Colombia's principal port and fourth-largest city (after Bogotá, Medellín and Cali) sprawls along the west shore of the Magdalena River about 10 km from the Caribbean. Shifting sandbars in the river's delta prevented large ships from reaching the country's interior, so English and German engineers built a railroad around the delta in 1871 [see area map]. The Ferrocarril de Bolívar was the first rail line in modern Colombia (the Panama Railroad had opened in 1855). Produce was transferred from river steamer to train at Barranquilla, then back to ship at Salgar (and vice versa). The celebrated Cuban engineer Francisco Cisneros, who adopted U.S. citizenship in 1874, extended the railroad to Puerto Colombia in 1882, sold it to the English in 1887, and built the tramway in Barranquilla in 1890. The city grew rapidly and opened South America's first commercial airport in 1920. Population today is about two million.
Street railways had begun operation in Bogotá in 1884 and in Medellín in 1887, both using vehicles supplied by J. G. Brill Co. in Philadelphia. Cisneros acquired a franchise in 1887 to build a tramway in Barranquilla and, through his agent Pérez Triana & Co., ordered four passenger cars and two gondola cars from Brill on 23 August 1889 (Brill orders 2700 and 2701). Cisneros registered the Barranquilla Tramway Co. in Charleston, West Virginia, the following 26 September [see document] and began running trams on Calle Jesús in Barranquilla on 26 April 1890 [see city map]. Later in 1890 he ordered an inspection tram from Brill (order 3132) and another gondola (order 3450) in 1891.
Newspapers of the era indicate that Barranquilla's first trams were pulled by steam locomotives, and that locomotives pulled 30-foot-long double-deck passenger cars (!) on the line the following October. The origin of such vehicles is unknown. Tranvía de Barranquilla purchased cars from Jackson & Sharp Co. in Wilmington, Delaware, at the end of the century, and more vehicles from Brill in the 1900s.
The photographs that Brill took of its early cars are lost. No illustrations could be found of the double-deckers. But we have pictures that Jackson & Sharp took of its Barranquilla models, a picture of the tram that Brill built for Barranquilla in 1915, a photo of one of the locomotives, and views from old picture postcards. This page is primarily a picture survey. Additional information about the development of the Barranquilla tramway system can be found in the works listed in the Bibliography below.
(1) Enlargement of part of a postcard view of the Puerto Colombia wharf that Cisneros inaugurated in 1893 [see official diagram from the collection of Alvaro Mendoza]. One wonders if any of these diminutive vehicles could have run on the street railway in Barranquilla. "B. R. & P. Co." = Barranquilla Railway & Pier Co., the name the British gave the line upon acquisition in 1887. The locomotive came from Kerr, Stuart & Co. in England. [col. AM]
(2) Locomotive number 9, built in 1890 by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, is said to have pulled trams on the streets of Barranquilla. Note "B. R. & P. Co." on the tender. Tramway locomotives often had paneling on the sides to help them resemble the vehicles that they pulled. [col. P. C. Dewhurst, via Gustavo Arias de Greiff]
(3) A later view of the Puerto Colombia pier. This postcard was mailed in 1911. Gauge of the tracks was 42 in or 1067 mm. The Baldwin locomotive is numbered 10. [col. AM]
(4) A factory photograph of a 3-bench open car, numbered 8, that Jackson & Sharp Co. built for the Barranquilla tramway (order 1137) in 1898. [col. A. J. Berner]
(5) A factory photograph of a 4-bench open tram, numbered 11, that Jackson & Sharp built for Barranquilla in 1897. The slats on the sides rolled up into the roof. There were two cars of this design in orders 1032 and 1033. [col. A. J. Berner]
(6) One of five 4-bench open trams, without the rolling slats, that Jackson & Sharp built for Barranquilla in 1898; orders 1162-1166. The photograph was taken in front of the J&S factory in Wilmington. [col. A. J. Berner]
