The International Steam Pages
Zafra 2000 Summary
This page is a distillation of the individual reports which have been posted for the season, don't complain if you saw a loco working which is not included here, why didn't you send in a report? I have added some comments on contemporary conditions in Cuba. Changes are also afoot at Rafael Freyre Mill. The name of the game seems to be 'Tourist Trains' with Jose Smith Comas, Simon Bolivar and Varadero all scrambling to get in on the act. My thanks to the many people who contributed, every little bit helped and I look forward to the same kind of response next year! The nearly final addition was the Steam in Paradise tour report. Reports of 615, 620 and 637 were added in January 2001(!).
The loading point names will be found on the maps in World Steam and on our CD-ROM 'Zafra'. More pictures are available as follows:
Overall, it seems to have been an interesting season as usual. Regular visitors report a continuing decline in steam activity, but with the usual sprinkling of revivals, transfers and intermill workings. Highlights of the season included the appearance of the Cuban Red Devil at Eduardo García Lavandero, the continued high standards at mills like Pablo de la Torriente Brau and Espartaco and the steam revival at Ciudad Caracas. Low points were the almost terminal decline at Boris Luis Santa Coloma, the collapse of operational standards at Rafael Freyre and the continued antics of mercenary crews at Mal Tiempo and Ifrain Alfonso. Opinions differ on the appearance of steam hauled tourist trains - good news if they keep steam alive a little longer, bad news if they interfere with normal steam operations. Overall, the good news was simply the survival of steam activity in the kind of quantity which makes possible a dedicated two or three week bash in the year 2000 (and hopefully 2001). I enjoyed my late season trip in April 2000, but I have to confess that I now consider China with its potential for new discoveries a higher priority than Cuba for next year high season.
103 Eduardo García Lavendero
1816, the Cuban Red devil was here from early February. Two reporters saw it here out of use before I saw it work an intermill to Abraham Lincoln on 2nd April. This was the only steam locomotive at the mill. More pictures of 1816 at work are available.
105 Augusto César Sandino
1382 suffered a massive boiler explosion in late February. Otherwise the mill was working normally except that Dos Hermanos LP was not in use. 1350 and 1404 were also in use, with 1210 and 1405 also present. 1364 (ex Osvaldo Sanchez) is here and will need regauging as part of its repair.
107 Pablo de la Torriente Brau
Working normally with 1103, 1401, 1505, 1662 and 1713 all reported in use, usually no more than three at a time.
201 Amistad con los Pueblos
The mill was still closed but the LPs were working with steam (and diesel) intermill to Hector Molina. Locos seen in use this year were 1303, 1707, 1803, 1804, 1805.
206 Manuel Isla Perez
1107 is preserved on the main road outside the mill. 1302, 1603, 1705 and 1708 were reported in use. 1708 was seen working an intermill to Hector Molina on 14th March.
207 Gregorio Arlee Mañalich
Working normally on the narrow gauge including field workings. 1306, 1307, 1308, 1338 and 1351 all reported at work, with 1365 dismantled for repair. #2 (Minaz 1181 ex Rafael Freyre and Banes) is now here, probably being prepared for a museum. On the standard gauge, 1402 was masquerading as 1551 (for filming?) and 1403 was nowhere to be seen. 1510 and 1806 from Boris Luis Santa Coloma were working here, the latter for working intermills west to Pablo Noriega.
210 Osvaldo Sánchez
Mill still closed and presumably will not reopen. On the narrow gauge, 1309, 1310 and 1347 were in store. On the standard gauge, 1204, 1205, 1681 and 1701 were all seen working at various times, but no more than two on any day. 1507 was awaiting repair.
211 Rubén Martínez Villena
1311, 1411, 1602 (possibly 1502 with 1602 on tender) and 1605 (plus maybe 1704) all seen working but only one or two at a time. No reports of the small locomotives at work, but 1605 was seen at Roble on an assumed intermill on 20th February. 1805 seen here in March briefly. Almost certainly intermills here in April at the end of the season.
