The International Steam Pages

Steam in Paradise Cuba Report, 2001


THE STORY OF THE 2001 ZAFRA by Ron Lingley/Steam In Paradise.


Considering that this IS 2001 and both steam, and the sugar railways of Cuba in general, continue a slow but steady decline, it was an interesting, if not a truly remarkable year. How many other countries in the World can boast of building a new steam line for 2001, or operating two centenarians together almost daily in ordinary revenue earning service. Added to this was the first steam hauled passenger trains on the island for more than 40 years and some record breaking (as well as breathtaking) runs with Porta's incredible 1816. At the same time, at all too many mills, mornings would have been more profitably spent improving your tan than finding a steam working!

Trucks & Truncation.

It has been on the cards for years, but now it is stated Minaz policy to bring cane nearer to the mills by road. In the case of Granma, this is to a maximum of 5km. from the mill, but in many other cases, it is to Centro Limpieza loading points, built just outside the mills. If a mill doesn't have one, it probably will do soon, as at Australia. Closing the distant LP's. For a number of years Minaz has been under extreme pressure for not performing within the Cuban economy. Their solution is to rationalise the number of mills used, with a greater emphasis on road haulage instead of rail.

Rail is still needed in many cases for the final part of the process of further cleaning the cane and taking it into the mill's crushers. But even with Cuban economics, it is beyond belief to understand how under any circumstances transporting cane by lorry and trailer 20km. within a mill system or up to 70km. to another mill can be cheaper than loading a 1,000 tonne train. While you can forget labour costs, fuel and wear and tear to the lorries alone must be greater than the fuel and maintenance costs of the railway. Minaz does not have to foot the bill for upkeep of the roads, or the cost of increased congestion within the towns and villages, but increased delays and damage to the lorries will in time take their own toll. And at what price to the environment? A cane lorry would never be seen in a town 10 years ago.

Throughout the rest of the World the concept of 'the polluter pays' is being applied by Governments to industry and commerce. There is even a catchy phrase to describe this in seminars and for the accountant's balance sheets - 'The internalisation of external costs'. Minaz would do well to consider this, but their eyes are probably only on the short term future. Will the Cuban Government take a lead, or is this industry too sensitive a subject?

Closed Mills & Acopios.

The number of closed mills is now up past the 50 mark, despite its stated ill-effect on the local economy. Some will re-open after maintenance and poor summer rainfall in 2000 is being blamed for a general shortage of cane. The starting date for zafra 2001 was delayed by a month to try to take advantage of late rainfall in December to boost the crop. Many mills did not use their full quota of loading points, in addition to those closed at the extremities. This had the effect of closing a number of lines. While a number of intermills were steam, and these generally became highlights, the increased number of intermills took care of some of the spare diesels. The Marcelo Salado steam hauled intermill is certainly worthy of note. A new line being built to connect the system to Batalla de Santa Clara mill.


The 1816 saga continued and took a few new turns. The loco started the year at mill 103, repainted in black, but sidelined without the required LOT (licencia de operacion de transporte) certificate. It was felt that it's use at 103 did not show it's full potential and on 3/3 it moved to 203 Hector Molina with the same crew. 203 may have been a strange choice but it was the mill that controlled the intermill workings to 210 Osvaldo Sanchez. Taking over the working from the regular 37 diesel, it soon proved what a remarkable beast it really is. Heading out on the climb from 210 like a rocket with 20 loads to Guines was a truly remarkable sight. From Guines it took a record 36 loads through to 203. This equals a load witnessed from 201 with 1803 some years ago. 1816's full ability is probably still not known, as it is the ease with which it picks up trains that is staggering. Its speed over a the poor mainline made chasing almost impossible.

However, problems were again in store for 1816, sidelining it for more days. H. Molina, a diesel mill did not always have the correct fuel or lubricants for 1816. O. Sanchez did but that required towing the loco back dead. A railway inspector also found that one of the crew's licences had expired and suspended the man. There was no regular replacement available, suitably familiar with 1816 unique technology. The whole crew were also working away from home, so required time off back at 103. I can't wait to see more in 2002!

1816 romps along

Steam For The Third Millennium.

The department in Havana responsible for 1816 have another project up their sleeves. Using much of the technology incorporated in 1816, Porta has come up with plans for an 0-6-2T capable of 800hp (equal to a 37 diesel) for use by Minaz and the FCC and anyone else that might be interested. Using either oil or biomass (in Cuba to be created from bagasse) as fuel. The use of the latter has enabled funding to build a prototype at Santa Clara's Planta Mechanica over the next two years to be made available by a Cuban Bank as an environmentally self-sustainable project. Plans for a larger 0-8-2T at 1,200hp (equal to a 38 diesel) are now awaited from Porta's office in Argentina.


Another word in Minaz's vocabulary for 2001 is 'Diversification'. Basically this means making money from anything else that it can think of, be it growing carrots, opening staff shops or running tourist trains. The tourist train operation at Rafael Freyre has been followed by ones at Jose Smith Comas and Mal Tiempo. Australia is expected to have one soon, they already take many tourist coach tours around the shed (while the staff take the tourists for a dollar!). Minaz are becoming stricter about the services provided with the various types of mill permit, while some mills are being more insistent that ALL visitors have a permit!


The problem of 1551 often being unavailable for use on the Trinidad tourist train prompted Minaz to make Reynold Garcia's 1517 available. 1541 was also rumoured to have been considered. 1517 left for Cienfuegos by rail to be transported on to Trinidad by road. This was stopped after weaknesses were discovered to the viaduct near Trinidad, leaving the loco at Cienfuegos. Here it was decided to run the loco on local trains to Cruces and Santa Domingo, as the running costs would be lower than by using diesels. Test runs were organised to Cruces where it was deemed that the loco could water at Mal Tiempo. This proved unsatisfactory and test train with passengers ran on 28/2 with 1517 watering at Ciudad Caracas. Lack of water precluded the run through to Santa Domingo. The train entered normal service on 1/3 with water again being taken at 404. The first scheduled steam hauled passenger train in Cuba since the 1950's. Fuel supplies to Cienfuegos was also proving difficult. The decision was taken to suspend the service after the first day.

Main line steam

The reaction from enthusiasts to the trains that had actually run prompted the local management to try to run 1517 as a tourist operation. Approaches were made to local hotels, but apart from other enthusiast groups in the area at the time, not enough bookings were secured to pay 1517's hire charges. The loco was back at Reynold Garcia on 11/4, having returned the previous week, but surprisingly the local word was that it would return to Cienfuegos as soon as the contracts had been signed in Havana for its use at Trinidad. However, only 1551 was at Trinidad and working on 24/4.

Trinidad mismatch

103 Eduardo Garcia Lavendero.

Mill not working. Intermill trains with diesel. 1816 present until 3/3 and will probably return after the end of the Zafra.

105 Augusto Cesar Sandino.

No major problems this year. Virtually all traces of 1382 have disappeared. The overhaul of 1364 continues and possibly could have been finished if 1373/1667 had not been drafted in from mill 435. The newcomers handled the bank from Varela on a heavy load with consummate ease, but soon lost the immaculate appearance that 435 had maintained. Only time will tell if they are returned to 435. Of 105's own roster, only 1350 was seen in use.

107 Pablo de La Torriente Brau.

Mill and railway not in use.

201 Amistad Con Los Pueblos.

Mill not working but the intermills continue steam. The pattern for the working of the loading points varied from day to day, but usually involved two locos.

1804 from Mill 201

206 Manuel Isla Perez.

Mill and railway not in use. Trucks loaded at the Centro Limpieza.

207 Gregorio Arlee Manalich.

This years livery was black with fawn tender panels and with fire extinguishers highly prominent. Did they have a serious fire in 2000? The narrow gauge was as good as previous, but the standard gauge only provided 1402 (back with it's own identity) in working condition on the shunts. No.2 (1181) remains, stored in the shed.

Playing with trains

210 Osvaldo Sanchez.

Mill still closed and the intermills were often diesel, even after the arrival of 1816 at 203. More cane appeared to be handled than in previous years and the local collection was usually with a 2-8-0, although 1204 saw some use.

211 Ruben Martinez Villena.

Mill closed. The intermills were usually with 1702 to Roble, where trains were exchanged with diesels from 212 and (after it's very late opening) 205. 1311 was used to shunt the acopio and prepare the intermill, but was seen at Roble on 13/4 on a pw train and topping and tailing an unusually heavy intermill with 1605 on 24/3.

212 Boris Luis Santa Coloma.

The mill now has a 38 diesel from 207 in exchange for 1806 in addition to it's own 51 diesel. 1606 usually in steam and after repairs 1711, but never seen used.

302 Reynold Garcia.

Mill closed with intermills diesel. However, on 11/4, 1518 was in steam after repairs with 1517 shunting the patio after returning from Cienfuegos.

