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Hershey Cuba in the 21st Century

Alan Pearce, 9th July 2003

Alan Pearce gave an audio-visual presentation compiled from information gathered and video taken during visits to Cuba in 2001, 2002 and 2003. The presentation was supported with excellent track maps, produced by Alan Murray-Rust, who accompanied Alan on his visits. The presentation was designed to illustrate as many parts as possible of the Hershey electric operation that had made it into the 21st Century. It is the very last American Interurban and is sadly in danger of dying as freight traffic has all but gone with the ending of sugar cane traffic. Parts for repair are hard to come by and they are running out of junk to beat into reusable parts. Operation is manual with handwritten train orders with VHF radio to help safe operation. Track is either in the roadway, roadside or separated, all unfenced with running on sight, relying on the sound of an air horn and the community’s sense of survival. Whilst the Hershey system is not a street tramway it is exactly the same as grew out of tramways in parts of the U.S.A., where the ability to inter-work with main line freight gave the edge in survival.

The future for locomotive operation is bleak following the cessation of raw cane traffic in June 2002, and refined products in February 2003. With the closure of the cane mill large movements of people have lessened. The whole community has been built around the 1200 volt d.c. wires and the so friendly trains. It is hoped that what remains may survive until better times in Cuba.

In the video we saw the Spanish Cataluna line units that provide the base service on much of the Hershey system and the last of the Brills on the Caraballo and Santa Cruz branches. Loco operation on the few remaining freight operations was shown. There is still a weekly working between Jibacoa and Santa Cruz, carrying principally molasses. There is also some Gypsum traffic from the quarry at San Antonio to Artemisa, SW of Havana. Cane traffic is limited to some diesel workings from Colorado Acopio south of Caraballo to Boris Luis Coloma mill. There is a steady demand for tourist passenger specials, which help provide some additional revenue.

The video showed passenger operation on the main line with the Cataluna units, and on the branches to Santa Cruz, including passing the empty molasses train, Jaruco and Caraballo. Operation with the few remaining Brills was covered, some now relegated to trailer use as they are no longer able to run under their own power.

We are grateful to Alan for making it possible for us to see the last American style interurban in operation, albeit in a shaky condition.

John Laker - 23/7/03

London Area – Wednesday 9th July 2003

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