Transportation Deployment Casebook/2022/Jamaica


The tramway operates as a timetabled service on rails and shares road space with other traffic. It was an exclusively American development that was brought to the UK from the US in the 1800's. [1] The first British tramway designed exclusively for transporting people and the first to be laid along a street, opened as a trial in Birkenhead in 1860. Jamaica, a British colony from 1655 until 1958, introduced tramways to Kingston in 1869, not far behind Britain. The trams were the main source of transportation until petrol vehicles became competition. [2]


Jamaica did not have much public transport before the 1840’s. Most travel for goods and for people occurred via water, animal drawn carriages, and for most of the population, by walking. [3] The roads and bridges at that time were in disarray and poorly maintained, despite funding for repairs, because of Jamaica’s complex mountainous landscape and the stormy weather seasons of the island. At that time, it was faster to travel long distances by sea than road, although it was still very inefficient, and the travelers were risking their lives. [4]

The streetcar, or as it known in Jamaica, the tram, came not long after the slave trade ended in 1838. The country was trying to restore the plantation sugar economy, which was suffering. At one point sugar made Jamaica the richest the colonial Caribbean country, but towards the end of slavery in the 1840’s, the British government began to end the monopoly the West Indies had on British sugar. Originally the British government’s tariff on colonial sugar was less than foreign sugar, but when Parliament abolished slavery it decided not to protect the West Indian plantation owners. Initially they had higher rates of tariffs on all foreign sugar, slave-free or not, but then Britain decided to slowly reduce the tariff until there was equity with all countries. [3]

By slowly lowering the tariffs on non-colonial sugar the British government created competition in the sugar market. At this point not only had the price of sugar been reduced, but now the costs of operations increased due to new labor costs. Jamaican plantations couldn’t keep up with the price decline and the greater operating costs. Some colonial entities, such as Guyana, decided to import indentured servants to keep costs low, but that strategy was not successful in Jamaica. [4] Plantation owners were looking for a way to save on costs and one plantation owner, David Smith, realized there was an opportunity in transport. In 1862 Sir Charles Darling's government passed The Tramway Act to regulate construction of tramways. [5] David Smith and his brother proposed a track between Kingston and Spanish Town, with branch lines to Angels, Port Henderson and the Caymanas sugar estate. [6]

David Smith teamed up with the engineer of the island, David Leahy, and approached the government for a 40 mile tramway track. This proposal had with no estimates for costs and no specifications, yet it was approved by the government, and by December of that same year the Jamaica Railway Company was formed. [7] By 1845 the railways were completed from Spanish town to Old Harbour. It was 14 miles long and the first engine ran on steam. Between 1845 and 1869 only eleven miles of railway were added – an extension from Spanish Town to Old Harbour. [4]

In 1863 protests about Jamaica Railway Company’s monopoly began because of constant construction on the road. The road the tram was constructed on was considered the most important road in Jamaica because it was used by most of the population for produce and was the major route from the city to the interior of the island. Leahy, the official island engineer, was also the engineer for the Jamaica Railway Company. He was not only working on the tramway, but he was also the person that approved estimates for construction on the island. [7] The conflict of interests caused him to be suspended and an assembly was then formed to investigate the consequences of the tramline. They determined the part of the tram from Spanish town to Old Harbour was interfering with traffic and hurting the public. The committee believed a railway would better suit the levels of traffic for goods and people and decided tramway should be ripped up and the roads restored. [5]

In 1869 a tramway was finally completed in Kingston. At this point the cars ran on street rails that were pulled by two mules based on the models of an American engineer, Tracy Robinson, and his partner, Sam Burke- the founders of the Jamaica Street Car Company. Tickets were bought at shops on the tramway’s route or at The Jamaica Street Car Company's office. Passenger traffic on the tram line increased from 383,320 in the first full year of operation to 1.9 million in 1891. To provide the service 11 horses were needed for each car, which was very expensive to the operators. The passengers were also frustrated with the slow speed of the tram, so the operators in Jamaica sought a more efficient form of transport. [5]


The capital moved to Kingston in the 1870s and Sir Anthony Musgrave became governor in 1877. He thought that rail transport would help the islands economy and negotiated a takeover of the Jamaica Railway Company. In 1879 the government purchased all the 26 miles of their existing railway and began a modernization program. Initially, the railway experienced stability and profitability under government control. The economy was thriving due to the citrus and bananas industries, and this began an expansion of the railway westward from Old Harbour to Porus and northward from Spanish Town to the interior district of Ewarton. The Ewarton and Porus lines were built to bring rail transport closer to the sugar estates and the citrus industry. By 1885 the railway was 64 miles.

