The International Steam Pages
Real Steam in Cuba 2005
David Ibbotson / Chris Walker: Report of visit made Feb 13-22. Objectives included seeing some of the remaining working steam, but not exhaustively so.
Despite a general sense of decline in Minaz viability where rail operations are very tightly stretched, overall working steam activity seems similar to 2004, although there are some changes. If there seems little consistency in the management of the remaining steam locomotives, plans for their continued use exist!
207 GREGORIO A MANALICH
The mill is not functioning this year, with some cane being transferred to Hector Molina. Sadly the narrow gauge system has ceased use as anticipated, and the "Carmita" acopio south of the mill has now acquired a standard gauge connection from the main line adjacent to the locomotive shed which uses a new "S" shaped route. It replaces the narrow gauge tracks in the acopio area which means that the main narrow gauge line is now cut. The good news is that steam is used to serve this acopio regularly throughout the day, exchanging cars in the station patio with a Hector Molina diesel around twice a day. Two 2-6-0s are available: 1510 was in operation on 13-2, and 1402 on 21-2. It is ironic at the end of the steam era in Cuba that a new line is 100% steam operated.
Reportedly 1510 is used occasionally for charter trains between the Cristina Museum in Havana and destinations south of the city including Bejucal. 1307 had its boiler condemned during the close season and I suspect the mill would like to sell it!
The 1873 Manning Wardle boiler and chassis have been reunited together with the basic cab structure. Plans are being made to continue the restoration, including the re-uniting of the tank, and also long term display arrangements.
311 ESTEBAN HERNANDEZ
Their charter locomotive 1242, is not serviceable where repairs including the boiler are needed. The mill are negotiating the acquisition of another 2-8-0 from the closed mill Espartaco [where all engines remain barricaded in the locomotive shops, and the surrounding mill buildings largely dismantled.]
319 RENE FRAGA
Remains 100% steam with 1518 the principle engine scheduled for daily use serving the two
acopios. 1820 is out of use requiring repairs beyond the limited scope of this mill, but surprisingly 1413 from Jesu Rabi is now the stand-by loco. Built 1891 is it probably the oldest working loco in the world, although unfortunately was not in use on 14-2 and undergoing some running repairs on 22-2.
1755, still lettered for Luis Arcos Bergnes, is scheduled for daily operation in the large patio moving fulls from stabled trains involving a trip of nearly one km up a grade. Their original two locos 1547 & 8 are dumped near the first acopio to the south-west.
434 PANCHO GOMEZ TORO
1626 not in use this season. Requires chassis work.
440 IFRAIN ALFONSO
Only one steam loco, 1636, the 4-6-0 is in use, with 1635, 1637, 1850 and 1910 stored. On 19-2 1636 worked in the patio and was scheduled to take a train to Pozo.
441 DIEZ DE OCTUBRE
The mill may not be operating, and works closely in conjunction with Ifrain Alfonso. 1639 is in regular if not daily use, transferring cane as required from the mill acopios via Ranchuelo to Santa Maria, the station for Ifrain Alfonso and probably also into the patio. It is immaculate in appearance as well as mechanical performance with classic white striping unsullied by embellishments or sponsorship logos [!] - definitely the star of Cuba steam in 2005. On 19/2 it worked a return trip to Ifrain Alfonso in the afternoon, mysteriously being delayed on the return trip - for refreshments perhaps?
503 ORLANDO GONZALEZ RAMIREZ
Their former Cuba RR 4-6-0 1732 remains in service, probably seeing more action when diesels are unavailable. It operated at some point on 16 / 17-2 which we missed seeing, being in steam on shed on the latter date. Two other steam stored in the shed. A new line is under construction to make a direct link with Venezuela leaving the main route to Guayacanes between kms 5 and 6.
Mill closed with cane transfers elsewhere, and 1657 and 1742 not in use.
411 JESUS MARIA PEREZ
Their Vulcan-built 2-8-0, number 1728, is rostered for patio work to some degree. It had recently worked a charter from Placetas-Ciego involving a 220 km round trip so is in reasonable mechanical condition.
Not working with cane transfers by road to Melanio Hernandez which is north of Sancti Spiritus city - an 80km trip.1432, the former Carlos Balino 4-6-0 remains stored/serviceable where 50% of their 4 diesel fleet are unserviceable [ 2 x 34, 2 x 37], but the scale of activity makes it unlikely that it will be needed. It is close to Trinidad and easy to visit from there.
TRINIDAD TOURIST TRAIN
1517 continues the daily service which is scheduled to depart 9.30 but is usually late. The crew apparently lack cleaning materials so the loco now looks very authentic!
MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT - TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT
From discussions with officials closely associated with 1816, the LD Porter rebuild, they have plans to convert a locomotive to operate on sugar cane vegetation [not bagasse] that is stripped off the cane before processing at acopios. This may be used in the form of brickettes. They have selected 1823, currently stored at the largely dismantled 405 Luis Arcos Bergnes, and it is planned to move it very shortly to the Museo Marcelo Salado for the conversion work to be carried out. If they dont move it soon it will be physically isolated from the main system and potentially cut up! 1823 is to the same United Railways of Havana Alco design as 1816 which is stored in Santa Clara works, but the scale of the work is less comprehensive and starting from 1823 is felt more practical. I suspect this is more of a pragmatic fuel substitution and efficiency upgrade. It is planned it will be tested in general service on FCC lines in the vicinity. It should be noted that both locos fall under the ownership of the Ministry of Transport, not Minaz or the FCC.
It was observed that the sale of steam locomotives was promoted as a means of removing them from the burden of maintenance by Minaz but ensure their survival, and the that the asking prices were set to ensure Cuba did not sell them too cheaply - but it is recognised that the prices are set far too high for locomotives that would require heavy overhauls and new boilers. The Spanish agents may have not understood this. Perhaps interested parties should make offers?
MUSEO ESTACION CRISTINA -HAVANA
Exhibits are largely unchanged, but recent additions include a new tranche of builders plates confiscated from gricers by the customs at airports, where their export has been made a criminal offence since the beginning of 2004.
Plans for additions exist. In particular, beyond the Manning Wardle, the enterprising and resourceful ARPA society are now associated with a number of museum projects:
From information given but not from personal observation, there remain officially Minaz sanctioned potentially working locomotives at Ecuador, Ciro Redondo and the fireless "zeppelinos" at Brasil. Any other steamable locos are likely to be used largely for charters.