Transport in Cuba
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The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway – Past and Present

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas
Posted on November 30, 2015

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the
Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth
Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power,
during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first
half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short
by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be
transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its
destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month
of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by
deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that
delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of
transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to
transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its
activity levels return to normal.

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer
evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners
at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose
introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro
Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their
attention was the steam engine. Arango y Parreño saw in that the
solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to
experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after
their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for
specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world
which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use
increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute
for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in
the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and
from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification
operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons,
came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the
world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage
of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest
advances in the technology, understood the importance of its
introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years
after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That
day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana –
Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the
sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of
the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from
Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when
the railway started up between those two points (1838), the
transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic
considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island
which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar
physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the
emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern
Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the
railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process
was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo
Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar
industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General
José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana
and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was
understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of
transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which
united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary
government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149
km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened
the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly
always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were
intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources
required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be
finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for
international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech,
delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12
locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best
we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most
efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides
information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration
due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track,
including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required,
in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of
550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing
in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented
by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in
the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools,
material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave
deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the
Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro
Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and
Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to
carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say,
to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of
accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of
railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino,
recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many
accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk,
and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And
frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and
wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal
to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised,
more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the
achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all
the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over
decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers) of Villa Clara
last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having
built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant.
There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties
with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making,
the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other
problems. and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to
complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of
track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they
are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having
not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers
over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked
efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual
timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news,
it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the
non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on
the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.


1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the
double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex”
(Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have
procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”,
Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday
May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma,
Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”.
Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma,
Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t
advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

Source: The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present /
Dimas Castellano | Translating Cuba –

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