The Elusive Tramway of



Allen Morrison

[ Elusive, because good illustrations and accurate information about it are rare. Corrections and contributions are welcome! Email Allen Morrison! ]

The street railway that began carrying passengers in Pereira in 1927 was one of the last built in the Americas, followed only by lines that opened in Concordia, Argentina, in 1928, and Bom Sucesso, Brazil, in 1930. The Pereira tramway was also the last tramway in Colombia to close, in 1953. Both Bogotá and Medellín had run their last streetcars in 1951.

Pereira is Colombia's sixth largest city and the capital of Risaralda department in its "Eje Cafetero" (Coffee Axis), about 160 km south of Medellín and 180 km west of Bogotá (by air) [see area map]. (Technically, Pereira was in Caldas department during its tram era; Caldas was subdivided in 1966.) Altitude is 1,500 m / 4,900 ft. The city's population was about 50,000 in 1927, is about 700,000 today.

Both Bogotá and Medellín had horsedrawn tramways from the 1880s and  inaugurated electric systems in, respectively, 1910 and 1921. Pereira had electric street lights by 1914, but had never had a street railway. When the steam trains of the Ferrocarril de Caldas reached Pereira in 1921, the city decided it needed better transportation to its railroad station [see city map].

Compañía de Tranvías de Pereira was founded in 1926 – not in Pereira, but by officers of the Tranvía Municipal in Medellín. The latter built a tramway in Pereira modeled on their system in Medellín: single track with passing sidings, 914 mm / 36 in track gauge, similar tram cars. CTP placed its name on its office building on Calle 38 on the far west side of town [see map] [from Video Pereira Antigua - see Bibliography]:

Here [extracted from the same Video Pereira Antigua] is the CTP building. View is northwest. The tram rails on Carrera 7a in the foreground turned north onto Calle 38 and led to the tram garage behind [see map]. [Pereiranos use ordinal numbers for the carreras that run east-west and cardinal numbers for the calles that run north-south: 7a = Séptima.] Trams signed FERIAS came here. The fairgrounds were behind the photographer:

CTP equipped its power plant with turbines and other electrical equipment imported from General Electric Co. in Schenectady, New York [col. José Gentil Florez Posada]:

The records of tram builder J. G. Brill Co. in Philadelphia show order number 22492 of 1 November 1926 from Wesselhoeft & Poor, an export agent in New York, for six bidirectional "Birney" type cars, to be numbered 1-6, for "Pereira Tramways" in Colombia. Each had doors at both ends, 8 windows on each side, and 7 rows of double seats that sat 28 passengers [Cox, The Birney Car, p. 107 – see Bibliography]:

Tranvías de Pereira inaugurated its first line, from FERIAS to Plaza de Mercado, on Monday 22 August 1927 [see map]. The photograph below may have been taken that day [col. AM]:

Some of the streets in Pereira were not yet paved [col. AM]:

Having a modern transportation system brought new life to the city. Tram number 5 has just left Plaza de Bolívar (the trees in the distance) and is traveling east on Carrera 8a [see map] [col. AM]:

Another view of the same location. This tram is going the other way on the same track, toward the tram ahead, which waits at a siding to pass so that it can move forward. The limits on tram service are obvious [col. AM]:

Many photographs of Pereira trams show "FERIAS" in the destination box – short for Plaza de Ferias, the fairgrounds at the west end of town which was next to the tram offices and garage [see map]. This picture shows the narrow 914 mm / 36 in gauge track [col. W. J. Rossman]:

This following description of the tramway routes appeared in the Pereira newspaper El Diario in the mid-1930s. Three of the four services began at FERIAS [see map]. Length of the tramway system at that time was 6.4 km. A photograph that Brill took of a tram that it built for Pereira shows the word "NACEDEROS" in its destination box. Nacederos is a town several kilometers west of Pereira, but no evidence has been found that trams ran there. There were also rumors of a second route via Carrera 4a to RÍO OTÚN. But its existence is also unconfirmed [col. Dianis Duque]:

The date and location of most tram photos is unknown. Judging by the automobile, this one was taken in 1935 or later [col. Wanderley Duck]:

On 4 November 1927, shortly after the inauguration, Tranvías de Pereira ordered three more trams from Brill, to be numbered 7-9. The city  completed its fleet of nine identical "Birney" cars. Here is tram 8, providing curbside service on an unpaved street [col. AM]:

