HAVANA, May 23 The National Railway Company of Cuba, Ferrocarriles de Cuba, is the sixth oldest railroad in the world, having opened its first 17-mile long route in 1837. Now the railway covers more than 2,600 miles, stretching from Havana in the west to Santiago de Cuba on the eastern coast.
It has a reputation for being the cheapest — but also the slowest — way to travel from one side of the country to the other.
The trip from Havana to Santiago de Cuba can take 20 hours, while driving would take about half the time. Tourists and many Cubans choose not to take the train because of its unreliability: It often breaks down or is delayed, sometimes for multiple days.
The train itself is made up of a patched together array of rail-cars largely from Germany, Canada, France, China and the former USSR. After the USSR fell, the railroad was forced into using mostly secondhand and refurbished trains and parts.
Cuba was the first country in Latin America and the sixth in the world to have a railroad system.
The Cuban railway was originally built by the Spanish as a means to transport sugarcane to the ports. This is interesting, as Spain had yet build a railroad in its own country at that point.
By 1958, Cuba had upgraded to newer diesel trains and the country held the record for most trackage per square mile in the world.
But what was once state-of-the-art has fallen into disrepair; high maintenance costs and lack of materials make basic maintenance all but impossible. The line from Havana to Santiago de Cuba is one of the last remaining in use, a testament to its importance to mobility in the country.
As a photojournalist it provided an authentic way to meet many Cubans, and allowed me to see more of the island nation than any other mode of transportation.