ZAFRA 2002 ReporT         



Efficiency on the Equivalent of $10 a Month

- The story of the 2002 Zafra.

Efficiency was this year’s watchword, exhaulted by the posterboards at most mills, and by Havana. Relating this in terms of normal economic performance is not straightforward with the practices of Cuban industry in converting dollars to pesos at a distorted rate of 1:1.

Minaz is still very much committed to the use of steam for motive power, but this is more to do with expediency than economics. They do not have the hard currency required to buy costly spares to keep their diesels running and locos are being cannibalised at a high rate. Steam can be overhauled using locally sourced materials and labour for pesos, although in the accounts, this does not always appear to be the cheaper option. Some mills do not have sufficient quantities of diesel fuel to complete the Zafra and use steam to supplement their resources. Despite all this (and Havana’s edict not to scrap steam), dumped locos are still disappearing. Likewise, hard currency is not available for spares for the mechanical harvesters and with many machines out of action even before the start of the Zafra, a number of areas have returned to hand-cutting, particularly in the east.

It has been a very good year for cane in the east of the island, with some of the tallest cane in memory. Havana has surprisingly taken the decision not to cut all the cane in the east and to leave it for the 2003 harvest, even though the total tonnage for this year is likely to be (as in recent years) well down at about 3.6 million tonnes (80,000 more than 2001). In the west, excuses were being made about the hurricane, even though most cane could still be cut by machines (where available). The low world price of raw sugar is the real reason this years low production and Havana is currently looking for ways to convert sugar into other products.

The latest news from MINAZ to officially close many of the mills is disturbing. The number is higher than expected and may contain some unexpected or unwanted casualties. But in the majority of cases, it is only confirmation of the existing situation. As most closures still involve intermill trains to transport cane to open mills, the gravest position concerns any narrow gauge or isolated systems on the list. For them, any future movement of cane would be by road. Until the complete list of closures is known, the full implications cannot be evaluated.

Less trains were running this year, due to less cane being available daily or greater use of lorries and with some notable mills closed this year, only a few mills were running morning trains worthy of photography. Many crews spent the mornings solely preparing their locos for work in the afternoons. This did not affect the visits by groups so greatly, who could organise some action, but individual visitors were left with more time for the beach!

Just what 'efficiency' means to a typical cane-cutter or a steam crew during a long, hotter than normal Zafra is open to interpretation. The average monthly salary will buy just over 1 litre of cooking oil per week, but leave nothing left to buy the food to cook with it! Some crews have found other ways to supplement their meagre wages, while other staff have left the industry in search of better paid employment, taking with them their knowledge and skills.

Was it 'efficiency' that was in the minds of the crew of Australia's 1513 on March 2nd in an attempt to try and reach the mill with their loaded train? Was it other Saturday night matters or could they just not see the gauge-glass through lack of a lightbulb? The fatal boiler explosion that occurred leaves a shadow over all of the 2002 Zafra.

In previous years water torpedos were often used on runs to the now closed end LP at San Ramon. With trains only going to Apodaca LP (24km.), where water is available, this practise ceased. Although until this year there does not appear to have been a critical water problem. Two days prior to the incident, a chartered loaded cane train with 1518, which only went as far as the Autopista (15.5km.), was running short of water on the return and the number of runpasts had to be restricted when the water level in the tender started to cause concern. Yet, all of the time the crew were completely on top of the situation.

Crews claim that the water problems this year are due to the poor mechanical condition of the engines, but also the loss of some experienced footplate staff has been mentioned. That the boiler blew asks questions of the mechanical condition of 1513. But why, if the loco was running short of water, did the crew not drop the load and run to the mill light for water. Havana's reaction whilst sympathetic, has also been to question the professionalism of some of the crews at the mill.

Hurricane Michelle.
Among the structures destroyed by the hurricane on November 4th 2001 were the signal box, goods shed and station building at Guareiras, the goods shed and station building at Manguito and the station building at Rene Fraga. The boat at Australia crossroads restaurant is no longer in situ. One resident of the hamlet near Jesus Rabi's Cirineo LP now has a pet baby crocodile. It is not clear if this was one of those sucked up from the crocodile farm.

Mainline Railtour.
The first of its type in Cuba, was successfully run between Havana Cristina Station and Cienfuegos over 3 days at the beginning of March using 1507, 1610, 1611, 1413 and 1848.

                                                                    103 Eduardo Garcia Lavendero.
1816 was here during February out of use, before being reportedly sent to Santa Clara's Planta Mecanica for overhaul and conversion to firing by Biomass (brickettes of compressed bagasse). However, on May 13th, it was seen abandoned in a siding at Campo Florida near Havana (about 250kms. short of its destination).

105 Augusto Cesar Sandino.
The two Hermanos Ameijeiras locos still provide the mainstay of operations with 1350. Staff say that they will remain here. Work has started on 1404, although 1364 is still not complete. 1210 may go to the proposed Minaz museum, while 1405 is reported to be going to Parque Lenin in the summer.

107 Pablo de La Torriente Brau.
Mill back in action this year. All LP's in use, a rarity at mills these days. 1505 under overhaul.

201 Amistad Con Los Pueblos.
Mill not working but the intermills continue steam. 1302 was drafted in from mill 206 before being replaced by 1701 from mill 210 following the failure of 1707. 1803/1805 also in use. 1804 under overhaul. 1712 is not in a good enough condition for overhaul and may be only cosmetically restored (subject to finances). 21 (1107) now plinthed beside the mill.

206 Manuel Isla Perez.
Mill and railway not in use. Trucks loaded at the Centro Limpieza LP.

207 Gregorio Arlee Manalich.
No new livery this year. Working locos as 2001. 1403 has returned from (the museum? at) Manuel Martinez Pierto in the guise of No.1897 for overhaul. No.2 (1181) remains, stored in the shed in an increasingly worse condition. 1510 under overhaul.

210 Osvaldo Sanchez.
Mill closed. Intermills to 203 with diesel. 1204 was the only tank loco in regular use on the island this year. 1507 also in use. 1701 loaned to mill 201 mid season. 1681 under overhaul.