Athaliah Reynolds, Staff Reporter
The deserted railway station in downtown Kingston against the backdrop of high-rise buildings. The Jamaican Government has enlisted the help of the Chinese to renovate the rail system. - File
Transport Minister Mike Henry has said the Government would be seeking to revitalise the country's railway system, with work expected to begin before year end.
Speaking during his contribution to the 2008-2009 Sectoral Debate at Gordon House on Wednesday, Henry said the move involves plans to reopen the Kingston to Montego Bay and Spanish Town to Ewarton services.
He said Government would be spending close to US$300 million (J$7 billion) on the initiative, which will be done within a three-year refurbishing schedule.
According to Henry, arrangements have already been made with the Chinese government to facilitate the construction of 18 new railway stations across the country. These will accommodate new tracks of 105-pound standard to enable greater speed and load-carrying capacity.
He said the reintroduction of the passenger and freight railway service is intended to significantly impact on rising fuel costs. The Government is focused on getting much of the island's freight transportation done by rail and increasing mass transit to ease traffic gridlocks in urban centres.
The transport minister said the present wooden sleepers would be replaced with concrete over time, as concrete sleepers require less maintenance. The system will also accommodate five new engines, 45 coaches for passengers and 68 freight coaches.
To create jobs
Henry further said the initiative is expected to create thousands of jobs for Jamaicans during and after the construction of the railway lines and supporting networks.
Meanwhile, Henry reiterated that unlike other categories of service providers in the public transport sector, the state-owned Jamaica Urban Transit Company would not be granted a fare hike.
He, however, said he would be announcing a rate increase in July for the Portmore toll road.
Henry also said there has been a change in the toll policy under the concession agreement, which will now see an annual review of tariffs by the developer, instead of the twice-yearly review. Commuters, therefore, can expect a possible further increase in July 2009.