Porto Alegre
/ São Leopoldo / Pelotas / Rio Grande / Cassino / Bagé / Uruguaiana



Porto Alegre

Rio Grande do Sul is the southernmost state in Brazil and is about the size (and shape) of Poland. Like its neighbors, Santa Catarina state, Argentina and Uruguay, it has received many immigrants in this century from Europe, particularly from Germany, and ranks sixth in population in Brazil. This is gaúcho country and the landscape and climate are similar to those of the western United States. There were six tram systems. Three were electric.

The capital, Porto Alegre, lies at the north end of Patos Lagoon, an enormous inland bay 200 km long and 60 km wide. Population was 100,000 in 1900 and is about a million today. The city was always a busy port and a tramway system was proposed in 1863. On 1 November 1864 a line of double-deck streetcars, pulled by mules along wooden rails in the street, was inaugurated between the port and the cemetery at Menino Deus. It was the second tramway known to have operated in Brazil, preceded only by the Tijuca line in Rio de Janeiro (1859), and may have been the first on the continent to use double-deckers.

Operators were Estácio da Cunha Bittencourt, a Brazilian, and a Frenchman named Emilio Gemgembre. The line closed early in 1872 and the cars were sold to Rio Grande, but a new company, the Carris de Ferro Porto-Alegrense, was formed on 19 June of that year. New trams were acquired from Stephenson in New York, steel rails were laid and a conventional meter-gauge tramway was inaugurated along the same route on 4 January 1873. A second railway, the Carris Urbanos, opened lines in other parts of the city during the 1880s. The Companhia Força e Luz Porto-Alegrense acquired all tramways and utilities on 24 January 1906 and ordered 37 electric cars from the United Electric Company in Preston, England.

The order, dated 22 August 1906, shows 35 single-truck open cars and two single-truck double-deck models. The imperiais, as doubledeckers were called in Brazil, were open on the sides as well as the top, a design that may have been unique in the hemisphere. (United Electric supplied similar cars to Maputo, Mozambique, in 1903.) They were also the first&emdash;and nearly the only&emdash;double-deck electric trams to operate in Brazil. Only Pelotas had them later.

Double-deckers 36 and 37 inaugurated the electric tramway in Porto Alegre on 10 March 1908. United Electric sent two more double-deck cars in 1909 and 50 more single-deck cars, including semi-convertible models, between 1909 and 1920. The last mulecar ran in 1914. Many of the open cars were later rebuilt closed and the four double-deck cars were rebuilt as single-deck models, in the company's shops, in 1921. In 1925 CFLPA ordered ten closed trams from Belgium: five single-truck cars from Ateliers Energie of Marcinelle, near Charleroi, and five double-truck cars from an unidentified builder. Gauge of the electric system was 1435 mm and the routes were identified by large letters placed on the fronts of the trams.

The Brazilian government dissolved CFLPA in 1926 and formed separate companies for transportation and utilities: the new operator of the streetcars was the Companhia Carris Porto-Alegrense. Electric Bond & Share, the U.S. corporation, acquired CCPA on 31 May 1928 and initiated an import program which would make Porto Alegre a mecca for foreign railfans in the 1950s and 1960s. Twenty new double-truck cars were ordered from J. G. Brill on 31 December 1928 (o.n. 22754; fleet numbers in Porto Alegre, 106-125). Thirty-two Brill Birneys were acquired second-hand in 1929 from Baltimore, Maryland, where the gauge was 1638 mm (numbers in Porto Alegre, 126-157) and eight Brill Birneys came from Boston (Porto Alegre numbers, 158-165). In 1933 CCPA built ten Birneys of its own which it called "Millers" (after their designer; numbered 166-175). In 1934 Porto Alegre acquired 20 Osgood-Bradley cars second-hand from Richmond Railways on Staten Island, New York (new numbers in Porto Alegre, 1-20), and 20 Kuhlman trolleys in 1936 from Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway near Boston (numbers 21-40). In 1937 CCPA spliced 14 of its Baltimore Birneys together and built seven double-truck curved-side cars that it called "Texanos" (numbers 41-47). Two shipments came from the U.S. in 1940: three double-truck "Master-Unit" cars and the "Electromobile" from York, Pennsylvania (numbers 176-179, later renumbered 100-103), and 12 double-truck Perley Thomas cars from Miami, Florida (numbered 180-191, later 88-99). Finally, 25 double-truck cars built by Osgood-Bradley in 1927 for the Worcester Street Railway in Massachusetts were sent to Porto Alegre in 1946 (numbers 126-150). The 130 American cars, 89 English cars and 10 Belgian cars made Porto Alegre seem like the largest operating streetcar museum in the world.

