Cuba’s Hershey Train Could Still Be Saved
By Lynn Cruz
HAVANA TIMES – My investigation about the Hershey train continues; It began to run in 1920 and is famous for being the only electric train to operate in the island, running from Matanzas to Havana.
I was recently in the town created by Milton Snavely Hershey, located in the Mayabeque province 45 kms away from Havana, for work reasons. A guard at the Casa Blanca train station in Havana, where the train used to depart from, told me that the carriages were out of service.
I went to the railway workshop in this town and interviewed a Shift Manager and an employee who has been working there for 23 years. Given the fact that paranoia was in the air because the town had woken up with a sign at the primary school saying: Down with the Revolution! And, underneath, there were insults about Raul Castro and president Miguel Diaz Canel, I decided not to ask the employees their names, even though they asked if I was a journalist.
In fact, these employees confirmed what I had already learned about the matter at hand: that a few days before Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, the train had stopped running its Havana-Matanzas route, yet I was finally able to learn why.
On September 2017, the train’s diesel engines were taken for the sugar harvest and were never returned. These locomotives were responsible for making repairs to the train’s electrical power system.
A month later, in October 2017, after Irma swept through the country, part of the overhead electrical cables and wooden posts to keep them up, had fallen down on the stretch running from Guanabo to Havana, approximately 30 kms away from the Casa Blanca station. As they didn’t have the engines, the damages weren’t repaired. One of the interviewees said the neglected cables and posts were taken by locals in the area because they were copper cables, and the wood from the posts was used to make wooden beams to support the roofs on their homes.
The train then began to travel from Hershey to Guanabo (changing its traditional route) until recently in January 2019, a tornado ravaged a part of Havana, as well as the train’s electric framework in Guanabo, which is why the new route has also been canceled, as the locomotives haven’t been returned yet, even though the sugar harvest has ended.
But, on the other hand, the section from Matanzas to Hershey was limited down to the town of Margot, as there eight posts which were also damaged during Hurricane Irma, and they prevent the train from reaching Matanzas. This route isn’t in very high demand today though, because it leaves passengers in the middle of nowhere. Literally.
Railway workers linked to this train are afraid that they will become “interrupted”. This is the euphemism the Cuban State uses so they don’t have to admit that there is unemployment in the country. According to what they explained to me: “the authorities in these cases say that workers need to wait at home until the problem is resolved, they pay your wages for one more month and then they tell you to look for another job.” Right now, payments are really uncertain, they are delayed most of the time and workers feel undervalued because management hasn’t sat down with them.
They also complain about the fact that Eduardo Rodriguez, the new minister of Transport, spoke about damages to Cuba’s railway system but failed to mention the Hershey train situation.
This form of transport was not only affordable, it also allowed Mayabeque’s inhabitants to have access to hospitals in the capital, which would have been very expensive and inefficient any other way. Many local professionals managed to study at university and get their degrees thanks to the regular service this train provided, making a total of 7 trips per day both to Havana and Matanzas, as it was a cross-link train and it stopped at the Hershey station.
Many carriages are in a critical state because they aren’t being used. A few others could be used in the condition they are in. There are also carriages that date back to the inauguration of this train, which are now tourist carriages, but even they aren’t being exploited, that’s to say, they aren’t being used either way.
These railway workers also told me that a few years ago, some French people came who were interested in investing in repairs where the railway had been damaged, in other words, in getting the train back up and running again. Something happened and they desisted.
If the Cuban State can’t bear the cost, then they should try to cover these repairs by creating a joint venture, especially now when the train can still be saved as only 40 km of the track is suffering electrical damage. But, if an investment isn’t made now then the stretch the train can run along will gradually decrease, until it unfortunately disappears, they concluded.
13 thoughts on “Cuba’s Hershey Train Could Still Be Saved”
It’s sad and the ones that suffers are the Cuban people, especially the ones that needed to get around. That’s socialism for you! I should know I was born in Cuba in the year 1959, five months after those bastards took over Cuba! But I’ve been in the U.S.A. now for fifty one years, so I’m Cuban American, but I still got some family through my late mother’s side that still lives out there and are going through hell! That’s Socialism for you, the ones that suffers are the people living there.
thanks for this nice report and let’s hope that finally there will be something done about. As a Swiss entrepreneur I’m involved in tourism in Cuba for almost 20 years now, and we used to operate the old Trans Hershey train as a touristic train with quite a good success. We even had our own website (www.transhershey.com)
Now, after years of not operating, one of the old carriages has been repaired and was presented at the last tourism trade show FIT Cuba. Supposedly it shall be operating (by Viajes Cubanacan and Palmares) again on the Jaruco-Hershey line as of November. Due to our prior experience we have again applied to market the train internationally. We are also ready to join forces with the French railroad company that wanted to reestablish the electrification of the Hershey line from Casablanca to Matanzas, but to the Ministry of Transport this is about in 4th priority, although the French government would even be backing-up the whole renovation with a loan.
