RIO GRANDE DO
The state of Rio Grande do Norte forms the "hump" of South America - the point in Brazil nearest to Africa. Only 2,910 km separate its capital, Natal, from Freetown, Sierra Leone. Because of its strategic location the U.S. Government built a large airforce base at Natal during World War II and the city remains an important Brazilian air and naval center today. Like Belém and São Luís, Natal fronts on a bay, with the ocean and beaches at its back. Population was 15,000 in 1900, 250,000 in 1980.
Natal is pleasant and prosperous-looking and it is hard to believe that it was one of the last cities in Brazil to have trams. Horsecars didn't arrive here until 7 September 1908, two months after horsecars disappeared from Belém. Natal's horsecars were, in fact, bought second-hand from Belém.
By contrast, Natal was the 12th city in Brazil, and one of the first in the north, to put electric trams into service, on 2 October 1911. In this respect it preceded Fortaleza, João Pessoa, Maceió, Aracaju, much larger Recife and, of course, São Luís. The trolley system was constructed by Bromberg & Hacker Co. of São Paulo, an agent for Siemens-Schuckertwerke of Berlin, the first five cars were built by Falkenried of Hamburg, and operator was the Empreza de Melhoramentos do Natal. The Empreza de Tracção, Luz e Força do Natal, organized in São Paulo, took over tramway and electric utilities in 1913. Track gauge was meter and cars carried bow collectors. Routes were identified by colored dash lights: the Petrópolis line was red, the Tirol line green, the Ribeira ("Circular") line was yellow, and Alecrim cars bore purple.
The Natal tramway system was the northernmost in Brazil to be acquired by the U.S. corporation, Electric Bond & Share: the Companhia Força e Luz Nordeste do Brasil purchased both the Natal tramway and the streetcar lines in Maceió, state of Alagoas, in September 1930. Bow collectors on Natal trams were replaced by trolley poles - a reversal of the usual process - and ten single-truck Brill cars were acquired from the Recife tram system, also U.S.- operated, in the 1930s. IBGE reports 15 passenger motor cars in 1945. Natal's trolley system closed in May 1955.
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