The Porto Alegre tramway had two other odd features: (1) Until about 1935&emdash;the exact date could not be found&emdash; all trams ran left-hand on two-way streets. The ten Miller cars which CCPA built in 1933 had doors for loading on the left side (which were later rebuilt); the Texanos and all of the U.S. imports had doors at all corners and could run either way. (2) In 1940 doors were removed and thereafter most trams in Porto Alegre ran with open front and rear platforms, as they had in the previous century.

The Millers and surplus Birneys were sent to Pelotas and Curitiba and the Belgian and many of the English cars were retired; a government report says that 59 million passengers were carried by 138 streetcars on 82 km of track in 1937. The Americans returned transit operation to the city on 19 February 1954 and the Departamento Autônomo de Transportes Coletivos reported that 89 million passengers were carried by 105 streetcars in 1961. 50% more passengers with fewer cars! The company resolved to replace the streetcars with buses and inaugurated a trolleybus line on 7 December 1963: five Massari units ran to Menino Deus, along the streets where mulecars had originated tramway service 102 years before. The trolleybus line closed in 1969 (the vehicles were sold to Araraquara) and the last streetcar in Porto Alegre ran on 8 March 1970. Except for Santos in 1971, this was the last large tram system in Brazil to close. The Porto Alegre tramway was also the last 1435 mm gauge railway to operate in Brazil.

Brill car 113, which made the last trip, is displayed today in front of the bus garage of the Secretaria Municipal dos Transportes on Rua Albion. Other cars are scattered in parks and playgrounds throughout the city. Porto Alegre is building an electric suburban railway called Trensurb to serve the new industrial sprawl north of the city. The first 27 km, from Mercado to Sapucaia (near São Leopoldo), opened on 2 March 1985. Gauge is 1600 mm; the new MU trains with pantographs were built by Nippon Sharyo in Japan.



São Leopoldo

São Leopoldo is a small city 35 km north of Porto Alegre, in the industrial sprawl that runs along the railroad line to Novo Hamburgo. The railroad opened on 15 May 1874, one of the first meter-gauge lines in Brazil, and a concession was awarded the same day to build a tramway in São Leopoldo. However, the little two-car line, which ran from the railroad station to the cemetery, didn't open until 29 November 1914, 50 years later. It closed in 1915.




Pelotas is 260 km south of Porto Alegre, near the other end of Patos Lagoon, 140 km from the Uruguayan border. Population was 30,000 in 1910 and is 150,000 today. An animal tramway inaugurated on 9 November 1873 served the city for 42 years. At the beginning of World War I the 31 passenger cars and seven freight cars of the Ferro Carril e Caes de Pelotas were still being pulled by mules.

The Rio Grandense Light & Power Syndicate, Ltd., registered in London on 17 May 1912, installed electric street lights in Pelotas in 1914 and engaged an Argentine firm, Buxton, Cassini & Compañía of Buenos Aires, to construct an electric tramway. Five single-truck closed cars, manufactured by Brush Electrical Engineering in Loughborough, England, were shipped in pieces from Swansea, Wales, and RGL&PS opened the trolley system in Pelotas on 20 October 1915. Track gauge was 1435 mm, the same as in Porto Alegre.

Rolling stock was unusually varied for a small town. In 1916, the second year of operation, the company placed into service five double-truck, double-deck cars that were probably the largest trams to operate in Brazil&emdash;considerably larger than the imperiais in Porto Alegre. Origin is uncertain. The lower story appears identical to that of the open-top double-deckers that Jackson & Sharp built in 1899 for Buenos Aires; considering the Argentine agent, it seems likely that they were the same trams rebuilt. In March 1920, RGL&PS placed an order with J. G. Brill of Philadelphia for two single-truck Birneys (o.n. 21055), which, by contrast, were among the smallest cars to operate in Brazil. The Pelotas Birneys are believed to have been the first Birneys to run in the Southern Hemisphere.

As in Porto Alegre, all the early trams in Pelotas&emdash;the Brush cars, the double-deckers and the Birneys&emdash;were designed for left-hand operation with doors on the port (left) side in the front. Brill sent Pelotas four more Birneys with right-hand doors in 1922 (o.n. 21600), and traffic runs right-hand in Pelotas today. The double-deckers were rebuilt as single-deck cars in 1922, presumably with right-hand doors, and in 1927 RGL&PS acquired an unknown quantity of large l0-window arch-roof cars from Brush in England.

