Saturday, June 21, 2014

What Was the Havana Metro?

What Was the Havana Metro? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez
Posted on June 19, 2014
Conceived 30 years ago, it would have been the largest civil engineering
project in Cuba, but it sank after Perestroika.
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana | June 17, 2014

It's morning rush hour at the Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor bus stop, a busy
node in the city of Havana. Thousands of people rush to work, school,
the office, or run errands. New bus routes, as well as signaling changes
on the existing road network, have tried to relieve the headaches
involved in mass transit in our country.

Thirty years ago, when the island was a satellite of the USSR, and other
foreign capital was virtually nonexistent, an ambitious rapid transit
project was conceived for the Cuban capital with a metro system as the
centerpiece. The civil engineer Felix C., today employed by a
Cuban-Foreign construction equipment company, related his experiences
working for the City of Havana Executive Group (GEMCH), the company then
in charge of what was called "the work of the century."

"I came here after I graduated, in the mid-eighties," he said. "GEMCH
already existed at the beginning of the decade and several projects for
the metro came out of CUJAE (Ciudad Universitaria Jose Antonio
Echeverria) — the technical branch of the University of Havana. Several
of us were even sent to Eastern European countries to study and
participate in works of this type already being implemented.

During those years, in fact, everything seemed to be in place to build
the metro in Havana. A series of articles published in the magazine
Technical Youth in August, September and October of 1982, expounded in a
straightforward way not only on the necessity, but also on the
possibility that Havana could count on this type of transport.
Enthusiasm was great. At that time relations with the USSR looked
stronger than ever, and it was considered significant that the only
socialist country in the Western Hemisphere would have its own metro system.

In those years, public opinion about transit in Cuba was already very
negative, although Soviet subsidies of oil allowed an average of 30,000
daily bus trips and a number of routes greatly superior to today, some
arriving less than a minute apart, according to reports from a former
Transport Ministry official. "If with all this service they couldn't
cope, the obvious solution was a metro," he said.

It was considered significant that the only socialist country in the
Western Hemisphere would have its own metro

So a huge work team was put together and it started the
engineering-geological studies that would confirm the technical
viability of the project. The project objectives were developed,
including those of the preliminary design phase, which would include
stations such as Central Park, "which would be the deepest, because
there the line would cross the bay to the east side of the city," the
engineer Felix C. remembers.

Stations were planned for several points in the city, one of them near
the hill of the University in Vededo, and a line running to the south,
under Rancho Boyeros Avenue. Today, it all is part of an almost
forgotten myth. "Nobody remembers anything about this project," says
Felix. The authority charged with administering the Havana Metro was
located in an enormous building which would also serve as a station,
which was never built, on the land where the EJT Market is on Tulipan

"I was working for GEMCH between 1984 and 1988," said the old engineer.
"In those tunnels was where I got my lung disease, and so I had to
leave. Although by the time I left my job it was all over, all that
remained of the initially planned lines were the bus routes." He is
referring to the infamous "camels" which emerged as a response to the
severe crisis that begin with the collapse of the USSR, when all
projects, great and small, failed.

Felix has done relatively well. In 2012, Ana A. Alpizar filmed a short,
"Without Metro," a reunion of many of the workers on that project who
remembered how they had to reorient their professional plans with the
end of those construction plans. Not all of them were lucky enough to
find new positions.

Perhaps the old specialist is right to forget a project of such
magnitude. The subway tunnels, in any case, remain buried in the past.
The oldest professors in the Civil Engineering Department of Havana
Technical University say this is true: the plans have been lost and the
theses disappeared.

Today, nobody remembers this great project that would have solved the
transport problem in the capital. The government's priorities have
changed and no foreign power is willing to invest in an extremely costly
work in a country as impoverished as Cuba.

Source: What Was the Havana Metro? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez |
Translating Cuba -

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