The Jamaica Railway opened on November 22, 1845, only 15 years after the first railway was inaugurated in England. It was the first railroad outside of Europe and North America and the second British colonial railroad after Canada's Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad of 1836.
At the time, Jamaica was the most properous of all the West Indies colonies. Yet its primary export, sugar, was experiencing difficulties. The abolition of slavery in 1838 resulted in an increase in labor costs while enactment of the Sugar Duties Act in 1846 eliminated preferential treatment for British colonial produce entering the British market.
The railroad sharply reduced domestic transportation costs as well as travel time to the Port of Kingston. Produce no longer had to be carried by pack animals and animal drawn carts over roads that were only passible during the dry season. This new technology was the main factor behind restoring competitiveness to Jamaica's sugar plantation economy.
Expansion of the railway in the late 19th century opened up Jamaica's interior to farming and the establishment of banana and citrus plantations. This in turn led to the rise of the United Fruit Company to become the dominant economic power along the North Shore by the beginning of the 20th century.
As bauxite deposits were discovered in the 1940s, the railway played a key role in providing an efficient means of transportation of this commodity to the coast. Today, a small section of the railway remains dedicated to bauxite mining, an activity that has become one of Jamaica's leading foreign currency generators.
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History - Provides a concise synopsis of events between the railway's birth in 1845 and its shutdown in 1992. Contains a link to an 1846 London Illustrated News article and a stock certificate.
Photos - Shows some early railroad construction photographs. Parts of each photo will automatically enlarge as the cursor hovers over the corresponding area.
Map - Displays the track and station network on a map of Jamaica. Clicking on a station name on the map will display station images.
Stats - Presents some railway statistics including miles of track, number of tunnels, number of viaducts, and number of bridges.
Mail - Explains the role the railway played in Jamaica's postal system and shows some of the unique railway cancels on early Jamaican stamps.
Philately - Presents a railway cancel classification system and shows a collection of Jamaican stamps and covers bearing cancels from the various railway stations.