Railways of Jamaica

Railways of Jamaica

The Railways of Jamaica, constructed from 1845, were the first railway lines opened to traffic outside Europe and North America, and the second British Colony after Canada's Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad of 1836 to receive a railway system. [http://www.jnht.com/category.php?id=92 Jamaica Railway Stations] Jamaica National Heritage Trust] [ [http://www.photius.com/countries/jamaica/economy/jamaica_economy_transportation.html Jamaica Economy - Transportation and Communications] The Library of Congress Country Studies] Construction started only twenty years after George Stephenson's Stockton and Darlington Railway commenced operations in the United Kingdom. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]

The public passenger railway service in Jamaica is presently not running, having closed October 1992, with the Parliament of Jamaica debate leading towards a revival under a public joint venture corporation proposed with an offshore partner. [ [http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20060526/business/business7.html No to any Government loan to restart railway service in Jamaica] Jamaica Cleaner - May 26, 2006] Private freight transport continues on limited tracks leading to the various docks around the Caribbean island, transporting bauxite and sugar cane for export.


1845 to World War II

The first railway called the Western Jamaica Connecting Railway was built in 1845 from Kingston 14.5 miles to Angels. The railway was proposed and started by William Smith, originally from Manchester who owned land in Jamaica, and his sugar planter brother David [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_2 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg2] Journal of Transport History - March 2003] .

The system approved by the Assembly of Jamaica in 1843 was for a double track between Kingston and Spanish Town, with branch lines to Angels, Port Henderson and the Caymanas sugar estate. On 21 November 1845The Jamaica Railway 1845-1945 by H R Fox, General Manager, Jamaica Government Railway in The Railway Magazine of November & December 1945.] the Governor of Jamaica James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and ten carriages of passengers, pulled by the companies two locomotives "Projector" and "Patriot" built by Sharp Brothers of Manchester, travelled 12 miles from Kingston to Spanish Town. The first train came after the UK Government had enacted the Sugar Duties Act 1846 and just after the emancipation of slaves, meaning the sugar industry needed the efficiency that the railway would bring to the difficult too passage island.

The construction of the first single-track section was budgeted to cost £150,000, but cost £222,250, or £15,377 per mile. As a result of the cost of building and a downturn in the sugar industry, only another 11 miles were added until 1869 in the form of an extension from Spanish Town to Old Harbour [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_3 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg3] Journal of Transport History - March 2003.] at a cost of £60,000.

After a period of decline, new Governor Sir Anthony Musgrave agreed a deal in 1879 to buy the existing 26 miles of the system for £93,932 [http://www.discoverjamaica.com/gleaner/discover/geography/history5.htm 1866 to 1913 Crown Colony Government] discoverjamaica.com] . After an investment and improvement program, the expansion of the citrus and banana industries led to two extensions, extending the total system to 65 miles: westward from Old Harbour to Porus (24½ miles); northwards from Angel to the interior district of Ewarton (14¼ miles). Both were completed in 1885 at a total cost of approximately £280,000.

After debates about extensions, on 1 January 1890 the railway was transferred to an American consortia headed by New York merchant Frederick Wesson, and extensions from Porus 62 miles to Montego Bay in 1895, and an extension through the banana, cacao, citrus and coconut districts of St Catherine, St Mary and Portland was developed over 54 miles from Bog Walk to Port Antonio in 1896. "Main article ".

The Jamaican system now had a total of convert|185|mi|km|0 of railway lines stretching from the south-eastern to the north-western and north-eastern ends of the island [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_6 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg6] Journal of Transport History - March 2003] .

However, the loans taken out to secure railway ownership by the company, together with its purchase of convert|76000|acre|km2|0 of prime Crown land in various parts of Jamaica, proved too strenuous. After defaulting in 1897 and 1898, by order of the Jamaican Supreme Court the company fell into receivership. In 1900 the government assumed responsibility for the railway again, and made it a department of government. It appointed a Railway Advisory Board in 1902 to advise, which remained in place until 1960 when the statutory 100% government owned J$6million company the Jamaica Railway Corporation was created.

Between 1900 and 1950, less than 50 miles of track was added, mainly to support opening of the interior to banana cultivation [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_7 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg7] Journal of Transport History - March 2003] :

*1911 - 13-mile branch off the Montego Bay line, from May Pen to Chapelton, completed in 1913 and extended in 1925 by 10 miles to Frankfield. "Main article ".
*1921 - 3 miles from Linstead to New Works, opened on the Bog Walk to Ewarton extension "Main article ".
*1942 - in support of military needs for World War II, a 6.5-mile branch line from Logan's Junction near May Pen, to the US military base at Fort Simmonds in Vernamfield. The British government purchased four USATC S161 Class to provide transport for the military base [http://locomotives.com.pl/Freight%20Steam%20Locomotives/Tr201.htm Tr201/Tr203] locomotives.com.pl] . After the line closed in 1956, these were subsumed by JRC.

