Testing the rails - Transport minister says plans in high gear to resume train service
Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry will take a passenger train out for a test run next month as part of his plan to resume rail service in Jamaica.
This will come almost 20 years after the last passenger train ran in the island.
Henry is pushing to initially resume a limited passenger service with the trains running from May Pen, Clarendon, to Spanish Town, St Catherine, and on to Linstead.
The trial run will take place on April 16 and workers at the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) are now busy repairing the engine and coaches which will be used.
But Henry is not sure when the commercial operation will roll down the tracks.
"I just want to (use the test run) to show the sceptics that I can make it work," Henry told journalists at the weekly post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday.
"I can't go more than the immediate test run as I'm making miracles work," Henry quipped when pressed about when the rail service will be ready to carry passengers or cargo.
He said the Government has received an offer for the rehabilitation of the railway, complete with private investments but that is not being fully pursued because of internal issues to be dealt with.
These issues, Henry hinted, include a clause in the contract for the operators of Highway 2000 which would see the State compensating them for any loss of traffic because of the reintroduction of the rail service.
The transport minister said he was in advanced talks with four of five potential investors in the rail service.
These investors are based in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Henry told journalists.
But Henry said even while these talks continue, he is determined to offer some rail service and has rehabilitated assets of the JRC using resources of the company.
"I have rebuilt the coaches, repaired the engines, repainted the engines and I am doing the first test run because we are dealing with lines that have not been used," said Henry.
With workmen still frantically trying to paint and insert seats in two coaches yesterday, Henry said getting the rail service up and running is not costing the Government one dollar.
According to Henry: "We had to reclaim the railway station in Spanish Town ... we had to relay lines and all of that is done with what (money) we have. We have had to sell scrap metals and we have had to sell lands we don't need."
The minister argued that having the trains running from May Pen to Spanish Town at this time could be a blessing for persons in that area who are now facing dislocation because of the closure of the Bog Walk gorge.
No fare decided
He said no determination has yet been made as to how much persons will have to pay for a train ride as that is being worked out.
"We are phasing in the development on the economic needs because I am being driven by a decision that I must not come to central government for any subsidy.
"So I am working out the cost per passenger. I'm working out whether I'm going to have more schoolchildren than adults and (the price) will be introduced on the basis of that."
Henry said there are about nine different possible earning levels for the rail service and those will also be considered in the cost per trip.
But he said the cost of a train ride would not be set without consideration for the bus and taxi operators who now ply the route.
"One mode of transport is not in conflict with the other. It is complementary."