The Tramways of
Havana (La Habana)
Allen Morrison

Ferro Carril Urbano de la Habana


This webpage is divided into two parts.
Part I covers the years between 1858 and 1928.
Part II considers the period from 1928 to 1952.


Part II: 1928 - 1952

Havana Electric Railway built no more streetcars or streetcar lines after 1925. The Cuban government would not allow it to raise its fare, which had remained at 5 cents since 1901. Buses and jitneys, unrestricted by the city, followed HER's routes and stole its passengers. A nationwide strike in 1933 shut down all public services in Cuba. When Havana trams began running again on August 14, passenger loads were heavy [the photograph below was unfortunately retouched for publication in a newspaper] [col. AM]:

Rail ridership declined from 140 million passengers in 1929 to 69 million in 1935. Here is the tram yard at the end of the Cerro line in 1939:

The "elevated" structure along the harbor [see map] was dismantled in 1940. The photograph below, taken in the early 1940s, shows why many passengers still preferred "old-fashioned trams" to the new buses [col. José Huerta]:

The situation reversed briefly during the Second World War. Oil and tires were rationed and the buses almost disappeared. Streetcar ridership increased once more and even surpassed previous levels: 146 million passengers in 1945! The following scene was typical [col. AM]:

Passengers were warned not to speak to the motorman below, who rings his bell as he approaches a crowded tram stop. Actually, this is a policeman driving this car - probably during a tramworkers strike. Note the revolver on his right hip [col. AM]:

The photograph below [which was reproduced on a postage stamp in 2004: see Cuban Tram Stamps] does not indicate frequent streetcar service in Havana. In October 1947 students blocked the tracks on Av. Simón Bolívar, near the Capitolio Nacional. This thoroughfare was originally called Calzada de la Reina [see map] [col. AM]:

Delays, derailments and dilapidated vehicles were common in the late 1940s. These smiling fellows were probably not passengers on these trams which – according to the caption on this newspaper photograph – were abandoned on the street after a collision in the Santos Suárez district in 1948 [see map] [col. AM]:

Everything seemed orderly and peaceful on Steinhart Avenue in Marianao [see map]. Car 65 was one of a group rebuilt in the 1920s with arch roofs. Date of the photograph is unknown [col. AM]:

Tram 591, photographed on Calle Neptuno in October 1949, also had a plain arch roof. Note how low the vehicle ran to the ground. Destination board says "Muelle de Luz" [Frank Goldsmith, col. Joseph P. Saitta]:

Two trams approach on the bridge at the west end of Calle 9, near the HER shops, in 1949 [see map]. Shortly after this picture was taken the tram bridge was replaced by a new automobile bridge, without tram tracks. Calle Línea goes under the river today [col. AM]:

In 1949 HER announced that it had acquired 44 trolleybuses secondhand from Newark, New Jersey, to replace its aging trams. The transition would be easy, for the streetcar lines already had double wires. A few trolleybuses began testing on 8 September 1949, but never entered revenue service. Some were rebuilt and ran with gasoline motors. The newspaper photo below shows one of the vehicles [Carteles, Havana, 18 September 1949, col. Stanley F. Worris]:

But it was no use. HER declared bankruptcy and was purchased by Autobuses Modernos S.A. on 23 June 1950. Here are two cars passing on the other bridge over the Almendares River, at the west end of Calle 23 [see map]. Date of this photograph is 1950 or 1951 [col. Angel Alvarez]:

The photographs below were taken in 1951. The first [which was reproduced on a postage stamp in 2004: see Cuban Tram Stamps] shows a 9-window arch-roof car with Brill truck on the loop in Marianao [see map]. The second shows an 8-window car with McGuire truck in front of the Capitolio Nacional - where students had blocked the tramway four years before [see photo above]:

Autobuses Modernos ran Havana's last streetcar, number 388, on 29 April 1952. Almost a century of rail transport came to an end. Several of the better vehicles were sold (donated?) to the tramway company in Matanzas, where they ran another two years. The following views were taken at the HER/AM yard in Miramar [see map] after the system closed [col. Bill Volkmer]:

Here is a final photograph of the streetcars of Havana [col. AM]:

In 2001 a Russian group planned a trolleybus system in Havana which, if built, would have exactly duplicated the city's horsecar system of 1862.

