The train is coming back - Henry
Preliminary preparatory work for resuscitating the railway network is slated to get under way over the Christmas season, following last Friday's signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Ministry of Transport and Mining - through the Jamaica Railway Corporation - and Herzog Jamaica Limited.
"We do actually have a team scheduled for the next week or so which will actually go through every bridge and tunnel throughout the entire rail system. Starting with phase one, which has 21 bridges or tunnels which must be verified as being stable, sound and those sorts of things, we've already committed a sizeable amount of money just to employ an independent firm, and they should be on the ground by next week or the following week.
"We don't have the luxury of hanging back for Christmas," Dr Sean Mathew, president of Herzog International, declared during the signing ceremony at the ministry's head office at 138h Maxfield Avenue, Half-Way Tree. The company is budgeting to invest US$200-$250 million.
Restoration of Jamaica's rail system, which started operations in 1845 and ceased commercial operations in 1992, will be done on a phased basis as follows:
- Phase 1 - Montego Bay (St James) to Appleton (St Elizabeth).
- Phase 2a - Spanish Town to Ewarton (both in St Catherine) and Spanish Town to Clarendon.
- Phase 2b - Appleton to Clarendon Park.
- Phase 3 - Spanish Town to Kingston. However, this is subject to further negotiations.
- Phase 4 - Connectivity of existing line to Vernamfield (Clarendon).
Mike Henry, minister of transport and mining, used the occasion to explain that this MOU was an example of a new approach to public/private-partnership.
"So you have local investors equally, so you not divesting everything; you're sharing in the development over a period of time. So that, basically, is what we're doing is developing portions of the railway under this agreement. The Jamaica Railway will still exist, but that's down the road as to how far you go with it for privatisation. This government and this ministry is rebuilding the railway and reintegrating the railway in the economic development life of the country."
Among the local companies represented at the signing, all with an interest in tourism, were J. Wray and Nephew Limited by its chairman, Clement 'Jimmy' Lawrence; Island Routes - also by its chairman, Adam Stewart; and Paul Hanworth, chief operating officer of Pan-Jamaican Investment Trust Limited, who attended in his capacity as chairman of Chukka Caribbean Adventures.
Hanworth explained his companies' involvement to The Gleaner.
"Concerning Chukka Caribbean Adventures, we (Pan-Jamaican) are a 20 per cent shareholder in them and we look at the railway in particular for Chukka as having a tourist element to it. So they are gonna be designing, along with Adam Stewart's Island Routes, more attractions for tourists coming to the island. That's our direct initial involvement."
Meanwhile, J. Wray and Nephew, whose Appleton Rum Tour attracts some 50,000 visitors each year, is looking to further capitalise on its linkages with the railway, with Lawrence welcoming the opportunity of introducing its premium rum to more of the world.
Henry sought to allay fears that a renewed and vibrant rail service would be to the detriment of other players in the transport sector.