The official maiden voyage of the Jepper #5.

Jepper #5 takes maiden voyage

After being void of locomotives for the last 82 years, plumes of steam will be shooting up into the air once again as the St. Nicholas Abbey Heritage Railway was officially opened on Monday.

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley was among the first passengers to ride on the restored and recommissioned steam engine Jepper #5 after she rang the station bell to open the new attraction.

With the railway coming on-board as the latest addition to the St. Nicholas Abbey offering since reopening its doors under new ownership in 2006, the attraction boasts three locomotives – one steam and two diesel – and three carriages for a maximum capacity of 96 persons per voyage.

Speaking during the opening ceremony on Monday afternoon, owner Larry Warren explained that with the face of the 400-acre property remaining largely unchanged since the house was first built in the 1650s, it was important that the estate remained true to its roots as a sugar plantation and hoped that Barbados found its way back to a viable sugar industry.

“It is a passion of mine to see the industry become viable and sustainable without government support. We have such a huge investment here at St. Nicholas Abbey and our mission is to maintain not only the house, but the entire land of the plantation which has not changed for 350 years. So it is in my interest as well to see sugarcane come back to this plantation and this is really the driving force,” he said.

Going on to add that just 10 to 12 acres had been used to create the $8 million attraction, Warren mentioned that the real intention from the outset was to project the visitor experience beyond the great house.

“It is also important to note that as we consolidate the train and great house experience, we are creating a destination in the North of the island that will bring people here and they will get an opportunity to stay in the northern part of the island for three or four hours rather than just come here for 20 minutes or half an hour. And we have very successfully, particularly with the local visitors, connected this (the railway) to St. Nicholas. The visitor arrivals at St. Nicholas have doubled or more since the train has been operating.”

During her address, Prime Minister Mottley commended Warren and his investors for taking the risk and echoed his sentiments about the return to viability of sugar cane, stating that the government had already voted on monies necessary to start the 2019 crop.

“We, too, believe that the industry can be sustainable in the future. We cannot want to move to a 2030 fossil fuel-free economy at best or carbon-neutral at worst without recognising the importance of being able to create that additional value through renewable energy.”

Going on to say that the renewable energy would be generated from the sun, wind and biomass, Mottley, who spoke under heavy showers, added that such a move needed to be made to take sugar back to being a sustainable venture.

“The first claim on the county’s waste-to energy programme cannot be foreign investors of whom we know little, but has to be the sugar industry of Barbados so that a sugar factory can be powered 12 months a year to become a viable financial proposition being able to stabilise the sugar industry, and that is why I have taken the rain to make that point. Because more than anything else, Barbados has to stem the decline of the sugar industry by making sensible financial decisions that can make the industry profitable again at all levels.”

She also announced that the annual budget would be delivered next Wednesday, March 20th.

“Next Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. I will deliver the annual budget of the country and will do so as we, for the first time, take the second reading of the annual Appropriations Bill, bringing together a process that was hitherto separated for all of our previous experience. And the reason for it is this; that numbers make no sense unless I can show the country and we can agree as a country where we are going with respect to taking the country both economically and socially as a society. And to that extent therefore, I will have the opportunity to be able to speak at greater length where we will map out not just what may be a revenue shortfall, but more importantly, where Barbados is and where we must take it to ensure that the future is secured, sustainable and prosperous, not just for a few, but for all,” Mottley said. (MP)

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