Sitting in the railway station with my suitcase in my hands, a famous refrain from a song made popular by Simon & Garfunkel came to mind as I sat waiting on my train to take me to the airport. On this trip I had no choice but to use the train, since it was the only way I was going to reach the airport. As I sat waiting, my mind meandered as always on some of the issues facing my beloved country. Urbanisation and the need for reliable public transportation came to mind as I drifted back in time.
Forty years ago, everything west of the six miles overpass, east of the Harbour View roundabout, north of Manor Park was considered “country” as that was where the Kingston and Saint Andrew jurisdiction extended to. The Kingston Metropolitan Region did not exist, so to speak. The four lane highway that linked the old and new Capitals was largely devoid of road traffic. The lone urban bus company, the Jamaica Omnibus Service was the sole provider of mass public transportation. The railway was operating, with daily services from Kingston to Port Antonio via Linstead, and Kingston to Montego Bay, via Spanish Town, Williamsfield, and Anchovy.
Fast forward forty years later and the picture is vastly different. Places that were once considered “country” are now very urban, exhibiting the nastiest characteristics of decaying urban dwelling, such as murder, extortion, and the non-adherence to development orders and laws. The quaint four lane highway that linked the old capital to the new is a grand parking lot on any given morning, as commuters devoid of good mass public transportation turned to their cars to get them from home to work and back. The train service has been silenced now for over twenty years, with its expensive infrastructure laying to waste, despite the efforts of the previous administration to bring back limited service.
The simple truth is the Rural Township Development Project undertaken during the 90s by the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) has turned these quaint country towns into Urban Metropolis without much attention being paid to the management of these new towns. The installation of sewage, and water systems formed the basis for the rapid development of these areas. The expansion of housing in Portmore, and on the southern Saint Catherine plains led to the creation of the Kingston Metropolitan Region, which now incorporate Kingston & St. Andrew, Spanish Town, and Portmore. However, our planners neglected one critical piece of the development puzzle, which was transportation.
One could argue and quite rightly so that the development of Highway 2000 was the solution to this neglected piece of the development puzzle. However, the question is, was it effective as the highway was developed on the basis of limited access? Except for the case of Portmore, I think not, hence the on again off again parking lot on the western entrance to the city. The fact that the rail service was mothballed just around the time when the housing development started on the southern Saint Catherine plain made the situation worse. With stops in Freeport, Old Harbour, Spanish Town, a light rail link from May Pen to downtown Kingston, is one possible solution. A similar solution could have applied to people living in northern Saint Catherine, with the light rail link stopping in Linstead, Bog Walk, Spanish Town, before terminating in Kingston.
My train started to slow, and I heard the announcement, “Next Stop Miami International Airport”. I came back to reality, quickly gathered my stuff and made my way to the driverless rail pods that took me to the terminal building.