303 Australia.

No diesel this year, even though 1716 was still under overhaul. As reported last year, San Ramon LP has closed, with a new Centro Limpieza being built just outside the mill for use in 2002. Expect fewer trains to Apodaca next year! Just before the end of the Zafra, 1513 was involved in a patio incident with 1607 in the early hours of 12/4, seriously damaging most of i's LH motion. Disciplinary action against the driver is likely to be severe, but this did not appear to deter other crews from starting their 'relaxation' long before the end of their shifts. A plinth next to the water/oil point has been prepared for one of the derelict locos.

304 Granma/318 Victoria de Yaguajay.

No mainline diesel this year was the plus, but there was a minus, as the mill's stated policy was to bring all cane by truck to within 5km. of the mill. This meant that only 4 loading points remained in use. Carlos Rojas and Santa Rosa #2 were closed and Santa Rosa #1 demolished. 2 of the 3 serviceable locos (1713/1714/1812) were in steam each day. The others are in variable states of decay, but are all deemed capable of overhaul if required. All locos now use Victoria shed. Granma shed has been demolished, but can still be used as a stabling point for the working locos.

305 Puerto Rico Libre.

Mill closed with intermills diesel. 3 (1116) now plinthed.

306 Cuba Libre.

With the Tarafa branch closed, line work was with steam only if you were very lucky. Use of the glut of spare diesels in the area from the closed mills was preferred to using 1 of the mill's 4 working steam. If a mill's own staff do not encourage the use of steam (FOR WHATEVER MOTIVE, $ or otherwise), more mills will go this way. 1409 is now plinthed. 1808 receives the prize for this years most horrendous paint job - black and PINK!

312 Fructroso Rodriguez.

Mill closed. 1849 awaiting transfer for a tourist operation in the Varadero area!

314 Jesus Rabi.

THE mill to visit in 2001 with 2 centenarians in use, despite the usual periods of total inactivity. 1413's re-emergence last year was only seen by a few before failure. This year, it performed regularly with 1414. 1216's arrival from 312 was unexpected and although it was often in steam, it was used on the shunt when the mill's sole diesel was otherwise engaged.


315 Jose Smith Comas.

As 2000 except for the closure of Santa Rosa LP. Cairo cane again coming in.

319 Rene Fraga.

No diesel this year, but only the 2 adjacent acopios in use. 1820 turned, was the regular pilot. It is now thankfully in a more conventional livery. Everything else was more rusty.

320 Juan Avila.

Contrary to the trend, the mill claimed this to be their best zafra crop in years! The mill proved to be the Ciudad Caracas of 2001 for unexpected steam mainline workings. Regular failures of the mill's 37 and 38 diesels meant a return of steam to all the open loading points. Despite the surplus of spare diesels in the area, 1720 and 1721 taken off shunts for mainline runs. Who else caught them? 1526 now dumped. 1807 under overhaul although 1534 is still dismantled. Remains of 1535 and 1814 are a few chunks of metal.

Surprise package

321 Julio Reyes Cairo.

Mill closed. 1614 seen LE after taking cane to Delirio for collection by 315.

403 Mal Tiempo.

As 2000 except for the Vega Ceiba LP not in use this year. The mill has built a siding for a small tourist attraction at the old chucho near Batalla Mal Tiempo. Tourists from Cienfuegos travel in two carriages to see how cane was pressed and loaded in previous times and receive a drink of cane juice. Gricers can still be expected to pay for the privilege (?) of photographing this train! The carriages are propelled the 5km. back to the mill.

For a few dollars more...

404 Ciudad Caracas.

1538 and 1621 regularly on shunt and to the adjacent acopio. 1621 saw some use on the mainline run when the diesel failed.

Prairie Sunset

405 Luis Arcos Bergnes.

Mill closed with some intermills to Batalla de Santa Clara with diesel, but mainly with steam to Abel Santamaria. 1823 drafted in to assist 1755 as 1622 was under overhaul. 1346 arrived from 447 and spent most of the season at the side of the mill before being plinthed at the main road junction at end of April, still in it's dumped condition! The giant oxcarts were more in evidence this year bringing in cane. The LP on the Santa Clara line was not used. 1541 is rumoured for tourist train use at Trinidad or Caibarien. Seeing is believing!

409 Antonio Sanchez.

1623/4/9 under overhaul, with 1625 in use for shunting. 1726 now dumped.

