Ja's railway system needs a master plan – Josephs – Jamaica Gleaner

Head of the University of Technology’s (UTech) School of Engineering, Oneil Josephs, has called for the development of a master plan for Jamaica’s railway system, in order for the country to harness its full economic potential.
“A master plan is important because we have been approaching rail development in a kind of piecemeal fashion, a non-coordinated fashion and it is unsustainable to do that. Just as we have a master plan for highways which spans 30 years or more, rail as a part of the transport system needs its own master plan. Where are we going with rail? That needs to be clearly defined so that when we rehabilitate portions of the rail it fits into that puzzle,” he told The Gleaner in an interview on Tuesday.
In April 2022, UTech signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Birmingham to formalise collaboration on research, training, and innovation, to revitalise and rehabilitate Jamaica’s railway industry.
The agreement could also see the restoration of the three-and-a-half-mile track from downtown Kingston to Three Miles and the rehabilitation of the Kingston railway station on Pechon Street.
The Pechon Street facility was built in 1845 but has been closed since 1992.
Josephs recommended that rail projects that are intrain should be paused until the master plan has been devised.
He said a proposal for funding has been submitted to the Inter-American Development Bank and the universities are hoping to receive a favourable response.
“This master plan will speak to the feasibility of rails all across Jamaica, what new components can be introduced and how it can be integrated in the rest of the transport system across the country,” Josephs added.
Referencing HS2, which is Britain’s new high speed rail line being built from London to the north west, the engineer said it is a prime example of how rail can support economic development.
HS2 trains will integrate with new lines and upgrades across Britain’s rail system to deliver faster travel to major towns and cities across Britain, including Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham and Derby.
Josephs said rehabilitation of the rail from downtown Kingston to Three Miles could offer faster transportation for students and other commuters.
“The rail track actually goes into the port as well, so there is a very clear economic opportunity there for freight coming out of the port to supply the industrial belt along Spanish Town Road and commuters could also avoid the high traffic intersection at Three Miles heading into downtown Kingston or Spanish Town Road,” the engineer said.
Last January, the Jamaica Railway Corporation rolled out a train service for students in St Catherine. The passenger train transported students from Old Harbour and Linstead to Spanish Town where the Jamaica Urban Transit Company then picked up and dropped off students at six participating schools in Spanish Town.
There has been further talk about restoring Jamaica’s railway service as one of the milestone projects to be undertaken by the government in recognition of the nation’s 60th year of independence.
Meanwhile, Josephs shared that the United Kingdom (UK) and Jamaica will celebrate 200 years and 180 years of rail, respectively, in 2025 and the UK is planning a major set of events for that period.
“That is a massive milestone and we should be working towards some significant outcomes in 2025 to celebrate that. We have proposed that the ministry and the Jamaica Railway Corporation speak with the minister in the UK to align plans and discuss how it is that they can support our rehabilitation efforts,” he said.
Josephs told The Gleaner that the technical cooperation agreement with University of Birmingham is on track.
“I just returned from a tour that was fully funded by the UK which included tours, training and exposure to rail research and technology, so that is the reason we can speak to the issues around rail and we can be in a position to meet with the government to advise them on how to proceed,” Josephs said.
He added that an extensive report is currently being drafted and a number of developments are expected to follow.
judana.murphy@gleanerjm.com
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