Cuba 2003 III... Estaciones de La Habana (50 p.) is a free online Railroad Discussion Forum and Railroad Photo Gallery for railroaders, railfans, model railroaders and anyone else who is interested in railroads. We cover a wide variety of topics, including freight trains, passenger and commuter railroads, rail news and information, tourist railroads, railway museums and railroad history.


Proud Earthling

To the previous trip report part:
Cuba 2003 II... The Fate of Atlantis (50 p.)

A Havanna city map can be found here:

We continue at Havanna main station, Estación Central. It was opened in 1912 on the grounds of the former arsenal.
More information about the station here:

My relatives followed me in good faith on a short exploration, but it did not prove very fruitful as one thing became immediately clear: it would be an immense stroke of luck to find any open counter at even the biggest Cuban railroad terminal.

An overview of car types used at that time in Cuba.

Another hindrance: Platforms at big stations were rigorously locked off, all of these photos were taken through narrow bars of a fence - well, the digital compact camera had its advantages. Also, the amount of locomotives to be seen was manageable - exactly this one Budd Rail Diesel Car RDC-1 #2303 (ex CNR D352, ex VIA 6120 / Budd Company #6703 / built 1957 / sold by Canada in 1998) - but it was at least something.

To the right a train consisting of French SNCF INOX-cars, which had been imported in 2001, maybe forming the Cuban star train "tren francés" # 1 to Santiago de Cuba - I was about to meet it under luckier circumstances at the other end of the island.

Overall the terminus was kept very tidy, even if only few informations were available. A little later the RDC was shunted away.

An ex-Canadian National GM GMD1-shunter in the distance.

View outside along the platform roof.

And the waiting hall with coffered ceiling.

We came across more interesting stuff in front of the station.

And continued our city center tour.

Yes, the "Camellos" still were in operation back then, city busses composed of a tractor unit and a passenger trailer. Today they have been replaced by modern busses partly from China.

Capitolio - the old main station of Havanna, Villanueva, had been situated here before Estación Central was constructed. This proved to be controversial, as the station was moved from private to state-owned grounds.

The Capitol opened in 1929 and had been seat of Congress until the revolution. Inside you could move freely through the old plenar halls.

On February 18 2003 I visited the only railroad agency to be found on the internet, which might have helped me with more information. The ladies working there were quite friendly but offered few concrete answers to my questions. I was only warned that Cuban railroads would be dusty, slow and noisy.

One good aspect about the visit: the office was located on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in Havanna. Here the eastwards view from the balcony towards Malecón, Bahia and old town.

Towards the west and our appartment, to the lower right you can spot the "Tribuna Antiimperialista José Martí".

Havanna roofs.

Next we took a taxi to the city center, on the other side of the bay Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro (or simply "El Morro") which we were about to visit afterwards.

Our first sight for the day was Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, housing one of the largest historic collections on Cuba. At a stairway we encountered "La Giraldilla", the copy of which we already had seen on top of Castillo de la Real Fuerza belltower.

View out of the palace.

Guarding another wonderful courtyard.

The decadent Spanish colonial building was errected 1776-91 by slaves, the finest materials were shipped from Europe for its construction.

Marmoreal snail-bathtubs.

Subsequently we went by tunnel below the Bahia - there are no bridges due to harbor ship traffic - to "El Morro", this fortification was built 1589-1630.

The surf was quite fierce here.

View at Havanna and the Malecón, also known for its often spectacular breakers.

Castillo de San Salvador de La Punta in the foreground is the third fortification surrounding Havanna harbour entrance, behind it in the distance you can spot the Capitol.

This time no "real" car but oldtimer taxi for tourists.

Next we visited 18th century Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña or "La Cabaña" ("the hut"), the largest Spanish fort in America. It also has its place in modern history, as "Comandancia del Che".

The office of Ernesto "Che" Guevara during his short term serving the Cuban government from 1959.

In a yard schoolkids were drilled as pioneers.

Back to the city center we paid the revolution museum a visit.

View out of a museum window.

Afterwards we had dinner, the others went out later, but I stayed in as I had to rise early next day for a little extra adventure.
Still in darkness on February 19 2003 I looked for the next cab stand and gave "Casablanca" on the other side of the bay as destination. The travel agents had advised me the day before that it would be better to take a ferry, but as I wanted to arrive early and did not want to rely on the boat timetable I chose the land route. It actually was the case that the district of Casablanca, also part of Havanna - in the map you can find the tracks below the Fortaleza - , only could be reached on farmroad-like streets from the tunnel. Still we drove there quickly and arrived before sunrise. The taxi driver had dutifully turned on the meter, and I paid 11 Dollars - I will tell you more about Cuban currencies later.

At the start of blue hour I reached the terminal of the Hershey Railroad Havanna-Casablanca - Hershey - Matanzas. It is the only electric railway on Cuba, 600V DC, and is being called "world's last interurban" with a length of 84 miles. Passengers were already waiting, but no signs of life could be observed yet at the counter.

In Casablanca district the tracks were laid on the street.

Big cruise ships also land at Havanna, the pier can be seen in the background, near the central station.

Sunrise in the bay of Havanna.

The counter still was closed, but you can read the timetable: five departures to Matanzas were on offer, distributed relatively evenly over the day, two in the afternoon running as express services. I waited for the train at 8:32 a.m..

As we will see more often: Travelling in Cuban means WAITING. I can recommend the nice film "Lista de Espera".

The quiet was breached by the sudden arrival of the local from Matanzas out of the morning sun, the ferry across the bay also docked at the same moment.

Of course train and boat brought a wave of commuters, from schoolchildren to office clerks.

The "modern" Hershey EMUs were imported in 1998 from Spain to the company FELCUBA ("Ferrocarril Eléctrico de Cuba"). They had been built in 1944 und modernized in the 1970s by then owner Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya at Barcelona.

But modernization brought its own problems to solve, for example what to do about the significantly higher floor levels than the old platforms - the solution was ingeniously Cuban!

The station filled continuously, tickets could be bought now and I was called to the side as a tourist. The ticket covering the whole line to Matanzas cost me hefty $1,80 (today according to www $2,80). My 5-Dollar-bill caused a small commotion, but I could take a seat inside the office until change was found.

Above the whole scenery 20 meters high Christ sat enthroned.

Between cars.

A peek at the only pantograph of the 3-car-train.

The train was shunted back a few yards, someone started to repair something...

Further train impressions...


Soon a newcomer brought more hectic into the scene... ;-)

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