(7) In 1903, through its agent Jiménez y Escobar & Cía, Tranvía de Barranquilla ordered six 6-foot-long "push cars" from J. G. Brill, order 13228. And in 1915, through De Lima Cortissoz & Co. of New York, Barranquilla placed Brill order 19817 for the 5-bench car shown below – which was similar to the model that Brill had built for Medellín. As far as is known, this was the last tram constructed for Barranquilla. Note the lack of bulkheads – walls between the seating area and platforms. [col. AM]
(8) For most of its existence the Barranquilla tramway system consisted of two U-shaped routes between the same points – the Mercado (market) and the Estación Montoya terminus of the Bolivar Railway [see map]. The postcard view below shows one of the Jackson & Sharp 4-bench trams – like number 15 in the picture above – at Estación Montoya. The building in the distance, with the large arched doorways, was the tramway depot. [col. Wanderley Duck]
(9) A similar Jackson & Sharp tram at the railroad station, about to race a bus to the Mercado. Guess which one lost! [col. Sergio Paolo Solano]
(10) Here is another view of a Jackson & Sharp 4-bench tram, glimpsed on Carrera Progreso. The sign on the building on the left reads "Alzamora Palacio y Cía. [col. Alvaro Mendoza]
(11) This tram with four evenly spaced benches – and no bulkhead – is probably one of the original Brill cars of 1889. It is proceeding eastward on Carrera Progreso, at the slight bend in that street between Calle Jesús and Av. Boyacá [see map]. Note that in most of the pictures on this page the trams are pulled by three mules. The photograph was taken in the 1920s. [col. AM]
(12) Here is another 4-bench Jackson & Sharp tram, in approximately the same spot as the tram above, but this time traveling westward on Carrera Progreso between Calle Jesús and Av. Boyacá [see map]. The street is in rough condition, but there is an impressive Greek-style bank under construction on the right. The fleet numbers on the fronts of the trams were unfortunately often obscured by the animals. The name in the destination box – in this case "FLORESTA" – identified the tram route, and did not change, regardless of the car's direction. [postcard, col. Roy Budmiger]
(13) This 4-bench Jackson & Sharp car is in exactly the same place on Carrera Progreso as the one above, but this photograph was taken somewhat later [see map]. The pavement seems in better condition (prepared for automobiles and buses...), bank construction is complete, a balustrade has been placed around the lamppost, and the women nearby are dressed in styles of the late 1920s. [postcard, col. Alvaro Mendoza]
(14) This wonderful postcard shows a 5-bench Brill car in front of the Banco Comercial, also seen in the previous view. [col. Art Simmonds]
(15) In this view, the striped awning behind the tram driver, rather than a bulkhead, suggests an early Brill. It is proceeding westward on Carrera Progreso, in approximately the same location as the J&S car in picture (10) [note the same building in the background] [see map]. No document has been found that indicates the track gauge of the Barranquilla tramway. But it is said that the double-deck trams that ran here in 1890 also carried passengers on the Bolivar Railway in 1893. If the same vehicles ran on both lines it seems likely that Cisneros built the tramway to the same track gauge of the railroad, which was 42 in or 1067 mm. [postcard, col. AM]
(16) An unidentified tram, probably from Jackson & Sharp, traveling west – away from the camera – on Carrera Progreso, in approximately the same spot as the tram in picture (9). The bank had not been built yet. See map and investigation by Ernesto Bischoff to determine the location of the "Callejón del Tranvía". [postcard, col. AM]
(17) The caption on this postcard says Calle Jesús [see map]. [col. AM]
(18) This postcard, in the same series as the one above, is also labeled "Calle Jesús". Another Jackson & Sharp tram and another good display of 42-inch gauge track. Notice the thatched roof on the house in the background. [postcard, col. AM]
