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Revive the rail service with electric trains

Published:Saturday | January 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM


If the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) is to resume its role as a major transportation mode, it must be fuel-efficient. Diesel oil, which is what most modern trains use, now won't cut it.

The new JRC will have to be ambitious and futuristic enough to go for the use of electric trains. Of course, this will mean a massive investment in solar farms to generate the quantum of electricity needed to power electric trains.

It is obvious that industries worldwide are shifting away from the use of oil as an energy source, anyway. Each year, the cost of solar power decreases by a meaningful percentage. Furthermore, there is nothing left to debate regarding the use of oil as a primary source of energy. The findings of research done by thousands of scientist have established with certainty that global warming, and all the ills that come with it, will be irreversible by the end of the next 100 years. To underscore this reality, the United Nations recently avowed to end the use of fossil fuels by 2050.

Even those who dismiss fears of global warming as conspiratorial will agree that the unpredictable price of oil is not good for business. The price of oil has risen and fallen precipitously over the last 10 years. What is more, it was the massive shift in oil prices, back in the 70s and 80s, which influenced the advent of more fuel-efficient transportation in Jamaica. That shift to smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles was partly responsible, although indirectly, for the demise of the railway system.

Jamaica Public Service could partner with JRC to finance the solar farms. The excess power could be added to the grid and, as a result, reduce the cost of electricity to the consumer.

There is just one problem with this, you say, this will cost a fortune, and where will the money come from?

An electric rail system, with solar power as the source of energy to power the system, would be an interesting project for the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) to take pride in promoting.

It would not be a hard sell to the DBJ's international network of financial connections. Of course, we already know there are investors who have expressed an interest in privatising the rail service. Also, the diaspora and local private investors could be approached. With skilful and realistic negotiation, the sum of all these and other sources would make the project feasible. The most daunting challenge will not be finding money; instead, it will be finding intent.

Kenneth Reeves