212 Boris Luis Santa Coloma
1606 and 1711 seen in steam around the mill on various occasions, with much of the rest of the operational fleet reported elsewhere. Only one reported of steam on line working here - 1711 arrived from the north line with fulls around noon on March 12th.
302 Reynold García
Mill closed with 1517 and 1518 at Jesus Rabi.
Working normally with the usual diesel interloper. 1513, 1515, 1593, 1607, 1620 and 1716 all reported in use although by the end of the season 1716 was stripped down.
1519, 1713, 1811 and 1812 were seen active in the mill area, but no-one reported steam to Carlos Rojas. At Victoria de Yaguajay, later, 1519, 1714 and 1811 were under repair and 1514, 1594 and 1813 stored for possible future repair.
305 Puerto Rico Libre
Mill closed and no steam work. 1116 reported to being got ready for plinthing.
306 Cuba Libre
1410, 1611, 1612 and 1808 all seen in use, but strangely not one report of trains at Pedroso or Roquilla LPs, although the staff told me that 1808 was stranded at Pedroso in early April. One report of empties to Puerto Rico Libre with 1808.
308 Humberto Alvarez
No, the mill has not undergone a Lazarus like recovery, but one of the locos (1243, originally thought to be 1242) is under repair at Julio Reyes Cairo Mill 'for use on a tourist railway in the Varadero area'.
312 Fructroso Rodriguez
Mill closed and likely to stay that way.
313 Seis de Agosto
1528 is preserved outside the mill.
314 Jesus Rabi
1413 worked early in the season but then failed. The only reported working locomotives were visiting 1517 and 1518 from Reynold García. These even worked as far as Guareiras (via Calimete - the line from Pedemonte still looks disused).
315 Jose Smith Comas
1415, 1530 and 1531 all reported working normally with 1122 under repair. This mill is now running tourist trains....
319 Rene Fraga
Steam is at a low ebb here, the best that most people could find was technicolour 1820 in action as mill pilot and serving the nearby LPs. No other locos reported in use.
320 Juan Avila
Not many visitors here these days. 1720, 1721 and 1807 were variously seen in steam but only one stayed long enough to see any line work (1721 at the main line junction).
321 Julio Reyes Cairo
Since no-one else seems to have been here, I went in April. The mill seems not to have worked this year and there was no sign that the steam locos had been used, although 1614 might just have been serviceable.
403 Mal Tiempo
The Mal Tiempo circus plays on, your first picture is free and then the train stops and negotiations begin. Unless of course you have sorted it all out before the train leaves. What an appropriate name for a mill, and a real shame that the majority of staff who are very pleasant should be tarred with the same brush as the unpleasant minority. 1320, 1321 and 1355 were the consistent performers with 1322 and 1345 not seen working this year. Bite the bullet and leave this one off your 2001 itinerary.
404 Ciudad Caracas
One of the star performers of the year. 1545 and 1848 were here from Primero de Mayo (but did anyone see 1848 in steam?). 1550 here from Carlos Carraballo, working together with the mill's own 1538 and 1621. Not only patio duties and trips to the nearby Batey LP, but regular (if you were lucky!) trains to and from the loading points to and beyond Lajas and under the autopista with 1621. The afternoon seemed the preferred time, often too late for photography on the return.
405 Luis Arcos Bergnes
Mill not working but 1539, 1622 and 1755 used for trips to Limpieza LP (at least) and one intermill with steam seen at Camajuani.
409 Antonio Sánchez
Few visitors. 1623, 1624 and 1629 seen working, 1624 seen east of Aguada by one visitor.
412 Juan Pedro Carbó Serviá
1727 and 1728 in use in the mill area, 1728 having won first prize in the local steam festival at Marcelo Salado around the New Year. The photograph is courtesy of Richard Coghlan.
A very good year at the mill, if you could avoid the breakdowns. 1130, 1131, 1327, 1328 and 1329 all reported in use. Old fashioned friendly crews and plenty of field trains. One innovation for me was standard gauge trains arriving here on intermills being shunted by Marta Abreu's small diesel.
More pictures of Espartaco are available
418 Obdulio Morales
Mill now totally dieselised with 1333, 1334 and 1420 stored in good condition.
