New vice president speeds up rail overhaul

The government shortened its overhaul plan for Cuba’s backbone rail line from five to three years, new Vice President Antonio Enrique Lussón announced during a rail bridge reopening ceremony in Guantánamo Tuesday.

Brig. Gen. Lussón, 81, who replaced Jorge Luis Sierra Cruz as vice president last week, called the planned overhaul of Cuba’s neglected rail grid an “enormous effort.” César Ignacio Arocha, 51, was appointed transport minister last week, but it seems that railroads are part of Lussón’s portfolio.

Cuba is investing more than $500 million to bring rail service back to the standard it had in the 1980s, increasing average speeds from 25 mph to 62 mph. The project includes the rehabbing of some 6,000 kilometers (3,730 miles) of track, purchase of new equipment, renovation of maintenance facilities, and training of personnel. The single biggest part of the project is a re-do of the central line from Havana to Santiago.

Deteriorated tracks have led to major accidents, including on the Havana-to-Santiago trunk line. To stop the deterioration, the state rail company has been recycling unused rails from idled sugar operations as a stopgap measure. Under Lussón’s predecessor, only 12.6 kilometers (8 miles) of track were planned to be renewed this year, up from a minuscule 5.6 kilometers (4 miles) last year. Sierra Cruz lost his job due to “errors committed on the job,” according to an official statement announcing the cabinet reshuffle.

$500m for a 6,000-kilometer overhaul MAP: CS


Lussón said that four new training centers should be open by 2011.

In early March, the transport ministry announced it was making investments in two state companies that will speed up an overhaul of Cuba’s dilapidated railroad tracks. At the same time, state rail company Unión de Ferrocarriles de Cuba announced another major purchase of rolling stock from Chinese and Iranian manufacturers.

The rail overhaul is partly funded by Venezuela, via the ALBA integration agreement. In 2007, Venezuela’s Banco de Desarrollo (BANDES) agreed to invest $100 million in infrastructure improvements and repairs to the island’s rail network. In exchange, Cuban rail engineers are providing services in Venezuela. Also, the Chinese and Iranian governments have provided generous conditions and loans.

Unión de Ferrocarriles said in March it will get an additional 112 DF7G-C locomotives from China Northern Rail Corp. Ltd. within the next three years. Cuba has already bought 52 of the diesel-electric engines. The state railroad company will also buy more passenger cars, as well as silo and cement cars. All of UFC’s recent rail car purchases were from Iran’s Wagon Pars Co.

Iran last year tripled a loan to rebuild Cuba’s railroad system from euro 200 million to euro 600 million (US$680 million).

Prensa Latina also reported that UCF wants to buy a communication system. The article didn’t specify.

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