When it comes to transportation on the island of Cuba, trains and railways is by far the largest method for both native Cubans and tourists. In fact, there are over eight thousand kilometers of railway in use on the island at present times. This means that it is quite possible to get to almost any area of Cuba via train. However, there are some serious issues with the railways despite its use as the main mode of transportation.
Train cementery near Barrio Chino Central Havana
The island was initially established as a colony by Spain to be a major source of sugar crops and harvesting. Because of this, a transportation system was needed to transport the crops from the plantation to the cities to be prepared for export. Because of this, a railway made the most sense. In fact, the very first railway was commissioned during its colonial period by the king of Spain.
For many years, the train systems were used simply as a method to transport sugar between plantation and refinery, but as the country grew closer to revolution, the role of the train began to change. The train company was called Ferrocarriles Consolidados de Cuba, and up until the early twentieth century, it was the controlling force behind the railway system.
In the 1920’s the Cuban railway began to take on a larger role for transporting people to and from various areas of the island. More railways were laid and the setup was influenced by an American railway designer named Sir William Van Horne. It was also during this time that two more railway companies sprung up in the country.
Old train cementery at Barrio Chino
It all began in 1916 when the Hershey Corporation purchased a sugar plantation. The Pennsylvania based candy company needed a source of sugar for its growing business, and Cuba seemed the reasonable choice. In order to transport the sugar from the plantation to its refinery, the corporation began building the Hershey Train. In the beginning, the railway consisted of steam cars only, but over the years, it has been converted to an electric railway that travels across half of the island.
In 2002, the Hershey Company closed down its Cuban sugar plantation, and left the railway, which had become iconic, in jeopardy. However, the government has continued use of the Hershey train as a method of transporting people, many of whom are tourists who visit in order to ride the famous train.
Casablanca Havana - Electric train to Matanzas
During the Cuban Revolution of the late 1950’s, the government and then dictator, Batista, made use of an armored train. This train traveled the many railways of the island and made it extremely difficult for the revolutionaries. However, the turning point of the revolution came about at the Battle of Santa Clara, when the train was destroyed.
During the years after the Revolution, a number of things happened that had a direct impact on the train system. First, all of the railways were nationalized and began to be controlled by the government. Second, due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and other countries stopped trading with the island. This means that Cuba had a harder time getting the supplies they needed to create and maintain the railway system.
In recent years, investors from other countries have had a great impact on the building and the stability of the Cuban railway system.
For the most part, the train system is now used as a connector between the various major cities on the island. Very few of the trains are used to transport sugar as they once were and they are now used mostly to transport people travelling the island.
However, since poverty remains an issue within the country, the trains are below the level one would find in other countries. The trains are well known and expected to break down on regular occasions.
The railway systems in Cuba run on a regular daily schedule between the major cities on the island, making the same regular stops along the way. While food is provided on the longest trips, it is often recommended that a person bring their own meals.
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