424 Primero de Mayo
Mill closed and no reports of visits. 1545 and 1848 at Ciudad Caracas.
427 Quintín Banderas
1547 reported in use around the mill and 1823 used as an occasional diesel substitute - did anyone see it move - its wheels were shiny?
428 Marcelo Salado
Mill closed with cane being gathered and transferred to J.M. Perez. At various times during the season, the fulls/empties were exchanged at either Remedios or the mill. 1342, 1343, 1429 and 1549 reported in use, usually two at a time. No reports of 1426 in use. 1147 repaired and repainted but no sign of 1148.
433 Marta Abreu
434 Panchito Gómez Toro
Mill was working but only report was a pre-arranged visitor who had 1626 in steam.
435 Hermanos Ameijeiras
1373 and 1667 seen in steam, usually one at a time for patio work (except for when tour groups chartered trains). One report of 1667 doing a single trip to Batalla LP.
437 Carlos Caraballo
Mill closed with 1550 working at Ciudad Caracas.
438 Ramón Ponciano
1552 and 1634 in use around the mill and for visiting groups to charter. Security here has been tightened.
440 Ifrain Alfonso
1635, 1636, 1637, 1850 and 1910 all seen in steam. The crews here are now very keen to milk the tourist market with demands for money in return for normal running. With a take-home wage of around 250 Peso (U$12.50) a month, I can understand the attitude (but cannot condone it), especially as the working girls in Santa Clara can earn more than this in one night.
441 Diez de Octubre
Working normally. 1661 in regular use and even seen on trains of fulls.
443 Pepito Tey
1220, 1236, 1337, 1357 and 1358 all seen in steam at various times, usually no more than three at a time. The main line north seemed reasonably busy, the other lines much less so. 1164 appears to have been rescued from the dump and was in steam on March 14th. Some complaints of crews begging for money here too.
This picture of 1164 has been sent to me by Georg Karner:
446 Carlos Baliño
One late season visit. Mill not working with cane to George Washington. 1432 in steam.
448 Simón Bolivar
Mill working for the first time since 1997. 1138, 1354, 1360, 1366 and 1367 all seen in use. 1362 and 1363 were also candidates for steaming. Only working as far as Centeno with no trains up 'the hill'. 1366 done up for tourist operation.
449 George Washington
Only one report which stated there was no steam activity this year with 1823 going back to Quintin Banderas.
503 Orlando Gonzáles Ramirez
1732 has been painted green. 1563, 1732, 1836 and 1837 all in use with normal operation.
1461, 1564, 1578 and 1821 all seen at work.1564 and 1821 suffered damage in a collision in March, but both were back in action before the end of the season. This 1578 late in the season.
505 Carlos Manuel de Céspedes
Only 1838 at work in the mill and to the nearest LP.
No reports, mill assumed closed.
1250, 1251, 1368 and 1370 in use. 1369 under repair.
515 Ciro Redondo
1826, 1827 and 1830 reported in use. Few visitors, but general impression was of reduced steam activity.
520 Noel Fernández
Super fireless 1664 in use.
1657 (disgusting blue) and 1741 (green) in use. No reporter seems to have spent much time here this year.
601 Salvador Rosales
615 Bartolomé Masó
1590 was active here in March 2000.
620 Arquimedes Colina
No steam activity, but plinthed 2-6-0 as Central Mabay 3 is here (it appears to be 1675 which was last reported in use in Fenruary 1997).
627 José N Figueredo
635 Rafael Freyre
As usual very popular, especially as milling started earlier than usual. There was universal agreement that the locos were in poor condition apart from 1386 and possibly 1388 which spent most of their time running a tourist train to Altuna/Potrerillo. 1387, 1390, 1391 were also in use but liable to fail at any time. 1385 and 1389 were for/under repair. I can't speak for every visitor but I found this mill to be a massive disappointment this year and if the only way to get reliable photographic opportunities in the future is going to be to charter trains then I for one won't bother returning. How many sets of visitors this year got the 'Barjay Curve' shot in the afternoon without paying for it? I knew of just one when I compiled this summary initially in Cuba although since I came back others have responded to this and suggest it was not that rare!. You could apparently pay U$5 for details of the day's operations but unless they included predicted failures then the information would have been worthless. Although the train crews remain friendly, the way things are going here there will be a toll gate across the road to the Barjay with gricers being charged U$5 admittance in 2001. See also Rafael Freyre - the future? This was a familiar sight in 2000, a steam failure rescued by an ex-Hawaiian diesel.
