cuba rail train

Cuba receives Chinese trains in efforts to revamp crumbling rail network

Image credit: Dreamstime

Cuba has stepped up plans to bolster its ageing railway system after taking delivery of 80 new Chinese-made passenger cars.

The country, which has suffered US trade embargos for many years, used to have a train network envied by many Latin American countries.

Even British Rail helped the service obtain newer locomotives from 1963 to 1966, but as trade became more difficult following the Cuban Missile Crisis the country was left to rely on the equipment it already had.

Much of it now dates from 1975 and lies in disrepair on the sides of railway yards as the system has seen the number of passengers plunge in recent decades.

The Associated Press reports that the 80 vehicles are just the first batch of a promised consignment of 250 rail cars and locomotives the island will receive by year’s end.

At the same time, the government is busy restoring and repairing railway lines throughout the island, some with rusting rails overgrown with weeds or buried under drifting dirt.

But the overhaul will be challenging, government officials acknowledge, even with the new Chinese-made rolling stock.

Some electric trains that provide local links are completely out of service because of ageing equipment.

And restoring 2,600 miles of track, communications lines and dozens of crumbling rail stations around the island will be a monumental task.

Workers have been restoring Havana’s main rail terminal, an eclectic structure built in 1912, with four floors and a mezzanine, for over 10 years.

Ricardo Cabrisas, Cuba’s minister for economic planning, said the restoration is part of a broader effort to restore the island’s rail system.

“It’s an ambitious plan that matches our long-range goals, effort is aimed at providing reliable transport across the island,” he said.

According to the Cuban Transportation Ministry, trains carried 6.7 million passengers in 2018, a sharp drop from almost 11 million passengers in 2004.

The government hopes to increase ridership by one million in 2019 on long distance routes.

Train services to the far-eastern cities of Santiago, Holguin, Camaguey and Guantanamo are heavily used by local people.

Cuba Railways general director Eduardo Hernandez says the new programme is aimed at providing transport for Cubans, but he also hopes to lure tourists with the new Chinese rail cars and locomotives, which have two classes of service, including an air-conditioned first-class.

“The recovery programme for the Cuban railways runs through to 2030, and it includes all aspects of the system, which includes rolling stock to modernising the communications of the railway system.

“That’s what we aspire to. We want to restore the central rail system to its original state,” Hernandez said.

The trains will serve Camaguey and Holguin, important tourist destinations and gateways to the beaches of the island’s offshore keys.

The Chinese rail cars are the first new equipment received on the island since 2001, when a shipment from French Railways for the Havana-Santiago line was imported, allowing Cuba Railways to offer modern service for its most heavily travelled route.

Cuba finally launched its first internet-enabled smartphone network last year after years of limited connectivity for residents.

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