The International Steam Pages

Zafra Steam

A personal note. When I first went to Cuba in February 1996, the best guide available to what we might see were the reports of the 1995 season in the late lamented magazine 'World Steam'. In those days, unless you were lucky enough to know someone who had made an early season visit the timescales didn't allow any better. The internet / world wide web changed all that and we should all be grateful for those who made the effort to report their trips as soon as they got home. Not surprisingly, more and more people found the joys of late season visits (especially with the extra hour of daylight) and my best ever (photographic) trip was such a one as late as 2000. At the same time, of course, the wider dissemination of information led to more and more visitors with unfortunate consequences. To make a famous misquote, "All tourism tends to corrupt and mass tourism corrupts massively."  RD

This page charters the demise of working steam in Cuba during the years since this website was first established in late 1996. In the later years news of festivals, tourist trains and museum plans play an ever increasing role and many reports include such items. Where reports exclusively deal with non-working steam they are covered in the second paragraph for each year. 


Real steam during the 2007 was almost non-existent, with just one working steam locomotive - see the Zafra 2007 report (updated 30th May 2007). How the Railway Touring Company can square that with "there are many steam locomotives, all over eighty years old, twenty of which are in daily use during the Cuban sugar cane harvest 'Zafra'" beats me. There were barely 10 real steam locomotives that turned a wheel at all in 2005, it was certainly wasn't true in 2006 and it was even less true in 2007. Of course, if you count steam on the tourist trains you might get a bit nearer the mark.


By 2004 it was 98% plastic, I believe 2005 was 99% plastic, there was, if anything even less in 2006 according to the various reports received (updated, 17th March 2006). Frank Keeling notes (11th March 2006) that Australia's tourist train was operating regularly with 1716, the mill is being dismantled and scrapped. 


The narrow gauge railway at Manalich did not operate in 2005 (2nd December 2004), Peter Smith confirmed this with a pre-season report (10th December 2004) and Alan Murray-Rust's report added more detail (23rd December 2004). Regular visitor Yoshi Matsuo sent me another pre-season report which suggests there may be a very little real steam (13th February 2005). Chris Walker reports on the residual steam (25th February 2005, picture added 16th March 2005) - probably a little more than I might have expected... Paul Engelbert added a few more details (16th March 2005), for Peter Davenport it was definitely a pleasant 'post-gricer' experience, (23rd March 2005). On the other hand, Peter Smith in March (31st March 2005) found disappointment, the main line diesels were scant consolation. Roland Beier (18th April 2005) found occasional success and a late season report by Yoshi Matsuo shows things winding down (19th May 2005).

Yoshi Matsuo has sent an update on museum plans (25th July 2005). 


Chris Walker and Steve Mourton have been to Cuba and report on real steam during Zafra 2004 (11th March 2004). For a taste of steam on the main line in Cuba you will need to read Chris Lewis's report of the 2004 Railway Touring Company trip (11th March 2004). Carsten Gussman has sent me a report of the 2004 season which includes much information on the FCC (1st April 2004) as has Yoshi Matsuo (1st April 2004). Dick Coghlan's report of his March visit (11th May 2004) adds a slightly different perspective, as does Keith Smith's addendum (pictures of old friends added 21st June 2004). The last word on Zafra 2004 will be the usual summary from Steam in Paradise (Link dead by May 2023)  their site also contains recent news of the FCC  (Link broken by May 2023).


The 2003 Zafra more or less stuttered to a close with probably the lowest ever tonnage cut. Individual visitors were thin on the ground this year and wisely so if you read the reports (updated 13th June 2003), every bit as bad as feared if not worse. No doubt the worldly wise saved their holiday money for China (but with SARS not just yet) or Java. See also the traditional end-of-season summary (updated 8th June 2003), also the usual summary from Steam in Paradise (Link dead by May 2023) (25th August 2003 - but this site is probably now dead), their site also contains recent news of the FCC (25th August 2003 - but this site is probably now dead)). At the close of Zafra 2002 (6th June 2002), the BBC World Service reported: "Cuba to shut half its sugar refineries - Cuba is to close down almost 50% of its sugar refineries in the coming months. The Cuban government says low sugar prices on the international market have badly hit the industry. Seventy-one sugar mills will close. Sugar production is Cuba's largest industry. It employs hundreds of thousands of people. The government has promised to find laid-off workers jobs in other areas of the economy." A report in a Florida newspaper named Australia and Pepito Tey as two mills which will close (15th June 2002) - I have abstracted it. We now know that it was all terribly, terribly accurate.