There has been so much written about the Hershey train, the Hershey town and sadly, the Cuban government doesn’t see this as a project to preserve this as a industrial heritage, like so many other countries are doing. All our many efforts so far have been effectless.
Best Regards from Switzerland
Hi Lizzie, yes I live in Cuba. As an actress I´ve been censored since abril of 2018, because this column in Havana Times. I respect Circles Robinson, the editor of HT because he doesn´t receive funds from the Unites States Govermment, that´s why I accepted to write here, but for the Cuban govermment it isn´t enough.
My father is retired from the Army, and he also believes in the Cuban Revolution. My mother is from Havana and my father is from Sancti Spiritus, but they are living in Matanzas.
“Lizzie” may be genuine, but for Cubans she could also be a cover for MININT endeavoring to find information.
Hi, I am finding your articles quite interesting. Are you living in Cuba now or have you in the past? If so which town and where is your family from?
Yes Andrew because recently a small portion of the route was broken and it could be because of that the government fixed it.
My bet, and I put down a 100 CUC on it, is that nothing will happen and the train won’t run again as long as the CPC is in power. We’ve seen this a thousand times before. Something breaks down and never gets repaired. Houses, roads, industry, you name it. All left to decay.
Thanks for your comments Bob. For me is very sad because I grew up traveling to Havana and Matanzas since my grandparents were from Havana. Now Camilo Cienfuegos, nobody uses that name to call the town but it is like a ghost town, the people are very poor because the most of people in Hershey are working class not farmers and at the same time they are living in the middle of nowhere. There’s no agriculture, nothing.
Lack of funds did not prevent the construction of the new railway line running to Mariel complete with new bridges and overpasses. All that is missing is the use of the line to transport goods too and from the new $5 billion Port. To date I have yet to see a train on it and I cross it regularly. There is also a dearth of container traffic on the autopista west of Havana which links on to the new motorway to Mariel.
The youtube video says it is on the Hershey to Jaruco stretch.
Also, there was a recent article about that part – http://www.jarucoradioweb.icrt.cu/language/es/en-marcha-otra-vez-tren-electrico-de-hershey/?fbclid=IwAR1N7ydBmrnezomF7SlJkT7A6bjKlXVm5EUK3bRegU2S_PRQ4kmTPXIfoMA
Havana Times, Simply The Best.
Lynn: many thanks for filling in some of the back story details. I have ridden the Hershey train from Casablanca to Hershey and back so many times that frequently a crew member recognizes me. Now maybe that is because I always bought everyone on the crew a beer when we got back to Casablanca. But that train to Hershey and back was such a view of real Cuban life and relaxing cultural escape from much of Habana Vieja. The few times I allowed another American to travel with me to Havana, I always insisted they go on La Launcha and that train ride.
Once when my sister, also from the US, was in Havana and rode that train, we ended up at the ferrocarriles motel there in Hershey drinking beer with some RR workers. When she asked where the bathroom was, everyone jumped into action like her name was Vilma or Celia. They immediately went to work to clean the place up and get her a new roll of toilet paper. Years later she still talks about treated like royalty when she just wanted to pee.
I find the town of Hershey a great history lesson in itself if one only stops to think. Every segment of Cuban history is represented there from the American colonial period to Revolutionary impact changing the name to Camilo Cienfuegos which everyone ignores, to the now closed sugar mill, to the RR workshop which is really a train cemetery, to the old lady who once taught Spanish to US Hershey employees but now teaches English to locals wanting to work at Jibacoa.
The first time I rode the Hershey train there was an aqua blue 1950’s era Frigidaire refrigerator in the first car. I thought great with their being cold beer on board. But our first stop was with everyone helping someone unload their refrigerator that they had taken into Habana Vieja for repair. I have ridden with passengers leading a live pig, passengers carrying a load of lumber, a band that turned the trip into a rolling party, and a number of other experiences.
Sadly the Ministry of Tourism insists on building new AI resorts in an attempt to compete with other countries over who can be the cheapest Caribbean destination. Instead they should spend just a small amount of money on things like repairing the Hershey RR to offer cultural experiences that simply have no competition.
I am sure I have seen the train running from Hershey to Jaruco so there must be some trains in use. I drove by the train repair yards last year and there was some work going on and rolling stock in storage?
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