The Government has granted permission to an industrial minerals and aggregates company to bring life to hundreds of kilometres of state-owned railway lines laying idle for over three decades.
The train tracks fall under the control of the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC), which is expected to earn $33 million within the first year under the deal with Mineral Agency for Retail and Logistics (MARL) Limited.
Actual operations on the track will not begin until the end of June after the JRC, MARL and the Ministry of Transport and Mining inked an agreement on Tuesday.
Jamaica has one of the oldest railway systems in the Western Hemisphere, having been introduced to the island by the British in November 1845 for the sugar cane industry. Throughout history, the railway has played a vital role in providing passenger and freight services to the agricultural, mining, and tourism sectors, as well as commuters in general.
The public railway tracks belonging to the JRC span 335 kilometres across the island, traversing eight of the 14 parishes. Additionally, there are more than 40 railway stations dispersed throughout the island, which still remain closed after passenger rail service was discontinued in the early 1990s.
In recent years, the Government has reactivated lines in St Catherine in a pilot effort to carry students from Linstead and Old Harbour into the parish capital, St Catherine.
Tuesday’s transportation agreement with MARL will also provide for the transportation of aggregate from Old Harbour to Linstead and on the return journey to transport marl from Bog Walk to Port Esquivel in Old Harbour to be shipped to other Caribbean islands.
Transport and Mining Minister Audley Shaw said that more aggregate transportation on the railway line will help to alleviate congestion on the roads and reduce transportation costs, which will benefit both the industry and the environment.
“The Government of Jamaica has been exploring different avenues and investment opportunities to actualise the goal of re-establishing rail service in the island,” Shaw said, adding that with Jamaica having the oldest railway tracks in the Caribbean, it should have now been on par with the railway systems in First World countries, which themselves are now expanding.
“Expanding because it is a vital part of the transport industry, [while] we have been closed for over 30 years. [It] doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Rockey Wood, CEO of MARL, believes the plans will be successful, especially with the boom in the local construction industry.
“The growth within the construction sector has placed an immense demand on the island’s industrial mineral resources. Importantly, the quality of aggregates used in development is a critical component for the safeguarding against natural disasters and the overall longevity of the built environment,” Wood explained.
He said his company is confident that it can deliver the highest levels of service and efficiency.
“Our combined team will contribute significant expertise and experience that will allow the growth and development of the national rail service, commencing with the transportation of industrial minerals and bulk cars, then, ultimately, to freight,” Wood said.
“This is a momentous step for our country as it represents a significant drive forward in efforts to develop and modernise our transportation network. Also, it will provide significant profits for our mining industry, while simultaneously providing the necessary raw materials for maintaining infrastructure,” he said.
Wood said that with the agreement, MARL is now able to complete a multimodal network with interconnected road, rail, and marine transport systems. This will allow the company to move approximately 5,000 tonnes of aggregate in at least 20 per cent less time than with the current process.