MH EXPRESS: The transport minister believes reintroducing the rail service is vital to future national development.
WITH several international entities said to be expressing strong interest in the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC), transport and mining minister, Mike Henry, stands firm behind his decision to use taxpayer dollars to commence the resuscitation of the railway system and expresses his intention to get the rail service fully back on track.
“Leaders in any industrialized country will tell you that rail service is absolutely essential to development and is the most economic form of transportation. The rail service in Jamaica was once classified among the 11 wonders of the world. Has it helped us? Indeed, it has. The network it provides made the development of the bauxite-alumina industry in the 1950s-1970s viable,” the minister noted in a Sunday Gleaner column, responding to recent criticism of his determination to get the rail service going again.
Henry says his detractors have even labelled his efforts, his enthusiasm, as “a crisis of confidence and credibility.” Henry has fired back. “If I suffer any at all, it is from an unwillingness to believe that as a people, and by extension the Government, we cannot achieve the things that are so important and vital to our development,” he insists. “When we stopped the trains from running many years ago, we took away time from the lives of the people. I make no apology for the decision I took back in 2011 to restart the passenger rail service between Spanish Town and Linstead.”
In many parts islandwide, the minister points out, abandoned rail lines and attendant bridges have been vandalized to sell to the scrap metal trade. “Had I not taken the decision, we would have nothing left to entice those who now have an interest in rail, whether for cargo, passenger or specialty tours,” he says.
The transport ministry has tried in vain, Henry reveals, to get Rail India, the Chinese and, more recently, Herzog, to solidify efforts to resuscitate the JRC services, which he is more than convinced is “still a viable entity with good assets.” As for the international entities expressing interest in the JRC, Henry says, “We are pursuing them vigorously.”
Through investments to be facilitated by the Government, the resuscitation of the rail service will be done in phases. “Let’s not forget that we are living in a just-in-time world and people, goods and services cannot move seamlessly unless there is a multimodal mix of transportation, which includes the rail,” Henry says. “Yes, it may be long in coming, but I can’t be impatient.”