(19) A rare photograph – not a postcard – of a Jackson & Sharp 3-bench tram. If only we could see its fleet number! [col. AM]
(20) A passing siding on Carrera Progreso, looking west from Calle Jesús [see map]. The poster says "Teatro Colombia Hoy 10 [AM?] Los Tres Mosqueteros". The postcard was mailed from Barranquilla to Tours, France, on 14 April 1920 – so the film referred to must be the 1916 version of "The Three Musketeers", and not the better-known Douglas Fairbanks version of 1921. The photograph was probably taken in 1916. [col. AM]
(21) One of the three trams shown on this postcard in numbered 6. Location unknown. Note that all the houses have thatched roofs. [col. Alvaro Mendoza]
(22) This extraordinary postcard shows a 3-bench J&S car signed "AMBULANTE", which means mail tram. One of Francisco Cisneros' projects was to deliver the mails by rail. By tracing the former tram routes, Barranquilla architect and historian Pierre Mandonnet Allombert determined that the picture was taken at the corner of Carrera 50B and Calle 43 [see map and his report]. The date of the photograph was between 1914 and 1918, since the poster on the wall on the right announces a presentation, at a local theater, of "La Nueva Última Película de la GUERRA EUROPEA" (The Latest New Film of the EUROPEAN WAR). [col. AM]
(23) This diminutive J&S tram – with a different type roof – appears to be at the terminus of the line. The coachman has led the animals to the other end of the car and is pushing them into place for the return trip. This postcard was mailed from Bogotá, Colombia, to Bourcy, Belgium, in 1912. [col. AM]
(24) Another diminutive J&S 3-bencher. On the back of this postcard someone wrote "Dr. Holmes and H. A. Slonehouse" [sic]. Were the men tourists? Tramway company executives? [col. AM]
(25) A classic Jackson & Sharp 4-bench tram . This image is also shown at the top of this page. [postcard, col. AM]
In 1906 the company's president, Francisco Baena, received permission to electrify the tramway and extend it – 6 km south to Soledad and 36 km southwest to Sabanalarga [see article]. This was the first of several attempts at electrification in the 20th century. Alas, the system was never electrified and the extensions were never made. (Panamá built an electric tramway in 1893. Bogotá electrified its lines in 1910, Medellín in 1921 and Pereira in 1927.)
(26) The Barranquilla mule tramway was municipalized in the 1920s and the inscription on the sides of the cars was changed to "TRANVÍA MUNICIPAL" - not quite legible in this view. This 5-bench tram built by Brill in 1915 is waiting in front of the railroad station. [col. AM]
The new municipal organization inherited a fleet of about 20 tram cars. Many were 30-35 years old and some were no longer in operating condition. The city was growing rapidly and gasoline-powered buses soon ran along the tram routes and into new districts. The diminutive animal-powered trams were obsolete. The tramway ceased operation in 1927. The exact date could not be found.
(27) The Barranquilla Railway & Pier Co. was expropriated by the Colombian government in 1930 and reconstituted as the Ferrocarril de Barranquilla (the name with which it began). The line continued to carry passengers and freight to Puerto Colombia until 1941. The photograph below shows a tram-like gasoline-powered "autoferro" – railcar – that it purchased in the 1930s from Brookville Locomotive Co. in Brookville, Pennsylvania. [col. AM]
(28) The Brookville "autoferro" on the pier at Puerto Colombia in the mid 1930s. Note anchor. [col. Alvaro Mendoza]
The city of Barranquilla established its new mass transit group, Transmetro, in 2000 and inaugurated its first segregated bus line along Calle 45 (Calle Murillo) in 2010. In 2012 the French firm Artelia offered to construct a light rail line along Calle 30, and in 2013 the Canadian company Bombardier submitted plans for a monorail...
West Virginia. Acts of the Legislature, January 13, 1891. Charleston, 1891. Incorporation of the "Barranquilla Tramway Company" by Francisco J. Cisneros and others.