412 Juan Pedro Carbo Servia.

1727 under overhaul. 1728 in use for the shunt and to the adjacent LP.

413 Espartaco.

Mill closed, although maintenance work was going on, with the stack smoking some evenings. 1326 used for some charter work. 1329 loaned to 443.

418 Obdulio Morales.

As 2000. 1333 has not yet been removed for plinthing at 448.

424 Primero de Mayo.

Mill closed with intermills diesel. 1545 under overhaul for the Mal Tiempo 2001 festival. 1848 is ready. Long term overhaul of 1543/4 continues.

427 Quintin Banderas.

1547/8 on shunt. Security as tight as ever for unofficial visitors.

428 Marcelo Salado.

After a forgettable 2000, it was back in the top league for 2001, even though the mill was still closed and the staff say that the mill is not likely to re-open. Jose Maria Perez was closed this year, so with steam intermills along a newly constructed line to Batalla de Santa Clara, it made this one of the longer steam runs on the island. New arrival here was 1550, hired from Carlos Caraballo. Staff say that the mill wish to buy the loco. 1342 and 1429 have been turned for the run with the loads. 1550 was the preferred loco for the run through to Batalla with loads and often swapped trains (and crews) with the smaller locos when returning with empties. This prompted some doubleheaded shunting on occasions. All the loading points, including the quarry line, were in use. 1343 has found occasional work at the Caibarien honey factory, north of the station. When required, it spends most of the day there, manoeuvring the tankers for loading.

Handsome bastard!

429 Jose R. Riquelme.

As 2000, but 1645 now looks even more dumped.

433 Marta Abreu.

Mill closed with intermills to 403 by diesel.

434 Panchito Gomez Toro.

1626 in use on shunt and to the adjacent LP.

435 Hermanos Ameijeiras.

Much to the bitter disappointment of the shed management 1373/1667 transferred to 105. They may return if 105 ever gets its own fleet back in working condition. 1431 retained for charter work. The far end of the line may close for 2002.

437 Carlos Carraballo.

Mill closed. 1550 at 428.

438 Ramon Ponciano.

1552 & 1634 available for charter work, although it is reported that some groups were unable to gain access to the FCC metals to reach the better photo positions.

440 Ifrain Alfonso.

Operations as normal. 1636 saw some use, but its problems seem to persist. 1910 was not used and motion repairs (from 2000?) are still to be completed. 1850 was sidelined for a while with cylinder problems. Crews have been told not to do unofficial runpasts at the motorway crossing!!

Ifrain as normal

441 Diez de Octubre.

After the exceptional 2000 season, 2001 was back to normal. With 1661 often in steam, but seldom used. 1638/9 have arrived from 449 and the overhaul of 1639 is well underway.

443 Pepito Tey.

Operations as 2000. 1329 on loan from 413 as 1337 was under overhaul. 1329 proved to be an excellent performer on 443's grades. Shortly after 1329's arrival we were offered the works plates by one of Pepito Tey's staff. We refused and informed Espartaco management, but by the time they arrived, the plates had been sold.

446 Carlos Balino.

Mill closed. Steam out of use.

448 Simon Bolivar.

A sad place to visit in 2001. Mill closed and most of the offices and shed deserted by late afternoon. One loco was often in steam, but with only the Centro Limpieza operational, it possibly only provided one train of cane per day for 418. However, another intermill working most days were the molasses tankers coming back to 448. Only 1360/3/6 were seen in use.

449 George Washington.

With only dumped 1644 present, the prospect of future steam working is poor.


The viaduct outside Trinidad was declared unfit in January. Repairs were completed and 1551 was seen in use on April 24. Which locos will be here next year?

503 Orlando Gonzales Ramirez.

Easily the best operation again in the Ciego area, often with multiple trains running. 1836 has acquired an attractive blue livery, 1732 is still in green.

504 Ecuador.

Back to the first division of steam operations for Ecuador in 2001. The overhaul of 1904 was completed in time for the loco to attend and take first prize in a steam festival at Moron in December 2000. 1461 and 1564 also attended and took their clean appearance into the Zafra. Another Moron festival is planned for the end of 2001. Maybe next year 1578 will receive attention, but 1821 currently under overhaul is likely to be their prime candidate.

505 Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.

No steam activity.

506 Bolivia.

Mill not working.

511 Brasil.

Started milling late due to problems of obtaining necessary parts for the mill, followed by failures with their diesels. Eventually, milling started in February. 1250 under overhaul. The other 4 firelesses working normally.