Steam in Paradise's website (Link dead by May 2023) has posted (1st December 2002) a mill-by-mill list for Zafra 2003. The only conflict with any of the above information is that Venezeula will open, the major additions are A.C. Sandino and Granma as closed and the designation as J.S. Comas, Marcelo Salado and Rafael Freyre as 'mills for tourism' - quite what this will mean remains to be seen. 


Zafra 2002 is over although maybe Rafael Freyre worked into June. It is likely that the final crop will have been just over 3 600 000 tonnes about 10% down on the planned 4 000 000, officially blamed on hurricane damage. The annual Zafra 2002 summary (7th May 2002) and individual reports (updated 7th May 2002) are available. The 2002 open mill list (courtesy of Thierry Nicholas of Transnico Tours) was pretty accurate, for comparison the Minaz closed list 2001 and closed list 2000 are still available. Steam in Paradise's report from Ron Lingley on Zafra 2002 is available on their site  (Link broken by May 2023).

Earlier, Roland Beier informed me (1st January 2003) that some things don't change as 1904 from Ecuador won the recent Moron steam festival. Tim Murray (7th December 2002) has sent this snippet from Nils Huxtable's visit. "The festival at Marcelo Saledo took place. 1728 is transferred to Jose Maria Peres. Ifrain is due to get a couple of diesels and Minaz's plan is for these to do line work with the steam shunting and trip works. Staff at Ifrain reckon the diesels will last for only a short time. Following the festival at Marcelo, on Monday 25th November 2002, 1850 + 1637 (from Ifrain) + 1661 (from Diez de Octubre) triple headed a train of 35 wagons from Marcelo to Ranchello, through Santa Clara station! On Tuesday 26th November 2002 1910 worked a train of 20 wagons along a similar route. These trains were used to transfer stock for use in the season." 


I posted the annual illustrated Zafra 2001 summary (added 19th April 2001, 2 more pictures 13th May 2001), but for the hard core gricer, the individual reports are still available (updated 28th August 2001 with the annual illustrated Steam in Paradise report. (Link dead by May 2023)


I compiled a summary Zafra 2000 report (pictures of the Trinidad Tourist Train added 8th May 2000, and of 1164 26th June 2000, fully illustrated Steam in Paradise report  (Link broken by May 2023), reports from east end added 26th January 2001). The (many) original reports of Zafra 2000 are still available, (latest report 7th May 2000), the images (including news/pictures of the Cuban Red Devil at work) are mainly on separate pages with links from the reports/summary pages.

Mal Tiempo has got themselves a tourist coach and they held a national festival (details available 28th June 2001). I believe that the 2001 winners were narrow gauge 1321 (Mal Tiempo) and standard gauge 1622 (Luis Arcos Bergnes). This picture from Chris Hart shows 1823 and 1622 (note 1823 now lettered for this mill) passing through Santa Clara on their way to the festival, (added 13th January 2002):

1823 + 1622


I am a little confused as to what (if anything) happened in Havana in September 2000. Organiser Thierry Nicolas of Transnico reportedly cancelled most of the events and the future of such a festival as far as foreigner visitors are concerned must now be in doubt. However local festivals are flourishing. On 14-16th December 2001 a second steam festival was held in Ciego de Avila province. Loco 1904 from Ecuador mill won the first prize (as it did the year before), second was 1821 from Ecuador and third a loco from Orlando Gonzales Ramirez. So the overhaul of 1821 has been completed! Ecuador started milling on 28 December 2001, (information from Roland Beier, added 12th January 2002). I hear (20th November 2000) that Mal Tiempo indeed had a local (Cienfuegos Province) festival in 2000 with 8 standard and narrow gauge locos and that the home mill's 1355 was declared the winner. 


I put together the Zafra 1999 report, well worth reading if you have yet to clap your eyes on 1566 or 1839, or the Noel Fernandez super firelesses but not if you are one of the people helping turn Cuban steam into a circus..... I have added the 'Steam in Paradise' 1999 report (Link dead by May 2023) (now with excellent pictures October 23rd 1999) which includes many detailed observations over nearly 2 months. 

Jacques Daffis has sent me a brief report of Ecovapor XXI and the Great Cuban Steam Circus, (pics of 1816 in Havana added 22nd September 1999).


Also read the Zafra 1998 summary report. Tim Murray was in Cuba briefly and he provided an end of season report on Porta's loco 1816 (18th July 1998). 


If you are not familiar with Cuba you ought to first read the extended 1997 mill by mill report.

Rob Dickinson