Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Islands in the Stream

Posted in Customer service, Infrastructure, Outside Europe, Politics by Chairman Pip on 19 April 2011

I guess we’re all aware of the difficulties that come from operating railways on islands. Unless the island is particularly close to a much larger piece of land, or there is some innovative, not to mention cost effective, method of bridging the gap, you have to think very carefully about whether you can afford to run a rail service. Of course, if the possibility is there to connect two major centres, then it is likely the cost is worth it – the Channel Tunnel and the Øresund Bridge are both good examples. But what if the island is simply too far from anywhere to realistically be able to connect with another piece of land? I guess that would then depend on the idea of domestic use; is the local population enough to warrant running a train, and would a train service pay its way? As an example, the Isle of Man Government conducted a study to see whether the operation of a commuter service on the Isle of Man Railway was viable as a means of easing congestion in and around Douglas. But there are only 85,000 inhabitants of the Isle of Man, so the government decided that this was not something to pursue (although extra trains are run during the TT Races). What can we make then of the fact that the Government of Jamaica and the Jamaica Railway Corporation are looking to restart passenger trains in Jamaica for the first time since 1992? A test train ran at the weekend on what is planned as the first part of the restored railway in Jamaica, between May Pen and Linstead, connecting Old Harbour, Spanish Town and Bog Walk. The restoration of a rail service is seen by the government as being part of a new integrated transport policy as a means of improving the country’s economy:

Anything that makes people move in a free movement of time and (contributes to) saving money, means that you can be more productive
Michael Henry, Minister of Transport and Works

The problem that I see is the fact that not a single passenger train has run on Jamaica’s infrastructure sine 1992, while only those sections of line that connect with the private industrial railways have remained in use. Major investment would be required to bring both railway line and structures to a minimum standard, having suffered two decades of neglect, which may well be difficult for a country the size of Jamaica. And what happens if and when the service does start again? Of course it would be successful to begin with, as it would have a novelty value. The same was true of the Western Railway Corridor in Ireland, but passenger numbers on that have fallen since it opened. And this would be much greater, as there has been no rail service at all – if people can’t be persuaded to use the train, then it will close, just as it did before. We can but hope that, with decent trains, timetabled well and that are affordable, those people that can use the train will. And, we can also hope that, if successful, there will be encouragement to reopen more of the country’s network. But, as with all things, we’ll see.

“The train is coming, so get on board!”
“Train Service Could Begin Within a Month – JRC”

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