Cuba built the first railway system in the Spanish empire, before the 1848 start in the Iberian peninsula. While the rail infrastructure dates from colonial and early republican times, passenger service along the principal Havana to Santiago corridor is increasingly reliable and popular with tourists who can purchase tickets in Cuban convertible pesos. As with most public transport in Cuba, the vehicles used are second hand, and the flagship Tren Francés ("French train") between Havana and Santiago de Cuba is operated by coaches originally used in Europe between Paris and Amsterdam on the ex-TEE express. The train is formed by 12 coaches and a Chinese-built locomotive.
With the order of 12 new Chinese locomotives, built specially for Cuban Railways at China Northern Locomotives and Rolling Stock Works, services have been improving in reliability. Those benefiting the most are long distance freight services with the French train Havana-Santiago being the only passenger train using one of the new Chinese locomotives regularly. Various orders are in place for 100 locomotives from China and various freight wagons and passenger coaches.
There are two national bus companies in Cuba. Viazul operate a fleet of modern and comfortable coaches on longer distance routes designed principally for tourists. Slower and less reliable services are provided by Astro Bus, generally with much older vehicles, many imported from the Soviet Union. These services are significantly cheaper than Viazul, and are therefore increasingly popular with budget conscious tourists and visitors to Cuba. However, ASTRO (Asociacion de Transporte por Omnibus) has recently purchased from the Chinese manufacturer Yutong Bus a fleet of nearly 1000 air-conditioned units. They are being used on most of the long distance routes nationwide and some services have been increased. However, the ticket price was also raised recently, making it less affordable for the regular Cuban that chooses ASTRO to travel. Routes that have benefited most so far are those from Havana to each of the 13 provincial capitals of the country.
In Havana urban transportation is provided by a colourful selection of buses imported from the Soviet Union or Canada. Many of these vehicles are second hand (such as the 1500 decommissioned Dutch buses, which the Netherlands donated to Cuba in the mid 1990s) and despite the United States trade embargo, American-style yellow school buses (imported second-hand from Canada) are increasingly common sights. On seven key lines in and out of the city, service is provided by camellos ("camels" or "dromedaries", after their "humps"), trailer buses that haul as many as two hundred passengers in a passenger carrying trailer. The camellos will be phased out in April 2008 with Chinese Zhengzhou Yutong Buses.
After the upgrading of Seville's public bus fleet to CNG-powered and new vehicles, many of the decommissioned ones were donated to the city of Havana. These bright orange buses still display the name of Transportes Urbanos de Sevilla, S.A.M., their former owner, and Seville's coat of arms as a sign of gratitute.
Cuban State Council Vice President Carlos Lage declared in 2007 that Cuba would receive 1,142 more Chinese buses for urban transport before years end