19 Jun 2013

Sugar Corp plans passenger trains for Fiji

5:33 pm on 19 June 2013

The executive director of the Fiji Sugar Corporation says his company's railway infrastructure is being under utilised and could solve a number of transport issues in the Western Division if used more widely.

The government is in discussions with the company about developing a network so that it could carry passengers and other forms of cargo between Sigatoka and Ra.

Abdul Khan told Jamie Tahana the railway at the moment is only used for a few months of the year.

ABDUL KHAN: What we've got at the moment, we've got we call a 'narrow gauge railway system' that delivers the sugarcane to our mills for processing. Now, we use that basically about six months or sometimes only four or five months of the year. The rest of the time that asset is just idle. And a people-mover could be one thing. It could also move other commodities and other products, as well. So that's the whole concept of actually utilising the asset that's there.

JT: And you're working with the government to utilise this asset, too?

AK: That's correct. One of the things, if you look at it as a people-mover or even commodity-mover, for that matter, there is congestion on our roads. And if we can use this delivery system, it reduces the congestion that's on our roads.

JT: What kind of investment would need to be made? What kind of upgrades would need to be done to get this up to passenger standards? I assume you'd need different carriages, stations and so forth.

AK: Good question. At the moment I'm not sure because to cart sugarcane, the standard required is quite different to having to cart people. But whether we go to a full standard of carting people or whether we use it as a slow-rail system for carting people - a more touristy thing rather than just a straight people-mover - those decisions will be made once we get a wee bit further down the track in terms of cost and the economics of the project.

JT: How viable would such a thing be? How many people that live between Sigatoka and Ra would use the service?

AK: We really don't know. Some of our rail systems run in quite rural areas and remote areas where these people need to come to the so-called mainland to be able to catch public transport or catch a vehicle, et cetera. Now, what they do not have to do if we do go into a people-mover system is not have to make all that journey to the main roads. They can get on to the system and come into town or wherever their destination may be.

JT: So there's still a lot more discussion to be had on this, but what kind of date are you looking to have such a system in place?

AK: Our thinking is that by the end of this calendar year we will be in a position to say, 'Yep, these are the type of costs for this type of facility and for a people-mover or just a commodity delivery system'. Once we have those costs by the end of the year, we can then start looking at how viable each of those options are. Basically, I think it's a shame to have such an investment there that gets only utilised part of the year and the rest of the year it seems to sit idle, and hence the reason for doing what we're thinking of doing.