A Look at Cuba’s Railroad System

Photo Feature by Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, May 24 — Cuba became the first country in Latin America to have a railroad when on November 19, 1837 the first 17-mile line of tracts was inaugurated running from Havana to Bejucal.

Prior to Cuba, only six countries in the world possessed that means of transportation: England, the United States, France, Germany, Belgium and Russia.

Two years later, that iron pathway expanded 11 more miles to reach the town of Guines. Gradually more tracks were added and 15 years after the inauguration, over 60 miles of railroad lines in Cuba was celebrated.

The railroad continued to expand island-wide with numerous train stations of subdued beauty constructed. Though some of these have suffered the effects of time and deferred maintenance, others continue to constitute true architectural monuments, ones like the central station in Havana.

Currently, the Cuban railroad company operates over 2,600 miles of rail stretching from Guane (in the western province of Pinar del Rio) to Guantanamo (on the far east of the island). Numerous branches also project out from the center to the principal cities in the north and south.

The locomotives and passenger cars have been undergoing modernization and the old steam engines now constitute museum pieces because they’ve been replaced by powerful and modern diesel-fueled locomotives.

The Cuban railroad system is now involved in a process of major repairs because it had deteriorated considerably over the past couple of decades following the disappearance of the European socialist camp, with which Cuba had maintained almost all of its trade.

Likewise, the system has been negatively affected by the economic, commercial and financial blockade that the United States government has maintained against the island for more than 50 years.

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2 thoughts on “A Look at Cuba’s Railroad System

  • I remember in the late 60’s when the construction of the Autopista Nacional began. Many, myself included were in favor of modernizing the railroad system for multiple reasons, among others, because it is more cost effective and a decisive way opposing the American tractor trailer system of mass freight transportation in place since the 40’s.

    Influenced by the magnificent and efficient rail system in Germany, it was clear to me, that was best for Cuba. We all lost. Much was invested in the Autopista Nacional and it is yet to be completed.

    A dual rail would enable a rapid transit system, in which, three nacional passenger trains with stops in Santa Clara, Camaguey and Santiago each carrying 1000 passengers, would solve once and for all, all the country’s internal passengers needs.

    Rather than having 100 Provincial buses travel an average 1000 Kms with 50 passengers on board and a shortened lifespan of less than 10 years in service, these buses itinerary could be reduced to a 200-300 Kms. radius distributing passengers from these main trains stations and expanding their useful lifespan to 20 years or more.

    Some day we hope, someone will look into and question how things have been done for nearly 80 years.

  • I love Cuban trains – don’t care if they are a bit rattly and unreliable, they are such fun to travel in and a rail trip is always an adventure into the unknown. If ever there was a mystery holiday, this is it – you never know where, when, or even if you are going to arrive where you thought you were headed for, but you can guarantee that wherever you end up will be worth it, and the journey even more so – great scenery, and even better travel companions! But don’t tell too many people or it will be spoilt!! Just take plenty to eat and drink, and it won’t matter what happens!!

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