Bauxite lines

In the 1940s deposits of Bauxite were discovered in the interior, and companies developed both interconnected as well as independent lines to extract, process and ship the minerals:

*Alcan - used the JRC lines from Bodies to ship its product to Port Esquiville, completing convert|3|mi|km|0 of lines in 1951
*Alcoa - built an convert|19|mi|km|0|sing=on railway in 1962 to connect its Woodside mines with the port at Rocky Point Port. Leased to the JRC, Alcoa provided locomotives, rolling stock and its staff operated and maintained the line under JRC management
*Kaiser Bauxite Company - built convert|12|mi|km|0 of independent track and convert|7.5|mi|km|1 of sidings running from mines in upper Saint Ann Parish to Discovery Bay. The company tended to run Baldwin locomotives, and purchased eight between 1952 and 1971. [ [http://baldwindiesels.railfan.net/by-map/jamaica.html Jamaica] baldwindiesels.railfan.net]
*Alpart - built 11 miles of independent track in the 1970s to connect its refinery at Nain with Port Kaiser near Alligator Pond
*Reynolds - built a short independent railway to link mines, drying plants and ports

Post-World War II

The agricultural driven growth of the railways were created by a harsh interior geography, and developing consumer need meant that post WW2 only two days after cutting, bananas had to be on a ship. Having shipped 330,000 stems in 1880 to 24 million stems in 1930, a quickening decline in the industry meant that by 1969 the transport of bananas by rail ceased. In 1895 Jamaica had exported 97 million fruits; by 1940 the figure had plunged to 40 million, and hit by the loss of the monopoly of the British market and the 1951 hurricane, in 1975 it was just 5 million. Passenger figures had also started to fall, as pre WW2 the government had started a bridge building program. By 1971 Jamaica had convert|7200|mi|km|-1 of roads, 1,350 of which were paved; alongside motorbuses which were accessing further inland, private cars had increased from 15,000 in 1950 to 142,300 by 1975. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_10 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg10] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]

After a post WW2 report by C. E. Rooke recommended closure of the Port Antonio to Spanish Town line, the government only closed the Linstead to Ewarton branch in 1947. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_11 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg11] Journal of Transport History - March 2003] The 1951 hurricane brought about a recommendation by the United Nations envoy to invest in the railway to keep the bauxite traffic, and hence the passenger rates economically viable.

Jamaica Railway Corporation

1960 to 1975

The government agreed change of the railway after the 1 September, 1957 crash, the worst transport accident in Jamaica's history, in which a 12-car wooden body train carrying 1,600 tourists derailed at Kendal, killing 175 passengers and injuring over 800. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_12 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg12] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]

The first diesel power had entered Jamaica in 1939 with two D. Wickham & Co diesel coaches. After the creation of the Jamaica Railway Corporation in 1960, management increased this transformation significantly from 1963 onwards:

*19 multi-unit Metro Cammell railcars, powered by Rolls-Royce C6T Mark IV engines of 350 hp acquired at a cost of J$ 621,000. These were all composite in two formation, with 7 cars carrying 20 first-class and 58 second-class passengers; and 30 cars with 83 second-class passengers
*The unique "market car wheel" built by Metro Cammell, a modified boxcar fitted to carry passengers and their goods to market
*Two Clayton Equipment Company shunting locomotives with the same Rolls Royce driving system as the Metro Cammell boxcars
*Two English Electric 750 h.p. locomotives to handle bauxite traffic

In 1967, two ALCO RS-3 1,050 h.p. diesel-electric locomotives were purchased. With the phasing out of the steam power, by 1970 Jamaica's railways had fourteen diesel-electric locomotives and only one steam locomotive was still in operation. In 1975 and 1976, an additional 18 ALCO RS-8's were purchased in three batches of six locomotives. [ [http://alcoworld.railfan.net/jamaica.htm Jamaica] alcoworld.railfan.net]

By 1975 there were:Carol Mae Morrissey - "Ol time tram and the Tramway Era, 1876-1948" - Jamaica Journal, 16, 4 (1983), pp. 12-21.]
*216.5 miles of standard gauge in control of JRC
*29 miles of private industrial railways in Jamaica.
*Totalling convert|230|mi|km|0
*Carrying 1.2 million passengers per annum
*Transporting 900 million tonnes of goods, 95% bauxite and alumina which had driven the shippage from 900,000 tonnes in 1959. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_8 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg8] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]


By 1973 JRC's operational deficit had risen to J$3.4 million, and in 1975 it was nearing J$4 million and carrying a J$11 million loan. The government was paying over J$1.4 million in subsidy to keep the island's trains running. However, the financial crisis had led to a backlog of deferred maintenance, with stock and buildings also neglected. In 1974 the May Pen-Frankfield line closed, with the Bog Walk-Port Antonio line closing in 1975. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_13 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg13] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]

