Juan Juan Almeida, 28 November 2017 — The first seven Russian TGM 8 locomotives arrived in Cuba last week as part of a questionable railway development project that includes another 28 by 2018.
Cuba’s primary official media from the Granma newspaper to the Cubadebate site and the Russian Sputnik reported the arrival of the first seven of 15 locomotives in a lot that will be completed this year. Each locomotive has a price of $ 1.7 million dollars.
But the acquisition of this equipment has been a real question for railway transport specialists from the government’s own ranks.
Cuba is a country with over 5,000 miles of railroad right-of-way and the government purchase has materialized in a relatively short period, despite the high cost of the investment.
“Someone is making money but in the highest spheres waste is not a crime, and transportation, in everyone’s view, seems a problem that deserves to continue to have money spent on it,” said a Havana-based source from the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP).
In 2006, the Cuban authorities authorized the start of a national program, supervised by the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS) and MEP, to restore and develop the national rail system.
The process was structured in phases:
1. Restoration and maintenance of the trackways.
2. Restoration and modernization of locomotives and freight cars.
3. Modernization of railway maintenance facilities.
All of these being investments necessary to recover passenger transport.
In an obvious breach of the established order, on January 14 of that year, the government imported the first locomotives of the Chinese brand DF7G-C.
Some $15 million dollars was invested in 12 modern engines with 2,500 horsepower and automated systems. The problem was that, even with easy payment, the contract of sale between the Cuban railways Union (UFC) and the Chinese company never came to fruition.
Another similar number of Chinese locomotives were expected to arrive but never did so. It was reported that funding sources had failed, although the money was approved. But it never reached its destination nor did it return to the state coffers.
It apparently remained in some dark pocket. Now, in what seems like a cycle, the history of 2006 repeats itself, but this time between the Russian company, SINARA Transport Machines, and the Cuban import company, TRADEX.
In Cuba there are trains categorized as short and medium distance; the rest are nationals: Havana-Santiago de Cuba; Havana direct to Bayamo-Manzanillo; Havana-Guantanamo; Santiago de Cuba to Santa Clara; as well as the service from Havana to Sancti Spíritus.
“We do not need as many locomotives. The urgency is to improve the state of the central trackways, the restoration of the railroad, the terrible health and safety conditions of the cars, and the repair of the railway stations, many of which have leaky roofs and lack drinking water,” the source added.
The only thing that exists is the investment, which was made in its entirety, for the construction of high-quality double track that connects the Port of Mariel and the facilities of that Special Development Zone with the national rail system.