Number 7 of the second group was photographed at the intersection of Carrera 9a and Carrera 10a (the hill in the distance) in LA CUMBRE, the "red light" district down by the river [see map]. The view is westward [Henry Peraza, courtesy Gustavo Arias]:

The lettering next to the front entrance door of Pereira trams advised the passenger to "HAVE YOUR EXACT FARE READY":

An early, but unfortunately fuzzy, view of the intercambiador (passing siding) on Calle 24 on the east side of Parque del Lago [see map]. The photographer was facing north. The tram on the left has come from FERIAS; the one on the right is going there [AM]:

The same passing siding on Parque del Lago seen from the opposite direction some years later. The tram on the left is headed for FERIAS [see map] [col. AM]:

One of the best – and best-known – photographs of trams in Pereira shows the passing siding on Carrera 8a at Plaza de Bolívar [see map]. The view is east. The large art deco building on Calle 19 is still there today (although it now has a sixth floor, added in 1970) [col. AM]:

The Pereira tramway system began to shrink around 1940. With its single-track layout, CTP could not increase service to accommodate a growing population, and the trams were gradually replaced by buses. The World Survey of Foreign Railways [see Bibliography] indicates that the tramway still had its maximum extent of 7 km in 1937. But a chart in the Colombian government's Anuario of 1950 shows 6 km in 1941 and only 4 km in 1942. The first closure was probably the short RÍO OTÚN line [see map]. The 2 km loss in 1942 was perhaps the line to LA CUMBRE, to eliminate the railroad crossing on Carerra 8, the site of several collisions. In their last decade  trams probably operated only from FERIAS to Plaza de Bolívar and FERROCARRIL, the railroad station.

Pereira's last tram ran on Sunday afternoon 4 October 1953. The joyless woman in the undated photo below is wearing a dress from the 1950s, so the photo might show the last day of operation – or, without a destination box, a scene at the carbarn after the system closed. The wife of a CTP executive? "NO CRUCE POR DELANTE" = Do Not Cross In Front (of Tram) [col. José Gentil Florez Posada, courtesy Dianis Duque]:

The last train left the city in 1959. In 2002 the Brazilian bus manufacturer Busscar built its first plant outside Brazil in Pereira, and on 21 August 2006 Pereira inaugurated the first bus rapid transit system, called Megabús, outside Bogotá. The vehicles have doors on the left side and, like the trams of the previous century, run in paths along the side of the road. This one is headed west on Carrera 7a [Gustavo A. Ramires]:

Tranvías didn't really disappear from Pereira. No vehicles were preserved, as far as is known. But tram nostalgia still runs high and recently, 60+ years after the tram system closed, a tavern called EL TRANVIA opened on the northwest corner of Carrera 7a and Calle 25, opposite Parque del Lago [see map]. One wonders if there are pictures inside... [AM]:

 This aerial view of Pereira shows the 440-meter cable-stayed César Gaviria Trujillo Viaduct, which opened in 1997 and is one of the longest on the continent [see map]. The photographer was facing southwest [Rochy López]:

(in order of publication)

United States. Bureau of Foreign & Domestic Commerce. World Survey of Foreign Railways. Washington, 1933-1937. In its sections on Colombia the 1937 report for "Tranvía Municipal de Pereira, Dept. of Caldas", notes 7 km of line, 0.914 m track gauge, weight of rail 45 lbs. per yard, and 9 motor cars.

United States. International Trade Office. Industrial Reference Service. Vol. 4 (1946), Part 1, No. 2 (February). Report on the "Pereira Street Railway (Compañía de Tranvía de Pereira, Department of Caldas)". Length: 6 km. Rails: 45 pounds per yard in 9 and 10 yard segments. Passenger cars: 9. Trolley volts: 600. Power plant: hydro-electric (General Electric), capacity 360 KW (2 units). Passengers carried: 951,245. Approximate capital invested: $500,000. Data from 1929 and 1930, "latest available".

Colombia. Dirección General de Estadística. Anuario General de Estadística - 1950, pp. 128-129. Bogotá, 1951. Inventory of the country's tramways and funiculars – length, vehicles, capacity, employees, earnings, etc. – for the years 1941 through 1950. Tranvía de Pereira's route length dropped from 6 km to 4 km. Number of trams increased from 6 to 8.

