The Hershey Train and the Collapse of Cuba’s Rail System

Lynn Cruz

Photo: Branson Quenzer

HAVANA TIMES – Producing the independent film Corazon Azul (Blue Heart) by Miguel Coyula, we needed to film a train trip. The first thing that came to my mind was the time I spent over the years on the Hershey train coming from Matanzas to visit my maternal family, especially my grandparents.

Started in 1920, it was famous for being the only electric train that rolled in Cuba. With time it became a vintage object, also exploited for tourist purposes.

It owes its name to the famous American chocolatier who ordered it to be built, with the purpose of transporting passengers, but also to his employees. It passed through the small town of Hershey, where the businessman built, in 1916, a sugar mill, now in disuse and traveled the 98 km that separate Havana from the province of Matanzas.

Of the 17 cars that the train had in the early 1920s, there are three authentic cars built in 1917 in Pennsylvania, headquarters of the Hershey group.

Organizing the filming plan, I called the Casa Blanca station, from where the train departs in Havana, and to my surprise the train no longer exists. The custodian who attended me, with indignation, told me that four days before Hurricane Irma in 2017, it left for the last time.

He also told me that this information has only been given in the province of Mayabeque, since the train went through many of its towns and municipalities, being the most affected. He complained that they have not even taken the trouble to update the news on the Internet, which is why many tourists are still coming in search of the promised trip.

This man, who undoubtedly has a sense of belonging to the place, also said that the employees of that station lost their jobs, leaving only the watchmen.

I asked if they have given reasons, and he replied that there is a rumor about the breakage of the trains, apparently stationed at the Hershey station. He also said that the administration was more delinquent than common criminals and that they cared little about the workers’ fate.

Regretting the news, I said goodbye to the custodian, because this train, besides carrying the passengers for a very cheap price, carried with it the weight of History.

As my goal was to film a train trip, I thought then of the one that goes from San Antonio de los Baños to Havana, where another part of my family lives. I called the station located on Tulipan Street in the capital city of Nuevo Vedado and it turned out that it is also canceled since September, they have not given any reasons, they only say there are “breakages” and it is not known how long it will take to repair.

I then tried through the Central Station in Old Havana, which included transfers to almost all the provinces, and the only accessible train was to Sancti Spíritus, it goes out at night, and the scene I needed to film happens during the day.

In any case, we could even do without filming it, only that the geographic conditions of Cuba, with a mostly flat terrain, made the railway one of the main means of transportation. It is regrettable to note another of the great losses during the so-called Cuban revolutionary period.

Lynn Cruz

It's not art that imitates life, its life that imitates art," said Oscar Wilde. And art always goes a step further. I am an actress and writer. For me, art, especially writing, is a way of exorcising demons. It is something intimate. However, I decided to write journalism because I realized that I did not exist. In Cuba, only the people authorized by the government have the right to express themselves publicly. Havana Times is an example of coexistence within a democracy and since I consider myself a democrat, my dream is to integrate this publication’s philosophy into the reality of my country.

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8 thoughts on “The Hershey Train and the Collapse of Cuba’s Rail System

  • Dan Segal is correct. Cuba can trade with many other countries and still does. The problem is systematic of socialism. The corruption and repression from the leaders are the biggest issues. Trust me I live there off and on for years now.

  • Mr. Hershey built the RR from his sugar cane factory to the sea port to ship his sugar cane to his plant in Hershey Pa. There was a horrific train accident that killed many male workers so Mr. Hershey set up an orphanage school, similar to Milton Hershey school to train the children who lost a parent in the accident. Mr. Hershey loved Cuba.

  • It is a Blockade!!! End the Blockade

  • The US has a hand in Cuba’s problems, but Cuba’s problems are mainly systemic and internal. For example, not letting its own people work freely and contribute to their own economy by making money the old-fashioned way (finding something that people want and providing it to them)…I don’t like how the US views and treats Cuba at all, and as a US citizen, in our free society, I can’t believe that our government can try to limit where we go and what we do. But if Cuba wanted to, it could easily make some drastic improvements for its own people, regardless of what the US says or does. However, it the Cuban government chooses not to help its own people.

  • Used to go to Hershey sugar mill on school field trips and with family. As I recall there was a narrow gauge train that ran from the cane fields to the mill. Don’t know if it still exists. Many fond memories of the place. The railroad system in Cuba is older than that of Spain, the colonial master. Cuba is poor and a dictatorship. I hope the us does not make it worse by enforcing title 3 of helms-burton act.

  • It’s complicated, embargo, as USA government call’s the economic blockade they have against Cuba, has the purpose of economically suffocating the Cuban people. The economic deficiencies bring misery, loss of values, and above all, corruption! The USA have caused all this, and in public opinion they only point out the consequences but not the causes or the responsible parties (USA, if is not clear). The Cuban people looked for ways to survive without kneeling in front of the United States, and those ways of surviving, unfortunately, are linked to theft and corruption.
    That strategy of suffocating the people until putting them against their government, is being applied against Venezuela too.

  • The Hershey Train is a sweet memory of my childhood too. It reminded me the days when we were on our way to the beach( Jibacoa ), my cousins and I were looking out of the car window in search for the electric train. Thank you for bringing those memories back! Sad very sad.

  • Soooo sad how everything in that place falls apart. Nothing function. Well yes one thing functions very well on that island. REPRESSION

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