The name Hershey is synonymous with chocolate. Pennsylvania citizen Milton J Hershey started the company which bears his name in 1893 when he bought a German chocolate-making machine and soon hit upon his most popular product, the Hershey Bar.
Natural chocolate is quite bitter, and needs sugar to sweeten it up. In 1916 Hershey bought a lot of land in Cuba for sugar plantations and sugar processing plant. So great was the plantations output that he needed an ingenious way to transport the sugar to port for export to his factory. Being an entrepreneur Hershey merely built his own railway line. Even though Cuba has gone through a revolution, the Hershey Line is still in use today.
The line was built from Casablanca, on the far end of Havana Harbour, to the town of Hershey, which is part of the city of Matanzas. The track is 90 kilometres in length, and is Cuba’s only operational electric railway.
These days the sugar cars have been replaced with a railcar, and the line was converted to be powered by electricity back in 1922. Regular commuter services run between Casa Blanca station in Havana and Matanzas. There is still a station called Hershey at the site of the former sugar mill, but sugar is no longer processed there.
As train journeys go the timetable can be a bit erratic. Although there are three scheduled services per day, there is no guarantee that all will operate. This is mainly because maintenance is poor and equipment is often faulty.
Hershey Central, as the station is also known, is also a hub for other lines, but from the town to Havana the railway runs along a line that has essentially remained unchanged since its inception.
Casa Blanca is not located in central Havana, mainly because the British-run United Railways, which controlled most of the rail services in Cuba at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, refused to allow the Hershey line be part of its network.
The railway is today a mere shadow of its former shelf, as the total track originally laid was more than double what it is today, and the main line is still single track.
The rail cars which currently operate were originally built in the 1940s so possess none of the comforts we are used to on modern railways, but then that is part of the charm. To take a rickety train trip in an old well-used carriage is like a step back in time to an era when train travel had a modicum of excitement about it.
The Hershey Train may lack a lot of comfort, but as an experience it is surely hard to beat.