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Transportation in Cuba

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Transportation in Cuba

Transportation in Cuba is composed of a system of railways, roads, airports, waterways, ports and harbours:


Main article: Ferrocarriles de Cuba
  • total: 11,968 km (4,226 km + 7,742 km)
  • standard gauge: 4,226 km gauge (140 km electrified)
  • note: an additional 7,742 km of track is used by sugar plantations; about 65% of this track is standard gauge; the rest is narrow gauge (2003)

Cuba built the first railway system in the Spanish empire, before the 1848 start in the Iberian peninsula. While the rail infrastructure dates from colonial and early republican times, passenger service along the principal Havana to Santiago corridor is increasingly reliable and popular with tourists who can purchase tickets in Cuban convertible pesos. As with most public transport in Cuba, the vehicles used are second hand, and the flagship Tren Francés ("French train") between Havana and Santiago de Cuba is operated by coaches originally used in Europe between Paris and Amsterdam on the ex-TEE express. The train is formed by 12 coaches and a Chinese-built locomotive.

With the order of 12 new Chinese locomotives, built specially for Cuban Railways at China Northern Locomotives and Rolling Stock Works, services have been improving in reliability. Those benefiting the most are long distance freight services with the French train Havana-Santiago being the only passenger train using one of the new Chinese locomotives regularly. Various orders are in place for 100 locomotives from China and various freight wagons and passenger coaches.

Metro systems are not present in the island, although a suburban rail network exists in Havana.[1] Urban tramways worked until the half of 20th century in the cities of Havana, Matanzas, Cárdenas, Cienfuegos, Camagüey and Santiago de Cuba.[2]


The total length of Cuba's highways is 60,858 km, including

  • paved: 29,820 km (including 915 km of expressways)[3]
  • unpaved: 31,038 km (1999 est.)

Expressways (autopistas) include:

Older roads include the Carretera Central, and the Via Blanca from Havana to Matanzas.

Long-distance and inter-municipality buses in Cuba

There are two national bus companies in Cuba. Viazul operate a fleet of modern and comfortable coaches on longer distance routes designed principally for tourists. Schedules, prices and ticket booking can be done on line, at any of the major international airports or National Terminals across Cuba.

AstroBus, a bus service in Cuban National Pesos, designed to bring comfortable air conditioned coaches to Cuban locals at an affordable price. The AstroBus lines operate with modern Chinese YUTONG buses, and are accessible to Cuban Residents of Cuba with their ID Card, and is payable in Cuba Pesos. Routes that have benefited most so far are those from Havana to each of the 13 provincial capitals of the country.

Urban buses

In Havana urban transportation is provided by a colourful selection of buses imported from the Soviet Union or Canada. Many of these vehicles are second hand (such as the 1500 decommissioned Dutch buses, which the Netherlands donated to Cuba in the mid-1990s) and despite the United States trade embargo, American-style yellow school buses (imported second-hand from Canada) are increasingly common sights. On seven key lines in and out of the city, service is provided by camellos ("camels" or "dromedaries", after their "humps"), trailer buses that haul as many as two hundred passengers in a passenger carrying trailer. The camellos will be phased out in April 2008 with Chinese Zhengzhou Yutong Buses.

After the upgrading of Seville's public bus fleet to CNG-powered and new vehicles, many of the decommissioned ones were donated to the city of Havana. These bright orange buses still display the name of Transportes Urbanos de Sevilla, S.A.M., their former owner, and Seville's coat of arms as a sign of gratitude.[4]

On 18 July 2007 it was reported that Cuba will receive 100 urban buses from Belarus before years end, destined for use in Havana.[5]

Cuban State Council Vice President Carlos Lage declared in 2007 that Cuba would receive 1,142 more Chinese buses for urban transport before years end[6]


Cuba is famous for its old cars and trucks, which can be seen in daily use throughout the country. For the first part of the 20th century, most new vehicles came to Cuba from the United States. The flow stopped in late 1959 when economic reforms by the then-new government of Fidel Castro prevented Cubans from buying cars on credit.[7] A subsequent U.S. trade embargo, instituted in October 1960 in response to Cuba's seizure of U.S.-owned properties,[8] not only ensured that new vehicle exports would remain halted, but also denied Cuban motorists a direct source of replacement parts. As a result, Cubans became expert at adapting or fabricating parts to keep on the road cars that in other countries would long since have been recycled.[9]

The Soviet Union supplied the island with Volgas, Moskvich 1500s, Ladas and other Eastern Bloc cars, mainly for state use. The Soviet Union also sent heavy trucks such as the ubiquitous ZIL and the rugged KrAZ.[10] Cars also trickled in from Europe and, in later years, Asia. Since 2009, Cuba has imported sedans from Chinese automaker Geely to serve as police cars, taxis and rental vehicles.[11]

While many older Soviet and European cars remain in service in Cuba, they are largely eclipsed by the island's great 1950s Cadillacs, Packards, De Sotos and similar products from one of the most ornate styling periods in U.S. auto history. Their pastel colours, tall fins and extensive chrome make them a favourite subject for tourist photographs.

As many as 60,000 American vehicles are in use on the island,[12] nearly all in private hands. Pre-1960 vehicles remain the property of their original owners and descendants, and can be sold to other Cubans providing the proper traspaso certificate is in place. Such transactions can be difficult,[13] but in 2010, reforms approved by a Communist Party congress were expected to legalize the sale between Cuban citizens of all cars, as well as real estate.[14]

Of Cuba's vintage American cars, many have been modified with newer engines, disc brakes and other parts, often scavenged from Soviet cars, and most bear the marks of decades of use.[15] Others, however, have been lovingly preserved in their original condition, and would be coveted by collectors in other countries.[16] Apart from a brief period in the 1990s, however, the Castro government has forbidden the sale of Cuban vehicles to foreigners.

Hitchhiking and carpooling

Since the start of the "Special Period" in 1991 (energy shortages caused by the loss of the Soviet Union as a trading partner), hitchhiking and carpooling have become important parts of Cuba's transportation system and society in general. In 1999, an article in Time magazine claimed "In Cuba[...] hitchhiking is custom. Hitchhiking is essential. Hitchhiking is what makes Cuba move."[17]


Ports and harbors

Merchant marine

Total: 13 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 54,818 GRT/81,850 metric tons deadweight (DWT)

Ships by type

Registered in other countries: 35 (2003 est.)


Besides the state owned airline Cubana (Cubana de Aviación), the two other major Cuban airlines are Aero Caribbean and Aerogaviota, both of whom operate modern European and Russian aircraft. One other airline is Aerotaxi.


  • 170 (2003 est.)

Airports with paved runways

  • total: 70
  • over 3,047 m: 7
  • 2,438 to 3,047 m: 9
  • 1,524 to 2,437 m: 20
  • 914 to 1,523 m: 6
  • under 914 m: 37 (2003 est.)

Airports with unpaved runways

  • total: 95
  • 914 to 1,523 m: 29
  • under 914 m: 62 (2003 est.)

See also

Cuba portal


External links

  • Cubana Airlines
  • Aero-Caribbean
  • Aero-Gaviota
  • Viazul long distance coaches
  • Information on train travel in Cuba
  • Photos of antique Cuban cars
  • Bus and train timetable
  • Hershey Electric Railroad
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