The Tramways of
Tampico
BY
Allen Morrison
 

Mexico's largest and busiest port is on the Gulf of Mexico 550 km northeast of Mexico City - and about the same distance northwest of Veracruz and south of the U.S. border. Tampico is almost surrounded by water: the Gulf of Mexico on the east, lagoons and marshes on the west, Río Pánuco on the south [see map]. The river separates the states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz. The city's population was 7,000 in 1880, 25,000 in 1915 and is a half million today.

Tampico had at least two horsecar eras. According to the author of Capitalism and Development: Tampico, Mexico, 1876-1924 [see BIBLIOGRAPHY below], a Spaniard named Benito Zorilla opened a tramway in 1879, which went bankrupt and closed in 1889. However, the illustration of Ferro Carril Urbano de Tampico a La Barra car 1 below, from a Brill catalog, was made from a photograph taken on 28 March 1885. If this tram went to Tampico, it seems unlikely that it ran to La Barra, 10 km east of the city [see map]. Throughout the 1880s the Anuario Estadístico reported 1.14 km of narrow gauge tramway track in Tampico [col. Harold E. Cox]:

Capitalism and Development continues: Rafael de Zúñiga acquired permission to rebuild the Zorilla line in 1895, but died. Enrique Bretón Camargo formed the Ferrocarril Urbano de Tampico in 1900 and opened a new system on 1 January 1901. The postcard below shows an FUT car about 1905; the thoroughfare is unidentified [col. AM]:

The Anuario Estadístico recorded 7.7 km of 914 mm (3 ft) gauge horsecar track in Tampico in 1906. Mexican Central Railroad, which reached Tampico in 1890, ran suburban steam trains to La Barra [see map]. In 1907 FUT tried to build an electric line to Miramar, near La Barra, but its efforts were thwarted by the MCR.

Compañía Eléctrica de Luz, Fuerza y Tracción = Tampico Electric Light, Power and Traction Limited was registered in London on 24 May 1912. CELFT purchased Tampico's animal tramway and electricity company and ordered new trams from Wason in Massachusetts on 16 August 1913: nine 4-wheel open cars, four 8-wheel "halfside" cars, four matching trailers and a double-truck box motor. The new vehicles arrived in Tampico in 1914 in the heat of the Mexican Revolution and the date when they started running is unknown. The Unión line seems to have begun operation in June or July 1914 [see map]. The postcard view below, from the 1920s, shows open car 8 headed south on Calle Muelle, called Calle Juárez today. The inscription is "CIA. E. DE L. F. Y T." [col. AM]:

The English company's "halfside" cars ran on its 10 km suburban line to the beach, called "Playa Miramar", which opened in September 1914 [see map]. A "halfside" car is a closed car with large side windows, which provided the ventilation of an open car but the safety of a vestibule. The Tampico model was 12 meters long and had 15 windows [pc, col. AM]:

Here is the only early view that could be found of the high-speed line to Playa Miramar. The overhead wire is not visible but must be there. The postcard was not dated or mailed [col. AM]:

CELFT operated another suburban line along Av. Hombres Ilustres (Av. Hidalgo today) to the colonias - residential areas - northwest of the city [see map]. This may be the same street shown in the earlier horsecar view above [pc, col. AM]:

Tampico thrived after the Revolution. Between 1915 and 1920 the city's population increased 400% to 100,000. CELFT placed two new car orders with J. G. Brill: another freight motor in 1917 and six more halfside cars and 2 trailers in 1921. The latter were 12 meters long and had 15 windows like the earlier model, but had "railroad" roofs [pc, col. AM]:

The postcard view below shows a freight motor pulling a halfside trailer, followed by one of the open cars [col. AM]:

