Cuban railways set out extensive upgrade plans

The Cuban railways system (Union Ferrocarriles de Cuba – UFC) has spelt out its national objectives in planning to significantly upgrade the Cuban railways system while lowering transport costs over the next ten years.

A feature in Granma has reported that government sees the country as being well suited to the redevelopment of its railway system. This is because the present network runs along almost the whole of the east-west spine of the country with spurs off to principal cities and ports.

Speaking to Granma about this, Emilio Esposito, the Deputy Director of the UFC said that in future rail will become the principal way of moving freight and passengers safely around the country taking pressure off the road infrastructure.

To achieve this and to increase freight and passenger services, the UFC intends replacing equipment, repairing lines and workshops, and improving the comfort for passengers. The report said that recovery of the country’s railway system will involve all state administrative bodies and whenever possible will use the resources national industries.

Mr Esposito told Granma that the investment process, and the redevelopment of the railway system will be undertaken in stages.

An objective is that by 2022 the number of tons of freight transported will increase to 22.3m tons.  At present the largest volumes of rail freight are related to sugar cane and its derivatives, fuel, construction materials, and food as well as containers, but it is intended that links to the Mariel Special Development Zone and the soon to be opened upgraded port at Santiago will see significant use of rail to move containers around the country.

Granma said that in 2018, the volume of container operations is expected to grow by 26% largely due to the opening of an inland port in Matanzas. It quoted a part of a study prepared for the Ministry of Economy and Planning indicating that new investments will be required for the handling and storage of merchandise at inland container terminals and for the introduction of ‘modern technologies (to) reduce the time of rotation in railway equipment and improve the working conditions of staff’. It also noted the need to improve the efficiency of the logistics chain from the port to end users.

When it comes to the transport of passengers, Granma said that the UFC’s objective is to triple rail transportation by 2022.

Transport services will be divided into two categories: long distance, using a national train service, while for short distances there will be an inter-territorial and local network. In the case of the latter, a project is already underway that aims to guarantee rail transport to remote and rural populations utilising light motorised carriages.

At the end of 2019, with the arrival of more substantial new rolling stock, it is intended to gradually restore the frequency of long-distance train services on a daily return basis to: Havana -Santiago, Havana-Guantánamo, Havana-Bayamo-Manzanillo, and Santa Clara-Santiago. It is intended that the quality and comfort of all carriages will be improved and that trains will run as 12 car sets.

To achieve the required upgrade in the national and local railway system Granma noted that significant investments will be required in upgrading the permanent way, signalling and all railway related infrastructure overs thousands of kilometres on the country’s Central Line, Cienfuegos Line, South Line and in relation to junctions around Havana. It will also require the purchase of specialised track equipment for rehabilitation, maintenance work and track monitoring. A single management centre for all rail transport is also planned.

No mention was made in the article of the €1bn investment said to be still under discussion with Russia in relation to the proposed railways upgrade. Previous reports suggested that Russian Railways could play a role in helping operate Cuba’s upgraded rail system (Cuba Briefing March 13, 2017).

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly editorially independent publication, Cuba Briefing, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in Cuba and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in Cuba find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region

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