Luis Duque Gómez. Historia de Pereira. Pereira, 1963. Interesting basic information about the development of electricity and the tramway in the city, pp. 383-393. No tramway photos or map.

Harold E. Cox. The Birney Car. Forty Fort (Pennsylvania), 1966. Illustrated historical survey of this famous tram model. Details of the Birney fleets in each city, dozens of rare photographs.

Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi. Plano de la ciudad de Pereira, 1974. One of two base maps used for research. The other is dated 1960, but its author/publisher is unknown.

Hugo Angel Jaramillo. Pereira: Proceso Histórico de un Grupo Étnico Colombiano. Pereira, Club Rotario, 1983. The chapter "El Tranvía y los Carnavales" on pp. 839-841 of vol. 2 describes the tramway inauguration during a Carnival celebration. There is an accurate description of the tram routes and one tram photograph.

Luis Carlos González M. Retocando imágenes: 33 crónicas del Pereira antiguo. Gobernación Risaralda, 1984 (1985). The chapter "Tranvía Eléctrico" on pp. 117-120 provides the first good descriptions on paper of the tram routes.

Gustavo Arias de Greiff. La Mula de hierro. Bogotá, 1986. Excellent railroad data, illustrations and maps, especially between pp. 13-26.

Harold E. Cox. Brill Foreign List. Multi-page chart issued 15/4/1988 shows non-U.S. tram orders for the J. G. Brill Co. of Philadelphia. Import agents, quantity, fleet numbers, size, roof, truck type and other details of Pereira orders 22492 of 1/11/1926 and 22642 of 4/11/1927.

Banco de la República (Colombia). Pereira: Imagen y historia. Pereira, 1990. Tram photos, pp. 52 and 61. No mention of trams in text!

Angel Gómez Giraldo. "Sitios prohibidos" in El Diario del Otún, 4/9/2011. Historical survey of the town's illicit night spots, including "El Tranvía" on Plaza del Lago Uribe. Click here.

Pereira en la década de los 40 y 50 (tranvía). A color YouTube video (3:31) posted 26/3/2013. Song "Pereira" on soundtrack. A long segment (unfortunately of poor image quality) shows trams, mostly around the depot at Carerra 7a / Calle 38. Click here.

Camacol Risaralda. Video Pereira Antigua. YouTube video (10:18) posted 23/4/2013. Two silent films, one black/white dated 1936 and one in color dated 1958. The latter includes some of the same tram scenes – but also some different tram scenes – as the video above. Image quality is better in the other film. Click here.

Víctor Zuluaga Gómez. Historia Extensa de Pereira. Pereira, Editorial  Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, 2013. The discussion of the tramway on pp. 350-355 includes a detailed description of the main route, from the tram depot at Calle 40 (actually it was at Calle 38) to the Danzig cabaret at Calle 1. He also describes the frequent accidents at the railroad crossing at Carrera 8a and Calle 11. A 582-page PDF is available here.

A. Cardona López. Tranvía Eléctrico de Pereira. Academia, 2016. A typical internet description. The author states that the system was 6.369 km long, the company had 40 employees, the overhead wires were held by 205 posts, the trams traveled at 20 kph, and between August and December of 1927 made 31,204 trips. But she has the opening date wrong and some of her route itineraries are nonsensical: "De Nacederos que iba de San Jerónimo a la Cumbre" [From Nacederos which went from San Jerónimo to La Cumbre – ?] "De la plaza de mercado a la Carrera 5a" [The trams went to Carrera 8a and beyond.] Etc. See here.

Gustavo Acosta. "Un tranvía para Berlín" in Ciudad Cultural, Pereira, 28/8/2015. This webpage  provides more information about the Pereira tramway than any other on line. There are detailed descriptions of each route, six photographs and a map! See here.

In addition to the publications and webpages noted above, the author wishes to express his special gratitude to the following persons for their assistance in the preparation of this page: W. J. Rossman in New York, Álvaro Mendoza in Ft. Lauderdale, Juan Santiago Correa R. in Bogotá, and Alejandro Patiño and Gustavo Adolfo Acosta Vinasco in Pereira.


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This page was placed online on
27 November 2016

Copyright © 2016-2116 Allen Morrison