A visitor photographed the model below at the Museum of Navigation, in the Castillo de la Fuerza Real, in 2013 [Andrew Beech]:

Plus ça change . . .


BIBLIOGRAPHY (in order of publication)

Directorio de Artes, Comercio e Industrias de la Habana. La Habana, 1859. "Ferro-carril Urbano" p. 35 ff. Data and large map showing the Muelles and Carmelo streetcar lines.

Jacobo de la Pezuela. Diccionario geográfico, estadístico, histórico de la Isla de Cuba. Madrid, 1863. "Ferro-Carril Urbano de la Habana", p. 333.

Civil Reports of the Military Governor, General [Leonard] Wood. Report by Major W. M. Black, Chief Engineer, 31 July 1900. La Habana, 1900. "Street Railways," vol. 11, p. 32. The decision to use two trolley poles.

"The Electric Railways of Havana." Street Railway Journal (New York), 4 August 1900, pp. 724-725. Text, photos and car diagrams.

"Cars for the Havana Electric Railway." Street Railway Journal (New York), 13 October 1900, p. 1014. Description and the photo shown above.

"Urban Transportation in Havana." Street Railway Review (Chicago), 15 October 1901, pp. 755-759. Description, map, 2 diagrams, 15 photographs.

"Havana Electric Railway Company." Electric Railway Journal (New York), 27 May 1911, pp. 906-912, & 3 June 1911, pp. 946-950. Text, map, 21 photographs.

"Havana Electric Railways." The South American (New York), August 1916, pp. 254-255.

"Overhead Line Problems in Havana." Electric Railway Journal (New York), 26 August 1916, pp. 367-368. Description, 2 photos.

"Motor-buses for Havana Electric." Brill Magazine (Philadelphia), February 1917, pp. 61-62. Description and photographs of battery-powered buses.

"The Kind of Traction system Serving Havana, Cuba." Electric Railway Journal (New York), 30 June 1923, pp. 1081-1082. Illustrated descriptions of the two car types.

"Havana Electric Railway, Light & Power Company: Survey of Development." U.S. Bureau of Foreign & Domestic Commerce, Trade Promotion Series #5 (1925), pp. 258-265. Detailed history and description.

"Havana Carries On." Electric Railway Journal (New York), 27 October 1928, pp. 759-762. Text, map, chart, 6 photographs.

"War's Effect on Transit in Havana." Transit Journal (New York), June 1942, p. 202. Text and a picture.

"Guía de las Líneas de Tranvías de la Ciudad de la Habana - 1943." La Habana, 1943. Detailed itineraries of HER routes, 32 pages.

Charles Greeley and Robert A. Hall, Jr. "Havana Electric Co." Headlights (Hoboken), Summer 1950, pp. 1-2. Illustrated update.

"El Transporte Urbano: El Tranvía de Tracción Animal y el Eléctrico." Libro de Cuba. La Habana, 1954. Nice survey, 13 photos, pp. 806-808.

Berta Alfonso Gallol. Los Transportes Habaneros. Estudios Históricos. La Habana, vol. 3, 1991. The definitive survey (but no pictures or maps).

José Altshuler. "Impacto Social y Espacial de las Redes Eléctricas en Cuba." Scripta Nova (Universidad de Barcelona), 1 April 1998. Online text describes the development of electricity in Cuba.

José Altshuler. Etapas de la electrificación en Cuba. Continuation of the article above.

Julio Domínguez García. Noticias de la República: Apuntes cronológicos 1900-1929. La Habana, 2003. Chronology of inaugurations, strikes and other events of tramway history in Havana and other cities. 


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Part I: 1858 - 1928

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Copyright © 2002-2102 Allen Morrison - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED