São Luís / Tirirical



São Luís

Maranhão, the state next to Pará, is one-fifth the size of Amazonas but has three times its population: 500,000 in 1900 and three million today. Its capital city, São Luís, is on an island and, like Belém, fronts on a bay a few miles south of open ocean. Maranhão state is one of the poorest in Brazil, and São Luís is the only city in Brazil's "impoverished northeast" that the author thought looked really impoverished. It is amazing that the streetcar system here survived as long as it did and one marvels that Tirirical, a tiny village 15 km southeast of São Luís, should be the site of a completely new tramway constructed in 1978.

São Luís has been called "the Athens of Brazil" because it was the birthplace of several noted poets and preserves numerous examples of colonial architecture. The literary tradition, however, does not extend to transport heritage and little could be learned about early horsecars and the steam-powered Estrada de Ferro do Anil. It is known only that an 11 km animal tramway existed in São Luís in 1872, that the passenger cars were built by Stephenson and Brill in the U.S. and that track gauge of the Empreza Ferro Carril - unusual for an animal system - was wide.

In 1911 the Cuban-born American engineer Antonio Lavendeyra, who built the floating docks in Manaus, proposed a power plant and an electric streetcar system. But it was not until 1922 that another American, Henry C. Ulen, incorporated Ulen & Company in Delaware and began construction. The electric tramway opened on 15 September 1924, one of the last in Brazil, and the operator was the Serviços de Agua, Esgotos, Luz, Tração e Prensagem de Algodão (Services of Water, Sewers, Light, Traction and Cotton Pressing). There were 24 km of meter gauge track and J. G. Brill built the equipment: two 12-bench motor cars, seven 8-bench motor cars and three 6-bench trailers (o.n. 21953, 21954, 21964, 22420 and 22853). Trajano de Medeiros in Rio de Janeiro later built additional cars and the IBGE survey shows 13 passenger motor cars and four trailers in 1936. The city took over in the 1940s and operation passed to the Departamento Municipal de Transportes Urbanos. The long suburban Anil line was cut back to Filipinho and two cars - double-truck #2 and single #9 - were rebuilt closed. The last trolley ran in São Luís in late 1966.




Incredibly, a new tram line was built in the state 12 years after abandonment of the São Luís system. The Universidade Estadual do Maranhão salvaged one of the open cars from the city operation and laid 1.34 km of track from the highway to the campus of the state agriculture school at Tirirical, near the São Luís airport. Brazilian President Ernesto Geisel presided at the inauguration of the world's most isolated and unlikely tramway on 26 October 1978. The 4-wheel Brill car provided a free service for students every 10 minutes across an open field. [See author's illustrated article in Railfan & Railroad (New York), 1981/9, p. 57.] Unfortunately, sewer construction forced the line to close in 1983, and as of the date of publication of this book it has not reopened.