The International Steam Pages

Steam (?) in Cuba 2005

The following observations were made by Alan Murray-Rust and Alan Pearce between 28 November and 11 December 2004.

The trip was originally intended to include a week visiting steam festivals with Globe Steam and a week on the Hershey system with the intention of filling in as many of the gaps from previous visits as possible. Due to the cancellation by Minaz of the festivals, the Globe Steam trip also fell through and we decided to extend our time on the Hershey and see if there were any remnants of the festivals that would be reasonably in reach. As a result we booked 3 nights in Remedios to correspond with the original dates of the Marcelo Salado festival.

Details are as follows:

Various dates: Ferrocarriles Electricos de Cuba. (FCC Camilo Cienfuegos division) (Formerly Hershey Cuban Railway) 

Rolling Stock:

Electric Locomotives
Only the following three were in use.
20803 – works and yard shunter.
20808 – tourist train locomotive (the only remaining serviceable loco with sloping bonnets).
21001 – coupled with overhead line car 072.

The majority of the remaining electric locomotive stock was parked with various items missing in the works yard. During our first week 20804 was noted on the headshunt siding at the south end of the patio beyond Chucho 3 junction beyond an area where goods wagons were being cut up. It was no longer there at the end of the second week and must be presumed to have shared the same fate. There is no electric freight working. The occasional traffic to the Havana Club rum factory at Santa Cruz is handled by Minaz diesels from the Matanzas end.

Brill railcoaches
There are 4 survivors. 3006 and 3009 are available for normal passenger service and both were seen in service. 3009 is used when necessary to provide additional capacity for the tourist train. These two share the Santa Cruz branch working which includes workings on the main line between Hershey/Calle 7, Jibacoa, Canasi and San Antonio. When we were in Cuba in 2003 we had witnessed a failure of 3009 which we were convinced was the death knell for independent Brill operation. Their problem has been continuing failures of the low-voltage generation sets which are beyond repair and not replaceable at affordable costs. Cannibalisation had reached to end of the road. Cuban ingenuity has, it is pleasing to report, saved the day. The cars are now fitted with batteries which can be charged overnight; it seems that the charge is sufficient to allow a full day of operation!
3008 is de-motored and exclusively used with 20808 on the tourist train which seems to average 1 – 2 trips per week between Casablanca and Hershey.
3007 survives as shell in the yard with mainframe damage and has not run for several years. We were told that that it is being retained for possible refurbishment as a second vehicle for the tourist train.

Catalan stock:
There are four 3-car sets available for normal use. The main line requires two and the Jaruco line one, with the fourth spare. This spare set is used to cover the Santa Cruz if a Brill car is not available. The composition of these sets clearly varies with the available cars.
A 4-car set without pantographs is used with a diesel locomotive for the additional irregular ‘Campismo’ trains which run between La Coubre Station in Havana and Hershey or Canasi. We presume that most of the electrical gear has been removed from this stock.
707, the motorised trailer rebuilt as a single unit with ex-Brill equipment is the normal stock on the Caraballo branch.

Line cars:
The two original Brill cars, 072 and 073 are both in regular service. 072 (unrebuilt) requires the help of a locomotive, but rebuilt 073 is self-mobile. 074 (the modern ?French-built line car) was not seen in service, possibly because it does not have the necessary crane to replace support poles!

Diesel Locomotives
There seem to be 3 currently allocated. 50925 in yellow/green, which seems to spend its time rescuing failed electric units, 51035 in FCEC red with yellow stripe, seen on the Campismo train, and 71050 (not seen).

Freight stock
A new divisional manager has been getting rid of surplus stock, but a small representative selection of freight cars has been reserved as part of provincial heritage, largely due to the efforts of the man in charge of the tourist operation. 

Itinerario 14 (from 1 April 2003) shows several workings to and from La Coubre including the midday Matanzas workings. However, a supplement in force from 1 December 2003 shows the more traditional five return workings per day between Casablanca and Matanzas. From 1 December 2004 the last departures of the day from Casablance and Matanzas are withdrawn except on Fridays and Sundays. The supplement also shows a reduced number of journeys on the branches and here too some late journeys are withdrawn from December 2004. Further reductions are envisaged in the Spring of 2005. It is noticeable that local buses are better, more frequent and well patronised, all factors which are bad news for the railway, particularly the branches.
New financial restraints has been introduced in recent months. In particular, electricity is metered and there is a consumption budget based on the timetabled journeys which if exceeded results in penalty charge rates for the excess. The number of manned locations has been reduced, including the stations at Guanabo and Jibacoa. The traditional timber building at Guanabo has been demolished and the same was due to happen at Jibacoa. Due to local pressure to retain this as heritage, this survives and is now the only remaining example of a typical traditional wayside station.
During our visit we were aware of several failures of service. The principal cause is the poor state of the track and overhead. Excessive roll causes pantographs to lose contact with the overhead and snag it when rolling back, resulting in the overhead being torn down over up to 300 metres at a time. There are also problems with rotting timber support poles. Losing electrical contact in these circumstances also plays havoc with the electrical equipment.
Nevertheless, the speed at which repairs are carried out is impressive under the circumstances and it is clear that the staff in all sections is dedicated to keeping the service running as well as possible.
A further sign of retrenchment is that overhead has been dismantled south of Caraballo, and on some sidings, presumably for re-use elsewhere. New contact wire is just not available at an affordable price as it would have to be imported.