Pelotas Tramways Co., which operated the cars for RGL&PS, was acquired by Electric Bond & Share, the U.S. corporation, in 1930 (see General History, Part 4): the new operator was called the Companhia de Energia Elétrica Rio Grandense. The early Brush cars were retired and during the late 1930s Pelotas obtained 11 additional Birneys third-hand from Porto Alegre, which had obtained them second-hand from Baltimore and Boston. Some of Porto Alegre's home-made "Miller" cars were also sent to Pelotas in the 1940s (see chapter on Porto Alegre). The 1945 IBGE report shows 28 passenger trams and six freight cars on 26 km of track. The system closed in April 1955. No trace of it&emdash;tram, pole or rail&emdash;remains today.



Rio Grande

Rio Grande lies on a narrow peninsula near the point where the Patos Lagoon empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is 60 km south of Pelotas, 1,850 km south of Rio de Janeiro, and 4,450 km from the northernmost tram system in Brazil that operated in Belém. Rio Grande is the southernmost large city in Brazil and is the seaport for Rio Grande do Sul state. Its population of 40,000 in 1910 made it the state's second-largest city; 90,000 residents today rank it third after Porto Alegre and Pelotas.

Porto Alegre sent its mule trams to Rio Grande in 1872, and the Companhia de Bonds Rio-Grandenses inaugurated a line from city hall to the railroad station on 5 July 1876. On 26 January 1890 the Companhia de Bonds Suburbanos inaugurated a steam tramway from the railroad station to a park on Mangueira Bay. The Companhia de Mangueira operated some kind of steam railway from this point to the oceanfront town of Cassino. The latter is famous for its "sailway": small platforms with sails run on a railway out to a reef.

In 1906 the Brazilian government hired an American engineer, Elmer Corthell, to rebuild the port facilities and electrify the tramway. Corthell's friend, the American industrialist Percival Farquhar, registered "The Port of Rio Grande do Sul, S.A." in Portland, Maine, but since the principal investors came from France the firm was reorganized as "Compagnie Française du Port de Rio Grande do Sul" in Paris on 5 June 1908. Byington & Company, the Westinghouse representative in Brazil, began laying trolley tracks in Rio Grande in late 1910 and ordered fifteen l0-bench passenger motor cars (o.n. 17663) and six l0-bench trailers (o.n. 17748) from J. G. Brill in early 1911. The French company began running electric trams in Rio Grande on 15 November 1911.

The steam line along the south shore was electrified in 1917 and another long line was built along the north shore to Prado. A special service carried workers through the railroad yards to the Swift meatpacking plant at the eastern end of the peninsula, and there were extensive freight services throughout town. Tram gauge was meter.

Rio Grande had one of the largest tram systems in Brazil not to be taken over by either the Canadians or the American corporation, Electric Bond & Share. The French company was, however, expropriated by the Brazilian government on 29 September 1919, and thereafter the tram system was operated by Viação e Illuminação Electricas do Rio Grande, a division of the state-run Companhia Porto e Barra do Rio Grande do Sul. VIERG began building closed trams in 1920 and its 1923 Annual Report shows seven open motor cars in the series 1-29, thirteen open trailers numbered 2-28, ten closed motors numbered 40-49, six meat cars and four M.A.N. locomotives with Siemens electrical equipment.

The Prefeitura took control in 1940 and bought five Birney cars second-hand from United Electric Railways in Providence, Rhode Island. These had been built by Osgood-Bradley in 1922 and, as with the Birneys that Curitiba acquired from Boston, gauge had to be changed from 1435 mm to meter. The IBGE report for 1945 shows 24 passenger motor cars, 19 passenger trailers, 22 assorted freight vehicles and 25 km of track. In the 1950s the open cars were scrapped and clerestories were removed from the closed cars that the company had built in the 1920s. Car number 8 of this series made the last run in Rio Grande on 15 June 1967. In 1981 there were still tracks in the street and one of the German steeplecab locomotives was exhibited on Praça Tamandaré. The carbarn on Rua Dom Bosco is now a bus garage.




Stiel's Brasil, p. 307, shows a photo of a horsecar in this seaside town, 20 km south of Rio Grande. His text says nothing about it.




Shortly before publication of this book the author found an old postcard showing a horsecar running in this town, 180 km west of Pelotas. A quick letter to Bagé's mayor received, typically, no reply.




Uruguaiana, 780 km west of Porto Alegre, on the Uruguay River that separates Rio Grande do Sul state from Argentina, is described by E. C. Buley in his South Brazil (New York, 1920) as "a progressive modern city, with electric lighting and tramways" (p. 194). It is believed that the tramway, if it existed, was animal-powered. The city was not visited, and nothing more about it could be learned.