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Cars and Transportation

Cuba's Chinese-made train starts its first run

July 14, 2019

Cuba's first new train in over 40 years has set off on its maiden voyage. With support from China, the Cuban government hopes to fully restore the Caribbean country's decrepit rail system by the end of 2030.

Cuba's new Chinese-made passenger train leaving Havana
Image: Reuters/A. Meneghini

Cuba's first new train cars to run in over four decades pulled out of the capital, Havana, on Saturday to start their 915-kilometer (516-mile), 15-hour maiden journey to Guantanamo on the eastern end of the island.

With broken windows, missing doors and cracked seats, Cuba's trains are in desperate need of an upgrade. The 14 new cars on the route include four with air conditioning and a dining car.

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In May, Cuba received a shipment of 80 shiny blue Chinese-made rail cars as part of the socialist government's rail modernization project, with a total of 250 pieces of Chinese equipment due to arrive by the end of 2019.

The next step will be to repair around 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles) of track and dozens of dilapidated stations scattered throughout the island. By 2030, Cuba hopes that the restored rail system will be fully functional.

"This is the first step of the transformation of the Cuban railway system," said Eduardo Hernandez, head of the National Railway Company of Cuba said Saturday.

Cuba's new Chinese-made train cars
The cross-country trip takes 15 hours Image: Reuters/A. Meneghini

All aboard

Cuba's railway system was first launched in the 1830s. Today, it suffers from lack of maintenance and new equipment.

Cuba's trains are one of the cheapest forms of long distance travel, but the system is very inefficient. Travel times across the island typically take around 24 hours to make the trip from Havana to Santiago. A car can make the trip in half the time, but is more expensive.

Although the new train cars should cut down the travel time, the new trains cannot run at full speed until the tracks are repaired.

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A round trip ticket from Havana to Guantanamo trip starts at 200 Cuban pesos ($8, €7).

According to the Cuban Transportation Ministry, trains carried 6.7 million passengers in 2018.The government said it wants to add a million passengers in 2019 on long distance routes. Rail is a popular option for travel to the eastern cities of Santiago, Holguin, Camaguey and Guantanamo. 

wmr/amp (AP, Reuters) 

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