637 Renulfo Leyva
1464 was active here in March 2000..
Hershey Electric Railway
Extended visits in February/March found all passenger trains on the main line, the Jaruco branch and the Caraballo branch were worked by Spanish units. On the diagram from Hershey to Canasi with side working to Santa Cruz del Norte one of the old cars has survived, performing three trips a day. 3006 and 3009 were seen working the diagram.
At last someone has seen this train move! Andreas Illert reports:
"This train is said to operate on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So it did on Sunday March 5 and Wednesday March 8. Loco 1551 departed Trinidad with one wooden coach at 10 am for Iznaga. After a brief stop (10 minutes) at the Slave tower the train continued into the Valle des Los Ingenios, final destination unknown. The loco returned to Iznaga 10 minutes past noon and commenced its journey to Trinidad after a brief stop. The train reached Trinidad at 1 pm. The loco works chimney first in both directions, so there must be a wye at both ends. The line is very scenic, while the short train looks a little bit silly in front of the high mountains."
There are pictures of this operation available.
Few would contend that the mill can continue indefinitely as it is today. I would also agree with anyone who suggested that in the long term it could not be operated other than as some kind of museum. What happens in between is less certain. During my trip this year, we spent an interesting evening talking with a 'Hungarian Canine' consultant who is a regular visitor to the system. The current tourist operation is set to gross around U$15 000 this year (at U$39 a head) for the mill (and the army connected tourist company Gaviota who bus the punters in will get twice that sum, less what they must pay to the hotels in commission). There are already problems with the local officials who feel that contact with the foreign tourists is the last thing that is needed by the Cuban villagers. So the train started off running to Paraiso but was later diverted to Potrerillo.
Unfortunately, the money generated by the train is not being fed back in any part to the railway operation and one of the best locomotives has had to be set aside for it with obvious effects on the other day-to-day operation. You do not need an MBA to work out that some tweaking of the marketing of the train with a more equitable distribution of revenue and sensible use of part of it would work wonders, but would the Cuban system stand for it? Currently, virtually all the staff in the shed (running and maintenance) and mill are laid off for most of the period of shut down and overhaul of the locos and mill is rushed into a few weeks. Not surprisingly, nothing is properly prepared for the season and it is no wonder that it often starts late and that so many breakdowns occur. And, of course, extending the season as a result raises running costs as well as meaning that less cane is processed during its 'sweet period' when the sugar content is at its greatest. How would you spend the tourist train revenue????
Well I am sure your answer would be my answer too, but I just can't see it happening in Cuba. Instead, I understand that negotiations are taking place whereby a foreign consortium would take over the day to day running of the mill with the intention of turning it into an operational museum largely for the custom of tourists from the nearby beach hotels and cruise ships which may call by. Of course, there is no such precedent on the island for such a venture and it is not going to happen overnight. What we are likely to be left with in the short term is a further deterioration in operations while the mill management argues with the local bureaucracy about the pros and cons to the local community of a controlled input of badly needed money. Santa Lucia and the surrounding villages have seen precious little benefit from the development of Guardalavaca as a resort so far. The relatively high wages of a lucky minority are socially divisive and most of the profits are spent many miles away from the area. The museum operation might well change this for the better in the long run even if it would not be my (and most railfans') preferred option in the short term.
The glory days of Rafael Freyre are well and truly over and if you haven't got your genuine shots yet, I guess you are probably too late now. You will just have to join the touring circuses which visit each year for a hint of the real thing....