Francisco Javier Vergara y Velasco. Barranquilla-Ceniza y Puerto Colombia. Bogotá, no date [1892?]. Beautiful large map shows the entire Bolivar Railway and its connection with the "tranvía" in Barranquilla.
United States. 59th Congress, 1st Session, December 4, 1905 - June 30, 1906. House Documents, vol. 57, pp. 151-162. A section entitled "Modern Tramway. Franchise for 39 Years" describes the Barranquilla electrification contract of Francisco E. Baena.
Ernest Theveniro, I.C. Plano de Barranquilla, Colombia, S.A., en 1914. Large 1914 street map at scale 1:5,000 shows the tramway system.
Banco Dugand. Plano de Barranquilla, Departamento del Atlántico, Colombia, Sur América. Barranquilla, 1921. Nice colored street map shows the tram system clearly.
Rodrigo Matallana. Guía de la ciudad de Barranquilla. Barranquilla, 1923. "Tranvía" page describes the routes of the two lines and notes the "Ambulance" service.
J. Fred Rippy. "The Development of Public Utilities in Colombia" in Hispanic American Historical Review (Washington), vol. 25 (1945), pp. 131-137. This article is mentioned here only because of its stunning inaccuracy. The text on p. 134 states: "The tramways of Medellín, Cúcuta and Cartagena were electrified shortly after those of Bogotá. In other Colombian towns – Barranquilla, Cali and Pereira – the trolleys did not arrive until the 1920s." Fact: Bogotá, Medellín and Pereira were the only cities in Colombia that had electric tramways.
Hernán Horna. "Francisco Javier Cisneros: A Pioneer in Transportation and Economic Development in Latin America, 1857-1898" in The Americas, vol. 30, no. 1, July 1973, pp. 54-82. One of the best biographies of Cisneros in English. The section on the Barranquilla tramway, p.70, mentions Cisneros' interest in delivering mail by rail.
Hernán Horna. Transport modernization and entrepreneurship in 19th century Colombia: Cisneros & friends. Uppsala (Sweden), 1992. Another good source of Cisneros information, written 19 years after the above. Brief discussion of the Barranquilla tramway, p. 147.
Pilar Lozano. Cuando Barranquilla tuvo tranvía. Colorful tramway history, presented as a school lesson, 2004.
Buses de Colombia. Una Historia Urbana y una Historia de Vida. Bogotá, 2007. Complete transport history of Barranquilla: horseback, tramway and buses.
Juan Santiago Correa R. [Restrepo]. Trenes y puertos en Colombia: el ferrocarril de Bolivar. Trenes y puertos en Colombia: El Ferrocarril de Bolívar. Bogotá, 2012. Link to new book not yet available for viewing.
Juan Santiago Correa R. [Restrepo]. "El Ferrocarril de Bolívar y la consolidación del puerto de Barranquilla" in Revista de Economía Institucional (Bogotá), vol. 14 n. 26, primer semestre/2012, pp. 241-266. Bolivar Railway chartered in London, p. 246.
Moisés Pineda Salazar. El Tranvía a Vapor en Barranquilla. A 15-minute YouTube interview with Sr. Pineda Salazar in which he discusses his research on steam tramway operation in Barranquilla. This politician, mayoral candidate, educator and city planner has pursued extensive investigations into early tramway operation.
Historical Society of Pennsylvania. J. G. Brill Company Photographs. Description of the 13 large order books and approximately 16,000 photographs (with 16,000 negatives) preserved at this museum in Philadelphia.
Delaware Public Archives. Delaware Heritage Collection: photographs of three "street cars" that Jackson & Sharp Co. in Wilmington (Delaware) built for the Tranvía de Barranquilla. Source of the builder's pictures above.
In addition to the aforementioned works, the author wishes to express his sincere gratitude to Barranquilla residents Alvaro Mendoza, Pierre Mandonnet Allombert, Moisés Pineda Salazar and Ernesto Bischoff for their contributions to this page.
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