A large expansion was recommended to the government, but they could not afford the costs, so when an American syndicate, Fredrick Wesson, proposed a sale a bill to transfer the rail was passed. In the Railway Extension Law of 1889, the West India Improvement Company (WIIC),Wesson’s syndicate, agreed to terms to surrender the railway to the government if they failed to construct at the speed required or defaulted on their payments. They expanded under the time constraints and by 1896 Jamaica had 185 miles of railway. Revenues increased but not enough for the syndicate to pay its debts and in 1900 the government took over the railway once again. [6]


Internationally people had begun using electricity for transport and by the mid 1890s utility entrepreneurs were looking for their next big profit and set their eyes on the Caribbean where there was little worry of the ugliness of electric tram’s overhead wires. When W.B. Chapmon visited Jamaica he acquired the Jamaica Street Car Company Limited with his partner E.A. H Haggart and The West India Electric Co was formed with $750,000 in capital. [8] They purchased the horse tramway in 1897 and began electrification. To generate electricity, the company gained the rights to develop a hydroelectric station. They built one of the first hydroelectric plants in the world to supply electricity to the city and the tram. Trolley lines were built and in 1899 the West Indian Electric Company Limited provided their first electric service. The new WIEC's president was an officer of the Montreal Street Railway Co. and supplied Kingston’s first 30 electric trams. Kingston's first electric line, from the tram depot on Orange Street to the foot of King Street opened 1899. [9] The electric tram helped influence the migration of Rural Jamaicans to the capital. [5]

Then the Jamaica Public Service Company of Montreal purchased the assets of the West Indian Electric Company, including the mule drawn tramway system. They expanded the power supplied with hydro by building a coal burning plant. [10] During the 1920s and 1930s expanding the tramway was unfeasible due to costs. In Kingston motor bus operators appeared in areas not served by the tram or along the tram routes. The omnibus was more reliable and cost less to operate and because of the buses reliability the passengers started to abandon the tram service. [5]

In 1929 the tram operators tried to influence the government to give them a monopoly in transport to protect them from competition. While they did have a monopoly on passenger transport by tram, they were not protected from other modes. They called attention to the fact that they had requirements based on it's contracts while it's competition, the buses, had no requirements for fares or scheduling. In 1933 a transport commission took on these accusations and did an investigation. They realized that the buses didn’t hurt the street, didn’t need much capital, were quiet, and their expansion could be rolled out or stopped quickly. Trams on the other hand had an immovable route that created traffic. Even though trams had a higher occupation capacity (45 vs.30) the commission favored the ending of trams and recommended that all city transportation go to buses. After another commission in 1938 agreed with the 1933 commission, the Jamaica Public Service Company decided it would not apply for a license to operate transportation services. [5]

The tramlines were scheduled to be removed in 1939 and 1940 but was prevented due to WW2. Tram traffic increased because gas was being rationed, which was the motor buses' fuel. To Jamaica Public Service Company, the increase in traffic was a problem for the company and after the war they decided to stop operations to focus solely on electricity development. In 1948 it was decided only the Rockfort tram service would remain and tram service with the Jamaica Public Service Company ended. In May 1948 Jamaica Utilities Limited took over the franchise for greater Kingston transport with buses. [5]

Jamaica Public Service Co. closed the Kingston tramway system on 10 May 1948. The entire system, all lines, ran until the end. Because of public protest, the Rockfort Gardens line continued operation for a few more month longer, until approximately August 1948 [9]

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

To identify the birthing, growth, and maturity phases of the Jamaica tramway data on accumulated mileage was collected from 'The Rise and Fall of Railways in Jamaica, 1845–1975.' The data was used then used to fit an S-Curve, which shows the phases of a transportation system and can be used to predict when a system was saturated.

S-Curve equation and parameters:



St= System size at the time

Smax= System Saturation point



ti= inflection point year

ti was calculated using = c/-b

where c is the intercept

Regression Results:Edit

SCurve for Jamaica Tramways Track Mileage
Year Market Size Miles Predicted Market Size Miles
1845 14.5 7.526294411
1869 25.5 43.91128828
1885 64.5 104.9134702
1894 130.5 143.5996841
1896 185 151.3604714
1913 198 196.335326
1921 200.75 206.1393831
1925 210 209.3039884
1942 216.5 215.7533551
1947 216.5 216.499352
1948 216.5 216.6159184
S max final Market Size 218
b slope 0.081398514
c intercept -153.5112164
ti Inflection point year = c/-b 1885.921606
RSQ 0.964026589
P Value 0.926919338


An R square close to 1 is considered a good fit for a line and the results show a .964 indicating that this was a very strong fit. The p-value is greater than 0.05 indicating there is no statistically significant difference between the results and the actual mileage at a 95% confidence interval. According to this model the inflection point for Jamaica was towards 1886 when 64.5 miles had been built. The inflection point can be interpreted as a period in a change of growth for the Jamaica tramway, which tracks considering 10 years later it had tripled it's size. The regression also concludes that the system was saturated at around 218 miles, which is similar to the 216.5 built.

  1. Rails in the Road: A History of Tramways in Britain and Ireland. 2016. Retrieved 2022-05-08. 
  2. KINGSTON PUBLIC PASSENGER TRANSPORT. 1954. Retrieved 2022-05-08. 
  3. The Abolition of British Imperial Preference, 1846-1860. 1918. 
  4. a b The British Sugar Duties and West Indian Prosperity. 1954. 
  5. a b c d e f g Ol Time Tram and the Tramway Era 1876-1948 - [PDF Document]. 
  6. a b The Rise and Fall of Railways in Jamaica, 1845–1975. 2003. Retrieved 2022-05-08. 
  7. a b Jamaica and the Colonial Office: Who Caused the Crisis?. 1866. 
  8. The Jamaican People, 1880-1902: Race, Class, and Social Control. 2000.