Cuba signals willingness to open railway operation to foreigners

Cuba has signaled its willingness to open up the operation of its extensive state railway system to foreign companies in a decree published Wednesday as part of a spate of economic reforms.

The decree "proposes that the railways may be operated wholly or in part by one or more rail operators," transport ministry official Edmundo Ronquillo told the official Granma daily.

Ronquillo said "foreign" companies would be able to bid to run the railways on the Communist-run island.

The decree dates from a year ago under former president Raul Castro, but was published in the official journal only on Tuesday. Castro stepped down in April and responsibility for implementing it now rests with his successor Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Railways, facilities and rolling stock will be affected by the change, according to Ronquillo.

The railroads are currently operated by state-run Cuban Railways.

Around 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles) of track are operated by the state-owned Union of Cuban Railways while another 7,000 kilometers belong to state agricultural and industrial complexes, according to official figures. More than 21,000 people are employed in the sector.

Cubans began a series of public debates this month on a new draft constitution that for the first time recognizes the role of entrepreneurs and private investors in the island's economy.

The constitutional changes will be put to a referendum set for February 24 next year.