Literature on the world's street railways has concentrated on North America, Western Europe, Australasia and Japan. The commercial journals that chronicled the development of urban transportation in the early part of this century and the tram enthusiast publications that have followed it since World War II have occasionally reported on operations in other areas. But only the large cities have been discussed and the descriptions often ignore historical, geographical and economic aspects that would contribute to a global view. Little has been written about the smaller tramway systems in these regions and there have been few attempts to chart overall tramway development in an entire country.

Latin America had a large number and variety of tramways in twenty countries about which almost nothing has been written in any country, in any language, at any time. Information about public utilities in Latin America, even for Latin Americans, is difficult to obtain. The usual research channels - trade publications, fan magazines, government surveys, company records - do not exist or are not available. Inquiries sent to transit companies, city halls, libraries and historical societies yield no reply.

Information about street railways in Latin America can be located if the search is sufficiently wide and long. The author spent a decade traveling and collecting data on four continents, including throughout Latin America, in an effort to learn everything that could be learned from every imaginable source about the tramways that operated there during the last 130 years. A large amount of material was finally amassed and it has become possible for the first time to form a reasonably accurate idea of the development of street railways south of the Rio Grande. This is the first book of a series that will report the findings of this research.

Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country and had a hundred tram systems, almost as many as the other Latin American countries combined. It had one of the world's first tramways: an 1859 operation in Rio de Janeiro predates street railway experiments in all European countries except France. Trams still run in Rio today, a century and a third later: only New Orleans, Boston, Philadelphia and Mexico City have had streetcar operation longer. Brazil had one of the world's first steam-powered street railways and had the world's first steam locomotives designed specifically to run on the street. It had one of the world's first electric tramways: Rio de Janeiro had electric streetcars before London, Paris, Roma, Madrid, Lisboa and any other city in Latin America. Niterói, Brazil, may have been the first place where trams were powered successfully by storage batteries. Brazil had the world's largest fleet of open streetcars. It had the largest collection of American-built streetcars outside the United States. It had the world's largest foreign-owned street railway empire.

Five tramways still operate in 1989: the Santa Teresa and Corcovado lines in Rio de Janeiro; the Campos do Jordão line near São Paulo; the Itatinga line near Bertioga; and the tourist tramway in Campinas. A sixth line, the Tirirical tramway near São Luís, ceased operation in 1983, but may be revived.

The history of Brazil's tramways is not complete. Information is readily available about many of the electric systems, which ran recently and were often operated by foreign companies that preserved records. But information about earlier animal and steam tramways is not as easy to obtain: locations are remote, some lines disappeared a century ago, and often no record of them remains even in the towns where they ran. There is no complete official list of Brazil's street railways and no doubt lines existed that were not discovered. The author hopes that this work will inspire Brazilians to explore their transport heritage further.

The book is divided into two sections. The first five chapters describe research problems and the overall development of tramways in Brazil. The second half of the book contains individual histories, with illustrations and maps, of each of the one hundred tram systems. At the end of the book are bibliographies for Brazil in general and for each tramway city in particular, and an index of subjects, places and names.