CELFT was reorganized as a Mexican enterprise in 1922: Compañia Eléctrica de Tampico (but Whitehall Electric Investments of England owned 83% of its stock). Tampico was a petroleum center and gasoline was cheap. The urban tramway was single-track with sidings and bus competition increased. Tramway ridership declined from 48,393 passengers in 1923 to 30,062 in 1924, when the McGraw Electric Railway Directory recorded 25 passenger motor cars, 6 passenger trailers, 2 freight motors, 5 platform cars and 31 km of track. CET closed its urban system on 31 March 1927, leaving only the line to the beach, which used double track on private right-of-way [see map]. On 1/1/1929 CET was acquired by the U.S. conglomerate, Electric Bond & Share Co. ("Ebasco"), which sold its tramway division to the employees. The U.S. Government's World Survey of Foreign Railways reported 17 passenger motor cars, 8 passenger trailers, 13 freight trailers and 19 km of track in Tampico in 1937. In later years years the tramway operator was variously called Ferrocarril Eléctrico de Tampico a la Barra or Sociedad Cooperativa de Transportes Eléctricos de Tampico or Transportes Eléctricos Tampico - Miramar, S.C.L. (Sociedad Cooperativa Limitada).

Tramway enthusiasts who visited Tampico after the Second World War found the beach line still in service, operated by a fleet of 8-wheel 15-window trams, all with arch roofs. There was no sign of the urban system or of open trams or 4-wheel trams or trams with railroad roofs. Here is a photograph of trolley 25 on the double-track right-of-way in 1959. The owners no doubt thought the twin headlights made the car look more modern [William C. Janssen]:

Between 1957 and 1972 Transportes Eléctricos de Tampico purchased 40 PCC cars secondhand from tramway companies in the United States and Canada: 10 trams from Kansas City in 1957, 20 from St. Louis in 1961, and 10 from Toronto in 1971 and 1972. The postcard below shows 1799 near its downtown terminus. It was built for the city of St. Louis by St. Louis Car Co. in 1946 [col. AM]:

Here is ex-Kansas City car 505, also built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1946, photographed on the Playa Miramar line [see map] on 3 June 1968 [Raymond DeGroote]:

And, finally, here is ex-St. Louis 1793 photographed on the single-track section near the beach in January 1971 [see map]. The Gulf of Mexico is behind the photographer [Jeffrey Wien]:

TET abandoned the Playa Miramar line on 13 December 1974 and the tramway right-of-way was converted to an automobile road, Av. Alvaro Obregón. Additional photographs of Tampico trams are linked on my webpage about Electric Transport in Latin America.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY (in order of publication)

(Though all the trams that ran in Tampico are believed to have been built in the United States, U.S. transport journals published very little about that city, so most of the information on this webpage came from other sources. In addition to the documents listed below, the author is indebted to Harold E. Cox for the Brill horsecar illustration and other invaluable data on tramcar orders.)

(Publisher unknown) Plano de la Ciudad de Tampico. Tampico, 1921. Street map shows track layout of urban tramway system.

"Resumption of Railway Service in Tampico Not Expected." Electric Railway Journal (New York), 2 July 1927, p. 34. Closure of the local system.

P. Ramírez Castellón. Plano de las Ciudades de Tampico y Madero, Tamps. Tampico, 1943. Large map at scale 1:10,000 shows track detail of beach line.

Laurence R. Veysey and M. D. Isely. "Electric Railways of Mexico" in Timepoints (Los Angeles), July 1953, pp. 1, 4-9. Probably the first tramfan survey of Torreón, Tampico, Mexico City, Veracruz and Celaya. Fascinating text, but no pictures or map.

Richard F. Glaze & Robert J. Barber. "Let's Go to Tampico." Headlights (New York), December 1959, pp. 1-3. Excellent tramway survey. Map and 10 photos.

Burt C. Blanton. 400,000 Miles By Rail. Berkeley, 1972. The author worked on the construction of the Playa Miramar line in 1914. Text and 6 extraordinary photographs from 1914, pp. 40-44.

Martin Jenkins. "The Tramways of Mexico: Tampico." Modern Tramway (London), October 1974, pp. 334-337. Superb survey, with 3 photos and map.

Carlos González Salas. Tampico es lo Azul. Mexico City, 1990. Notes on the 1901 horse tramway, p. 78, and the steam train service to La Barra, pp. 158-159.

Marcial E. Ocasio Meléndez. Capitalism and Development: Tampico, Mexico, 1876-1924. New York, 1998. Valuable information on tramway development, pp. 33, 49, 80-81, 158-159 and 220.

There are more photographs of trams in Tampico linked on my webpage about Electric Transport in Latin America.

 

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