Now is the time to see Cuba's open air museum of steam trains
A total of 40 old steam trains were relocated to Havana back in 2009, in a makeshift open-air workshop where many curators painstakingly worked to repair their neglected interiors and exteriors. Now, after being rescued from oblivion, they are almost ready to be relocated throughout the island, no one really knows where, but now it's your last time to see them all together in Havana before they go.
The time to see Cuba's unique steam train open-air museum in Havana is now, before it soon closes down and the many ancient locomotives on display here are progressively shipped back to the various corners of the country from where they came from.
After having received intensive repairs since their gradual arrival in Havana, back in 2007, the locomotives are practically ready to be repositioned, either in the Museo del Ferrocarril (the Railway Museum which is also currently being refurbished), as many suspect, or back to their place of origin. With many now in full working condition, there's high speculation that many of these could soon offer unique ride experiences throughout different areas of Cuba, a time-warp option many tourists would sure like to include as part of their itinerary when planning enriching Cuba holidays.
For seven years now, many tourists and passers-by have taken delight in contemplating these magnificent machines, at least seven of which date all the way back to the 19th century, including one that remained active for over a century! We're talking about the oldest of them all, one that dates back to 1878 and which remained actively running full steam ahead for an incredible 127 years.
In a makeshift workshop, located just behind the iconic Capitolio building, Havana has been showcasing this unique collection of 40 old locomotives, each unique and special, with its own history behind it.
During these seven years experts working for the Office of the Historian of the City have been hard at work restoring these time machines in a centric open-air location that has allowed everyone who passes to marvel at these timeless beauties. The "locomotive workshop" had quickly become one of Havana's quirky attractions – no tickets required.
Whilst many at first believed that the open-air workshop was a steam train "cemetery" or some type of railway "Jurassic Park", it soon became clear the work that was being carried out.
Ariel Causa, one of the project workers, explains;
"They were brought from many places in Cuba, where there is a sentimental relationship with these locomotives. Their history is intertwined with the history of the sugar trade, which at the same time, is the history of the Cuban people"
As the first country in Latin America to have a railroad in place back in 1837, due to its blossoming sugar industry, Cuba owns a magnificent collection of over 200 steam trains, with this small collection 40 fully-repaired locomotives now adding to the island's rich railway heritage.
An expert railway technician that participated in this project, Raul Abreu, commented on the enormous efforts made to get these machines revamped with very limited resources. He re-tells how with very rudimentary machinery and no cranes, they where able to lift these locomotives from abandoned sugar plantations, thanks to the use of pulleys, hooks, and improvised ramps that helped get them on their way to Havana.
"Our work is different to that carried out in other parts of the world. We don't use technology, nor do we buy new parts or pieces, we do everything in a rudimentary way."
They now expect, if no unforeseen problems arise, that by the end of this year, after all works are completed, the locomotives start being transported back slowly.
Whilst two of them are German, most of these locomotives are of American origin, built during the 19th century and they served the sugar industry first and then were used as public mode of transport during the years of railway splendour in the island.
Even when steam train technology was replaced during half of the 20th century, and the locomotive era ended, Cuba kept on using its locomotives, especially in the sugar sector. Most of these locomotives, because of internal damage or lack of use, where abandoned by the government between in 2002 and 2004, when they restructured the sugar industry and factories were closed.
During the last few months of this inspiring project, a new tourist attraction is expected to take off in Havana – a fully repaired steam train by Cagney Brothers will be offering special rides.
Mr Abreu commented of this new attraction:
"It will be a show. When you hear their "cha cha cha cha" sound and then they start taking speed, that smoke and movement take you back in time and it seems incredible that they're still running after more than a century".
Mr Abreu also added that this locomotive, built in 1902 and spanning only two-metres in length, is the oldest of its kind still working in the world, which means it deserves a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
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