The reactivation of the tourist rail service from Montego Bay to the Appleton Estate in Siloah, St. Elizabeth, will soon become a reality.
Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, who made the announcement at the official opening of the Joy Spence Appleton Estate Rum Experience (formerly the Appleton Estate Rum Tour) on January 18, said plans are being fast-tracked “to get the train up and running” as quickly as possible.
He was responding to concerns raised in an earlier presentation by Chairman of J. Wray & Nephew, Clement ‘Jimmy’ Lawrence, that the absence of rail services between Montego Bay and St. Elizabeth was hurting the prospects of Appleton to bring much-needed traffic to its US$7.2-million upgrade to its rum tour facility and visitor centre.
“This is a facility that has the potential to accommodate in excess of 200,000 visitors annually,” Mr. Lawrence noted.
“We really appreciate all the support we have received from the Government, but we need the return of the train to truly maximise the potential of this facility,” he added.
The Minister said the concerns raised will soon be appeased, as the Government is fully committed to get the South Coast leg of the rail services back on track “in very short order”.
“I know your projections are to increase your visitor arrivals to 200,000, but my commitment to you is that we will take it to 250,000 by 2020,” Mr. Bartlett told the audience.
“The last discussion I had before I went to Spain last week was with a team of entrepreneurs who are putting the dollars together. They were able to tell me that $40 million is now on the table to start the first leg of the programme and also the second leg which will take us into Appleton,” the Minister said.
Mr. Bartlett further pointed out that Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, has also been actively involved in the discussions and is “personally committed” to ensuring that the “Appleton experience is fully maximised”.
Rail service between Montego Bay and St. Elizabeth, known then as the ‘Appleton Express’, ended in the 1990s.
It offered visitors a scenic view of the South Coast region and a chance to tour the Appleton Rum Estate and factory by train.
Also, visitors were able to make stops in communities along the way, where they interacted with residents while making purchases of food, clothing and craft items.
“Our local vendors, including the craft people, have been hit hard by the continued absence of the rail services. This will be music to their ears, knowing that the Government is committed to get the train rolling on the South Coast once again,” Mr. Lawrence said.