In compiling the international steam pages, I have always tried to follow a neutral line on politics because most 'steam' destinations have (for historical reasons) governments whose ideals do not accord with (my) Western liberal traditions. Those who travel on group tours will rarely have the chance to talk freely with local people and may not appreciate how rapidly social, economic and political changes are taking place. I grew up in an era where colonialism in any form was considered an unconditional evil. Today, few would defend the concept of an 'empire' but at the same time, most former colonies have a sentimental attachment to their former rulers which recognises that, at the time, there were benefits for both sides. In 2000, Cuba remains one of the few Communist regimes left in the World, yet even here massive changes are taking place.
Today, travelling independently in Cuba has never been easier although it is still not cheap. In the early to mid-1990s, hire cars were in short supply, often in appalling condition with minimal technical support, the costs were high by international standards and even getting petrol was not a trivial exercise. Today, you can expect a car which is just a year or two old or less, petrol is readily available for hard currency and, in the event of problems, at least three agencies have island wide support.
If you want to stay in hotels then you can make advance bookings with the big chains like Horizontes by Email, but this will allow you little flexibility if you want to change your travel plans, you can suffer from overbooking, the standards of service remain generally poor and the food can best be described as 'plain and unimagnitive'. Alternatively, you may prefer (as I do now) to stay as a private guest much as you would in a 'Bed and Breakfast' in Europe. Virtually every town on the island that has any tourist presence will have several 'Casa Particular' often grouped in a middle class area of town. Such houses are often recognisable by the blue chevron (double arrow) on the door which indicates that they are registered to take foreign visitors. In large towns like Santa Clara you will find people offering these facilities almost as soon as you arrive, alternatively asking at the U$ petrol stations such as the Cupets will usually elicit an address or two and if they are full (and only two rooms per house are allowed) they will have friends who can accommodate you. The air-conditioned rooms will have a double bed and adjacent bathroom and will cost around U$15-20 a night (with discount for a longer stay - they are not cheap because the owners have to pay U$100 per room per month for a licence). Often your hosts will be delighted to cook you an excellent evening meal at a fraction of what you will pay at the hotel or you can eat a private restaurant ('Paladar') recommended by them.
Cuba has not adopted the same rampant capitalist route as China but there has been considerable economic liberalisation in recent years. Many Cubans have access to U$ (through tourism and remittances from overseas relatives) and even the smallest towns have shops where imported goods are available for hard currency. Even more significicantly, the local Peso economy has seen a revival. Not only are private drinks and food stalls open everywhere, some produce (but not much) is available in markets and we even had no trouble buying lunch (for Pesos) in a local restaurant in Pedro Betancourt and similarly a huge ice cream in Calimete - quite unthinkable a few years ago when there were serious food shortages. Buses are back on the roads in quantity (at least in the west of the island) but such is the pent-up demand for travel that the queues for lifts are still present. Life is getting better for the 'man-in-the-street', most of all in the big cities and the west of the island, but gradually in other parts too.
Social and political liberalisation is bound to follow. For the younger people, the revolutionary period is history and the period before it ancient history. Many speak English and in talking to them it is quite clear that the kind of changes that occurred in Eastern Europe 10 years ago are inevitable here too. The only question is whether the country will be able to make the necessary transition to the modern world without losing the undoubted benefits conferred by the present regime such as high education and health standards.
For the steam enthusiast there are still frustrations but they are easily avoided. Even five years ago, although individual loco crews were friendly, most mills would at best barely tolerate and at worst actively discourage visitors. Today, a few mills will still set the police on you if you get too close (read the reports if you want to know which they are), but at most you are welcome to visit the shed unannounced (and you can buy permits in advance for those you are not) and it seems extraordinary that you can often now drive in and park in the middle of the patio and wander around waving a camera without constraint. Instead, the problems lie with a few individuals at certain mills who believe that their personal economic problems can be solved by extracting U$ from visitors in return, essentially, for doing their job. The Cuban government takes in large numbers of U$ from tourists by way of high charges for accommodation, hire cars etc - which, in general, are applied for the greater good of the population as a whole. Paying hard currency for runpasts encourages corruption and distortion of the local economy. Avoid those mills with such a reputation and enjoy genuine old-fashioned hospitality at the others.
None of the above should put anyone off visiting the country. Cuba is a fascinating and rewarding place to visit - take the plunge and make an independent trip in 2001 before the steam finishes!