Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cruising to Montego Bay and Skagway - the fortunes of 2 railway lines

Remains of Railway Station at Catadupa
Jamaica boasts the first railway line to be built outside Europe and North America. It began with a 15 mile stretch in 1845. In the 1890's extensions were carried through difficult country to Montego Bay and Port Antonio. However, it was closed to the public in 1992, because of recurring losses, a backlog of deferred maintenance and deterioration of stock and buildings. An attempt to reopen it to the public was made in 2011, but the trial period indicated that it would again be a loss-making venture, so it was closed in 2012.  Only the lines used by bauxite trains are still in service. Could the railway ever succeed in breaking even? Mike Henry, Transport Minister in the recently elected JLP administration, thinks so.

     Prior to its closure, a tourist attraction called the Governor's Coach, travelled by rail from Montego Bay up into the hills through Anchovy, Montpelier and  Cambridge to Catadupa, where you could choose fabric for a dress, be measured and pick up the dress on your return journey.
 The next stop at Ipswich was long enough for you to go and explore the caves. Then there was a gradual descent to Maggotty, and the final stop was Appleton, where lunch was served. I believe it was also possible to include the Appleton Estate Rum Factory Tour which is now accessed by road.
After lunch, you returned to Montego Bay seeing the spectacular scenery from a different perspective. The distance one way is 36 miles.

Another railway frequented by cruise ship passengers is that from Skagway, in Alaska, to White Pass and Yukon, completed in 1900 in response to a Gold Rush, which was soon over. However, the White Pass and Yukon Route  survived by diversifying to encompass wharves, hotels, aircraft, buses, pipelines, trucks and ships. In 1955 it pioneered the 'Container Route' moving containers by ship, train and truck. In spite of these innovations, it shut down as a fully integrated transport company in 1982, only to reopen as a tourist attraction in 1988.
In winter, Skagway has a population of 800, which swells to 2000 in the summer. The number of cruisers for 2016 is projected to be 791, 260 on a total of 29 ships, making 389 ports of call. The largest number of ports of call by any ship was 22, representing 22 weeks from mid-April to mid-September, the weather being unfavorable for the rest of the year. The primary attraction for cruisers in Skagway is the railway.  
Train negotiating a curve and a steep incline
The railway climbs to a height of 2,865 feet over a distance of 20.4 miles.
Bridal Veil Falls
There are many waterfalls fed by snow melt.
Steel Bridge
Constructed in 1901, the steel bridge was the  tallest cantilever bridge in the world. Since 1969, a replacement bridge has been used.
Skagway and Lynn  Canal in the distance
Lynn Canal is part of the inside passage of the Pacific Ocean.

The views from the railway in Jamaica are no less spectacular. The branch from Montego Bay to Anchovy climbs to a height of about 2000 ft in 7 miles.
Many cruise ship and other visitors would probably be interested in taking a scenic train ride as an alternative to travelling the whole way by road to several tourist attractions.
These include Croydon in the Mountains, near Catadupa:

YS Falls, 5 miles from Maggotty, is a nature-based attraction consisting of seven waterfalls, cascading into natural pools surrounded by lush gardens and magnificent trees. You can take a canopy ride above the falls as well as swimming in the pools.
YS Falls

One of the natural pools where you can swim at YS
In Maggotty itself is the Apple Valley Water Park, which is a popular venue for school visits and could be accessed by train from Kingston. 
Apple Valley Water Park
In Appleton, there is Appleton Rum Factory Tour.

Could the railway become financially viable by including 'Tourist Attraction' to its other functions, i.e. carrying bauxite, public transport, and transport of goods (the newly opened highway has not proved to be ideal for trucks carrying heavy loads as sections of it are too steep). 
Jamaica had an average of about 1.4 million cruise ship visitors to the ports of Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios in 2013 and 2014, and more are projected for 2016, in addition to 2 million stop-over visitors, making a total of 3.4 million, more than 4 times the number visiting Skagway. Of course, there are many more attractions available to tourists, all of whom would not be interested in taking a trip by rail. However, with proper maintenance of the railway and marketing it as an attraction, I think this is an opportunity which could be explored.

1 comment:

Melanie K Wood said...

What beautiful scenery just waiting to attract tourists! I agree it's worth exploring. The tourist rail line could generate good revenue if Jamaica marketed it right. I would love to take that trip!