The International Steam Pages

Ecovapor Cuba 1999

Cuba Ecovapor report from Jacques Daffis  I have now added (22nd September 1999) some images of the Red Devil in Havana after working its special train.

The event had received about 150 pre inscriptions, but a rumour circulated that all was cancelled, and only about 60 came effectively. The Congress itself was in one Hotel in Habana Vieja, and there was also a day of the Associacion Latino Americana de Ferrocarriles.

The first day (Monday) the meeting point was Estacion Central, with welcome given (around a mojito cocktail) by authorities of the Transport Ministery, and of Ferrocarriles de Cuba. The station was very clean, freshly repainted inside, and after that, we went to the platform where 1816 was waiting for us. It had arrived in Habana the previous day on the afternoon, after a long travel by the southern line, all under its own steam. The train was composed by a second tender for water (a bogie tank car painted also in red), and three FFCC passenger coaches (Fiat Argentina) recently repainted. The travel was Habana to Guines by the conventional route, with a stop at Central Maņalich for a brief visit. We saw 1402 in steam, shunting wagons, and 1338 in steam. We saw also 1306, 1307, 1351, and there were also the tenders of 1306, 1307, 1308, 1351, 1365. One boiler apparently from standard gauge has been cut up. All the locos were clean, and there was repair work in course on boilers. We were very well received, with permission to go everywhere, and take as many pictures as we want. After that, on arrival at Guines, we had a reception on the platform by the Town Council, and the Mayor, and schoolboys and girls. After speeches, we had a dance presentation by the young girls. For the return journey, we used the direct line to Habana, ex electric interurban. As there was no turntable there, and since the high tender does not allow tender first running, the return was with a diesel in front of our locomotive. The impressive part is the passage of the track along the street at Guines. The locomotive runs well, and seems to have a very good tractive effort. It burns Cuban crude oil, but the smoke is very light compared with the one from conventional locomotives.

Tuesday was the ALAF day. First, presentation of the projects for Cuba. The huge project is a tourist luxury train "Caribe Express", like Venice Simplon Orient Express or Bangkok Singapore. A journey of one week between Santiago and Habana, in luxury coaches (old American coaches supplied by FFCC) excursions and meals included, and of course top price. Steam is absolutely secondary, only the first half day and the last half day would be steam hauled. The rest would be with diesels imported from Belgium. The old Santiago station would be retained for that, and in Habana, the La Coubre Station. This project seems already well advanced (a leaflet was given), and with definite prices, it seems to be a dream for the Cubans, they see the amounts of $$$ coming, but they don't see the very small number of tourists likely to be interested. There was also information about the tourist train of Bogota, and the fact that the Cuban officials consider their steam locomotives as big earners, in terms of Patrimony, and also for the Tourism. Unfortunately, somebody in the assistance informed them that Americans railfans paid $ 1000 for travelling on the roof of boxcars in South America, and that they could charge much more for the railfans coming to visit. Fortunately, many Europeans reacted, to inform that we are not at all prepared to pay those amounts, and that if prices are too high, the customers will not come again, and give bad publicity around them. The Wendesday morning was only about Cuban railways and Cuban tourism, and with a presentation by David Morgan of Fedecrail and the European movement. He insisted also on the fact that tourist railways in Europe have low ticket prices, and are designed for everybody, not only rich people. The Cuban Ministery of Culture had a representative involved in a complete inventory of Cuban steam locomotives. The afternoon was a trip Casablanca Hershey by the electric interurban, with 3 Brill railcars. The things were very well prepared, we could do what we want, including stopping the train anywhere for photos. At Hershey, an exhibition of rolling stock was prepared, including the steam crane. It was in steam, and a tank car was derailed for demonstration. It was the first time that I had seen a steam crane in real use (exept in a museum). After that, we left them, and went to Central R.M. Villena, where another exhibition of locomotives was meant to be waiting for us. But, in fact, there was only 1112 in steam "shunting" on a track. Nothing else, it seems that new fences were specially added to forbidden the entrance to the site. They said to the officials accompanying us that the other locomotives were not presentable, and it seems that an incident will occur between the different ministries! All was planned, all the authorisations required obtained, but... perhaps they didn't arrive there.

Thursday was the day for modern steam, with presentations by Porta, David Wardale, the Ferrocarril de Tierra de Fuego (Argentina) and also some less glorious elucidations coming from an Internet news group and presented by a Greek. Also a presentation of the Parque Lenin train by Pablo Valdes, who is the man running it. At 16.00, we left for a visit to the Parque Lenin train, after which the official dinner was the end of this congress.

So, few steam locomotives, but very interesting contacts with people from Latin America whom we never see here in Europe.

We spent the two following days on a private journey to chase the electric trains of Hershey, and the "new" electric train coming direct into Havana La Coubre station behind a diesel. (two return journeys every day arrives in central Habana in spite of Casablanca, avoiding the boat travel). this service was inaugurated only a few weeks before. There is also direct services from Cristina to Playas del Este, from this week 6 return journeys every day. The Sunday train was one diesel, and ten Rumanian boxcars transformed to passenger cars. On arrival, around 1000 passengers were inside ! We chases train on branches around Hersley with the help of the Commercial SubDierctor of Camilio Ciefuegos Division, who spent the full day with us, showing us where to drive, and informing us inside the depot and workshops. We visited also Ferrocarriles de Cuba locomotives workshops near Cristina station (almost nothing to see) and near Tulipan station (interesting, there was one Budd railcar, many diesels under repair, and also "automotores"). The lack of spare parts is evident, but the workshops are clean, the machinery in good condition, the railway workers very kind. Here also we were "driven" by Transport Ministery member. The main result is that now quite all Cuban Authorities are aware that their steam locomotives have value, at least for railfans, but also for the general public, and for tourists. The loco 1816 will not return to Minaz, it spent the week in Estacion central, and on Monday 12 was moved to a FFCC diesel workshop in Habana. The main project now is to try to run a tourist train with 1816 on the Hershey line between Casablanca and Hershey. It is perhaps because this "independent" line has a special flavour. The managers are very kind, they search traffic for their line, they knows the attraction of an old interurban for tourists, and they believe that a steam train will add more to their line. Also the project of a 800 hp steam locomotive with modern conception (Porta) and burning biomass is going ahead. The Cubans have found two workshops in Cuba with capacity for building new steam locomotives. The detailed plans are in course of realisation, and production could begin in 2000/2001. Why not ?

These pictures come from Shaun McMahon:

1816's supplementary tender

David Wardale inspects 1816

front end of 1816 with sloping chimney

driver's side of 1816

fireman's side of 1816

Click here to return to the modern steam locomotive developments page.

Rob Dickinson