Steam operation:
4.12 – 7.12.04: Marcelo Salado.
A Saturday afternoon visit to the mill unexpectedly witnessed the arrival of the tourist train from the Remedios direction in charge of 1549. We were invited to join the train for the rest of the trip to Caibarien, with the return being made on the footplate. We were told that although there would be no festival on the Monday (6th), they would be steaming two locos as there were several tourist parties due. There was still a possibility of a mini-festival the following weekend with visiting locos but nothing had been confirmed.
A Sunday morning visit to Remedios Station gleaned the information that the tourist train was due by around 11 a.m. It duly arrived to run round the train and depart to Marcel Salado. We chased it there and were entertained by 1549 setting out various locos around the Patio ready for the following day. It then carried out the afternoon part of the tourist operation which provided good lineside opportunities between Remedios and Marcelo Salado, and also at Caibarien Station. Basically, the regular operation involves taking parties in the late morning from Caibarien to a restaurant facility at Finca La Cabana between Marcelo Salado. The train then proceeds light to Remedios to run round before returning to MS. After lunch the reverse operation takes place. The afternoon empty run is ideal for roadside photography with the loco smokebox first running at full line speed. On both days the clientele consisted entirely of locals, not foreign tourists. The Finca is part of the whole Museum operation at Marcelo Salado which also includes the mill and the steam loco operation. We were informed that the tourist train runs daily. We were given to understand that 1549 is not the normal loco, usually a smaller one is used (?1342).
Sadly, on the Monday morning we found that one of the large parties had postponed their visit to the following day, so they had not bothered to steam a second loco as it would not have been economic, which we had expected to be 1343. (This was being repainted when we saw it on Saturday afternoon). We took the opportunity to visit the mill museum which is well presented. There also well presented displays in the locoshed and in the ground floor of the Trafico building.
On Tuesday we found that the party was not going to come at all, so again only 1549 in steam. The staff were clearly disappointed at having ‘let us down’ and offered to light up a second loco but we declined as we felt it would not be worth it to them.
All staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and clearly dedicated to making a success of the museum operation. 1549 appeared to be in first class mechanical condition, with even valve beats and minimal leaks, and well-handled by the crew. Clag smoke was notable by its absence even when shunting around the Patio.
All the locos are in spotless condition. The list is as Peter Smith’s report. (If not previously reported, 1426 is partly sectioned as part of the museum display).

6.12.04 Obdulio Morales/Simon Bolivar.
We arrived at Obdulio Morales late morning. The main line showed signs of regular use, and we were informed that a train would be arriving in about 45 minutes. A visit to the shed area found 6 unidentified diesels inside (access not allowed) and E1420 still intact outside at the rear.
Expecting no more than a railcar we were surprised to hear a steam hooter followed shortly by 5/E1334 which had come to pick up the tourist train with a party of Germans. We were told that it would be operating as far as Centeno, but in practice the party left the train at the level crossing near the Simon Bolivar patio, after a short visit to the shed.
We also visited the shed but appear to have left it to each other to note what was there; however it seems to be all the usual suspects still. Some cosmetic work is being done on (I think, as it is a small loco) 1138. Identifiable are: in yard 1333, 1363 plus 1 other. Inside – 1354, 1366, ?1138, 1362.
We were informed that the tourist train normally runs about twice a week but that from 20/01/05 when the Zafra starts it would operate daily. Here again, the loco seemed to be in good mechanical condition.

Ifrain Alfonso
1635 in shed with smokebox front removed; 1637, 1850, 1910 outside.

Martha Abreu
1239 still under its awning.

Mal Tiempo
Standard gauge:
1848 (Primero de Mayo) in good paintwork, 1621 rusting but complete.
Narrow gauge:
E1320 and E1321 in steam on shed; also E1322, E1345, E1355 plus E1221 derelict. We were told that 1345 is operational, which is interesting in view of the fact that it appears on the reported list of Minaz locos for sale.

G. A. Mañalich
A speculative visit in case Zafra might be on its way at this relatively western mill. No activity and no attempt to visit the shed knowing how restricted access normally has been.

Parque Lenin
E1373 finished its final trip as we arrived! (Early finish due to lack of passengers, probably resulting from a cold – by Cuban standards - wet morning).

Some general notes about getting around, etc.
Currency – The Convertible Peso appears to have completely ousted the US Dollar for informal transactions. Tips made up of small value coins are entirely acceptable.
We booked ourselves into the Hotel Mascotte in Remedios as being less hassle than trying to find other accommodation at short notice. This is quite as good as the guide books suggest. We had a comfortable double room with AC and instant hot (Ouch hot) water for 38CUC per night, Breakfast and evening meal extra (12-15 CUC per person combined). There are however a significant number of accredited Casas Particulares here which we would certainly investigate for future. An excellent base for Marcelo Salado. Much preferable to Caibarien which has mosquitos or Santa Clara (too dreary!!).
We saw no evidence of petrol shortages at hard currency filling stations, though some local currency outlets had clearly closed relatively recently. We were however never really off the beaten track.

Rob Dickinson