other proposals and we think it is practical to get that Phase One stage at least started before the end of next year, and that's really what we're working towards. With Herzog, it would have been sooner," added Ziadie.

Sunday Gleaner sources say the talks fell through despite Government extending the deadline for Herzog to roll out a comprehensive business plan about how it intended to go about resuscitating the Montego Bay, St James, to Appleton, St Elizabeth, leg of the railway line.

J. Wray & Nephew Limited and Chukka Caribbean Adventures are among the private-sector companies which were banking on tapping into the revitalised railway, and Clement 'Jimmy' Lawrence, chairman of the beverage company, remains optimistic about its economic potential.

"We still haven't given up hope on the railway being resuscitated and we'll continue, with our best efforts, to find a way, through Government, of course, but to advocate strongly for it to be considered and for a way to be found," said Lawrence.

"What we've done and our commitment, I think, is really tangible owing to the fact that we have followed through on the Joy Spence Appleton Rum Experience, and that is about 98 per cent completed now. It's going to be an institution because this is where our visitors are going to learn about the Appleton brand and the home of Appleton Estate, and the opening is going to be on the 18th of January," added Lawrence.

The multimillion-dollar investment in the rum experience was timed to coincide with the original start-up date for the Montego Bay to Appleton leg of the railway, which would have provided an exciting, comfortable and affordable means of transportation for the many tourists expected for the winter tourist season, which started on December 15.

"We know, this is Jamaica where if there is a will there is a way. It doesn't necessarily happen as quickly as you'd want it to ... it would have been better but we remain hopeful," said Lawrence.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com