The International Steam Pages

Steam Tours in Cuba

Various correspondents have commented on the International Steam Pages on the issue of tour groups in Cuba, I am happy to grant the 'right of reply' to one of the major tour operators, Ron Lingley, of Steam In Paradise:

"I was very disappointed to read Tim Murray's report on your website.

Mr Murray really ought to check his information more carefully.

The charter at Jesus Rabi was part of an historic 3-day railtour from Havana to Cienfuegos behind steam and the first of its type ever to be staged in Cuba. Such tours as these are an important part in convincing the Cubans of the long-term value to their country, of their steam fleet. He discourages this at his peril if Cuba continues to scrap steam locos.

The itinerary was widely circulated by 'The Railway Touring Company', the tour's promoter, so there was no need for anyone to be inconvenienced by this tour. Unfortunately, publishing such information does tend to bring the parasites of our hobby out of the woodwork. Anyone who approached the group was invited to join the tour for the day, but the people at Aguada choose not to even ask.

Cooke 2-6-0 No.1413 left Jesus Rabi for the mainline followed by 2-8-0 No.1414 on the normal Cirineo cane working, using the same path. That they choose to ignore the normal cane working and chase the special totally nullifies Mr Murray's comments.

One of the individuals concerned was recognised as a Canadian, who is renown for 'free-loading' special workings throughout the world. At least, thankfully, he did not bring a group with him to pay for his trip, as he did to chase specials here in 2001!

At Rafael Freyre, our chosen method of operation is to propel the passenger vehicle in front of the normal cane train. This is pushed out of the way for the photo runpasts of the cane train. We did not 'bugger-up' the normal trains, the mill was doing that well enough by themselves this year. But when the other service train failed, we were asked to rescue it as we had the only other working loco at that time. A request that we could hardly refuse, even if it cut short our own photography. That Freyre's locos were in such an appalling condition, and kept failing, is not the responsibility of 'Steam In Paradise'.

Mr Murray would do well to bear in mind that Havana consider the sugar operation at Rafael Freyre to be 'marginal' and without the money gained from the 'Tourist Train' and enthusiasts charters, the mill might face the same fate as other narrow gauge systems like Espartaco and Simon Bolivar.

At Orlando Gonzalez, not all the cars were ours, so we can hardly be called to account for the actions of others.

If Mr Murray chooses to visit mills without a permit or to obtain them when asked, what impression does this leave with the mills managers, who are eager to obtain finances to overhaul their engines? We are trying to convince Manalich to have 1704 and 1806 available for mainline work instead of diesels. Perhaps Mr Murray does not want to see steam on the mainline? But each year so many locos are still disappearing (presumed scrapped), I'm sure that he does not want the same fate for these two, or doesn't he mind?

The benefit of not going on an independent visit these days, is precisely what he found on his visit and that for a group, activity can be organised in the good morning light. From his comments, he is obviously content to pursue normal tourist activities in the mornings, or maybe he just stays in bed."

Rob Dickinson