515 Ciro Redondo.

Is this the first mill to have a stuffed and mounted (un-numbered) 38, plinthed south of the mill? 1829 attended the Moron festival and was the mill's only working steam for the zafra. Staff say that a second loco may be required for 2002 zafra. Overall, it is a sad story compared to previous years. 1827 is currently at the permanently closed Patria o Muerte mill (517) for a tourist operation out of Moron, but appears to be little used. There is little hope for most of the other locos. Pilot this year was ex-mill 517 class 37.

520 Noel Fernandez.

Super fireless 2-8-0's not in use. 1664 under overhaul and 1658 requiring repairs.

522 Venezuela.

Another mill with only one working steam this year. 1742 outshopped with an extended tender. 1657 and 1743 under overall, so is 1902 but this loco is reported to have been sold to 627. As with 515 the future of the others is poor.

Last of the breed

610 Jesus Menendez.

36 (1570) plinthed - no tender.

611 Antonio Guiteras.

23 plinthed.

615 Bartolome Maso.

Mill not working. 1589 plinthed. 1590/1757 out of use.

620 Arquimedes Colina.

3 (1675) plinthed. 1575 out of use. 1588 remains only.

627 Jose N Figueredo.

Mill not working. 1676/77 derelict. 1455?/1746? remains.

635 Rafael Freyre.

Mill closed. Cane trucked to Cristino Naranjo. Staff say that the mill will reopen for 2002, after much needed maintenance work on the mill. Considerable work is needed for all parts of the operation as at present the mill has no serviceable diesels (34's or the Hawaiians), only 2 working steam (1386/8) (work is starting on a third), the port line is unusable and a bridge between Paraiso and Peluda is being replaced. The scenic section between Uvilla and Latour will definitely not re-open. 0-6-0 No.1 (1180) has as suspected last year, been plinthed at the junction with the Guardalavaca road, much to the disappointment of the loco department who spent time and effort returning it to working condition. The Brill railcar (50) is currently under restoration for tourist use. Speculation is rife regarding the long term tourist projects and different stories abound depending on who you talk to. Havana's involvement does not appear to be aiding what is currently achievable. The present highly successful tourist operation is being starved of resources (despite earning more money than the mill did with sugar in 2000), as the immediate proposal of extending the port line from the old junction to the marina or Havana's preferred multi-million $ (and therefore of higher profile) Gibara option is postulated. External funding sources are reported to be disappointed with the present level of progress. Such is Cuba!

More playing with trains

Unnatural practices

637 Ranulfo Leyva.

1464 on shunt some days.

Ferrocarrilles de Cuba.

Trains are again running between Guantanamo and San Luis following the replacement of the bridge lost in the Hurricane at the end of 1999. The air-conditioned express (train 11/12) is now daily, but the other Santiago de Cuba-Havana express (13/14) now only runs every other day. Many other trains are again unreliable, with some of the refurbished MLW Alco's running into mechanical problems and another serious collision. A 5 hour journey on train 15 to Santa Clara arrived 14 hours late! Are the railways being starved of new investments? Astro buses have many new vehicles, with only a few being seen dead by the roadside this year. Viazul are also heavily promoting their dollar bus services across the island. Mercedes-Benz are now assembling new buses at a factory near Havana. Recently, an improved bus service seems to have replaced the Santa Clara-University shuttle. Look for a new working timetable later this year, possible with revised train numbers and departure times.

Canadian GMD1's are now regularly in charge of the lighter Cienfuegos-Havana and Sancti Spiritus-Havana expresses. 10 of the first 12 GMD1's are now in FCC livery and at least 5 of a second batch have appeared, still in CN colours. Ganz Mavag 61031 has been in use in the Camaguey area. At least 3 Koloma M62's including 61602 (once driven by Fidel Castro) survive in the Cienfuegos/Santa Clara area. The 1920's American clerestory stock have been replaced on the Bayamo-Manzanillo service. 91003 has been seen at Camaguey works. It is not known if this is a new class or a rebuild.

Minaz diesels.

Minaz have sectorised the hopper side of their activity and mainline intermill locomotives now carry a Ferroazuc banner. 2 Havana based 39's carry a EMCEA banner. Their use is not clear. New loco sightings include: 2703/41 (mill 611), 37018 (mill 442), 38003 (mill 511), 38049/82/90 (mill 611), 38106/128 (mill 622), 38176 (Majibacoa), 38232 (mill 515), 38278 (mill 610).

Hershey survivor

Rob Dickinson