Public pressure forced the government to reopen the Port Antonio line at a cost of J$1.4 million in 1977. The condition of the track resulted in reclosure of the line in 1978. Hurricane Gilbert in 1988 damaged much of the JRC railway system, [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-54505/Jamaica Jamaica Transportation] Encyclopedia Britannia] and totally destroyed a section of the Port Antonio line running along the coast between Buff Bay and Orange Bay, Portland. [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3884/is_200303/ai_n9209497/pg_18 The rise and fall of railways in Jamaica, 1845-1975 - Pg18] Journal of Transport History - March 2003]

In October 1992 public rail transport services finally ceased operating on Jamaica, although four of the private industrial lines continue to operate today, in part using JRC lines. Of the total of 272 km standard gauge at the time on the island, 207 km of common carrier service belonging to JRC are no longer operational, leaving 65 km in private hands. [http://www.jnht.com/jamaica/transport.php Jamaica Transportation] Jamaica National Heritage Trust]

Current operations

The Jamaican Railway Corporation still exists today - it just doesn't run any trains, and is only responsible for management of the JRC interests and property, and maintaining it locomotives but not the rolling stock. [ [http://www.rmtbristol.org.uk/2007/04/privatisation_of_jamaica_railw.html Privatisation of Jamaica Railway Corp. stalls and sputters] Radio Jamaica - April 24, 2007]

In November 1990 JRC signed a 30-year Track User Agreement with Alcan Jamaica, which was renegotiated with the successor Windalco in December 2001. [ [http://www.mof.gov.jm/downloads/2007/ped/jrcorp.pdf Jamaica Railway Corporation] Jamaica Ministry of Housing, Transport, Water and Works - FY 2007/08]

The company makes J$40 million per year through track user fees for the hauling of alumina and bauxite, and the residual from the rental of real estate and its three operable locomotives. The company has a staff of 76, who fulfill contractual obligations to users of the company's facilities. [http://www.rmtbristol.org.uk/2007/02/jamaican_trains_may_never_roll.html Jamaican trains may never roll again] The Jamaica Observer - February 25, 2007]


The Jamaican Government is discussing resumption of national rail services, initially with Canadian National Railway [ [http://www.railways.incanada.net/candate/cv.htm Colin J. Churcher ] ] and then Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES); and now with the China Railways after a deal was signed by the Prime Minister P J Patterson with Chinese vice-president Zeng Qinghong in Jamaica in February 2005. [ [http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/html/20050202T220000-0500_74410_OBS_POWERED_BY_CHINA___JAMAICAN_TRAINS_TO_ROLL_AGAIN.asp Powered by China...Jamaican trains to roll again] Jamaica Observer - February 03, 2005] The first phase would provide commuter services between Kingston and Spanish Town, extended then to Linstead. Proposed to cost US$8 million and be up and running by January 2001, the Government is considering a part-privatised company with it owning 40%.


The railway architecture, developed and seen through the stations which were built between 1845 and 1896, is a reflection of classical Jamaica/Georgian architecture. Although under the care and maintenance of the JRC, those that are not used for commercial purposes and rented out to traders are presently in a state of disrepair.


The Jamaica Railways have a good record on accidents, but two incidents stand out:

*July 30, 1938 - a passenger train was heading from Kingston to Montego Bay. The engine jumped the rails at Balaclava and embedded itself into the mountainside, followed by coaches which where forced on from the rear. 32 people died and over 70 were injured. [http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story009.html Tragedy at Kendal - 1957] Jamaica Gleaner]

*September 1, 1957 - a diesel hauled train of 12 wooden carriages leaves Kingston for Montego Bay. The outbound journey had 900 passengers on board, correlating with the design limit of 80 passengers per carriage. However, the return journey had 1,600 passengers loaded at 130-150 persons per carriage including hundreds of members of the Holy Name Society of St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church, hundreds of pickpockets, and their targets the tourists who made up over 1,000 of the total passenger loading. At 23:30 near Kendal, Manchester three shrill whistle blasts signalled that the driver had lost control of the train, and it derailed minutes later at speed. 200 people lost their lives, and 700 sustained injuries in the worst transport disaster in Jamaica's history, and the second worst rail disaster in the world at that time. The cause of the accident was determined to be the closure of an angled wheel (brake) cock, with survivors suggesting that the pickpockets had tampered with the brakes while riding on the carriage platforms. Confidence in the rail service was shaken and much looting and robbing of the dead and injured occurred after the crash. The ensuing investigation found a number of deficiencies within the Jamaica Railway Corporation, which was resultantly given its independence in 1960.


See also

* Jamaica
* Transportation in Jamaica
* Rail transport by country

External links

* [http://www.mtw.gov.jm/dep_agencies/ja_rail.aspx Official website of the Jamaica Railway Corporation]
* [http://www.mof.gov.jm/downloads/2007/ped/jrcorp.pdf Jamaica Railway Corporation Finances - FY 2007/08]
* [http://www.jnht.com/category.php?id=92 Historic Railway stations] from the Jamaica National Heritage Trust

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