Kingston railway terminus encased in time-warp
What is romance, one might ask … the sheer joy and rush of adrenaline, or as Oscar Wilde said, the very essence of romance is uncertainty. For all of us it is that human to human connection and can cold steel make you skip a heartbeat?
The Georgian architecture facade of Kingston railway terminus epitomizes its grandiose demeanor. The cool blue painted walls and the silence along the corridors, oblivious of the blaring traffic zipping zapping and zooming by, just stand still.
Even the air encasing the railway terminal seems to be of a different era – replete with hustle and bustle at the ticket counters; the impeccably uniformed railway staff stamping the tickets;, maintenance staff; the passengers, some in their finery and others lugging their wares, catching a breath as they wait for the announcement of the departure of the next train; the aroma of food cooking and the clanking of the couplings and the release of steam from the engines.
Fast forward to the 21st century, that lively atmosphere is now locked behind iron grilles, enshrouded in a film of dust. An eerie silence hovers over the platform, which houses reminiscences of Jamaica Railway’s glory days.
Under the cast-iron brackets that support the roof overhang on the trackside, passenger bogies line up on the platform. Walking along the tracks overgrown with foliage, held together with wooden sleepers, reveals the noir hues of Engine 54, the steam engine built in 1944 and served Jamaican railways till 1968.
“Railways have been integral to the history of Jamaica,” said Patrick Stanigar, a renowned architect and a board member of the Jamaica Railway Corporation. “We need to preserve this legacy.”
It is a rich and long-lasting history indeed, railroads in Jamaica date back to 1845, when the first railway lines opened to traffic outside Europe and North America. It is the second country under the British Empire, after Canada’s Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad of 1836 to receive a railway system.
“This area (in and around the vicinity of the railway terminus) can be turned into a centre of the arts, shopping, activities, and events, which will make it viable and vibrant,” said Stanigar, who is the architect of the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, among many other buildings.
One of the plans is to open a railway museum, to house trivia, documents, and railway memorabilia. “It would be excellent to get these beautiful instruments and the machinery as a part of a museum,” reverberated Jonathan Greenland, director, National Museum Jamaica, Institute of Jamaica. “It will be informative, functional, and educational to showcase one of Jamaica’s oldest institutions.”
Though the passenger railway service was discontinued in October 1992, freight transport continues on some tracks connecting docks around the island, transporting bauxite and sugar cane for export.
“Imagine,” Greenland said, “how people can be put on a time-travelling machine and sent back to experience the glory days of the railways.”
Richness and character abound at the location. Engine 54, her younger cousins, the diesel engines, oil tankers, and passenger cars are tucked away in the freight depot in which stand wooden carriages that ferried freight across the island, and the platform now dotted with rusting or cobweb-covered scales and crates.
A lone brown owl sat perched on a steel column on the roof in the freight yard, looking down, in curiosity, at visitors who converged below. It seemed like one of the rare encounters that this feathered being had with humans, after a brief gaze, it flew off, perhaps wondering if it would have to find a new home if the plans to re-position and reopen doors to the terminus come to fruition.