THE TRAMWAYS OF
A QUICK SURVEY OF WHAT'S RUNNING TODAY
It is estimated that during the last 150 years 700 tramways operated in the 30 countries located south of the United States. Mexico City, Havana and Santiago all had street railways by 1858, before most cities in Europe. Rio de Janeiro had Latin America's first electric line in 1892. Mexico City built Latin America's first suburban electric line in 1900. The Calle Isla de Flores tramway in Montevideo, which opened in 1967, was one of the world's first heritage tramway lines.
Twenty lines operate in seven of those countries today [see map]. Horsetrams still carry passengers on the Yucatán peninsula. The Santa Teresa tramway in Rio de Janeiro, inaugurated in 1896, is the oldest electric line in Latin America and one of the oldest anywhere. A suburban line that Mexico City built in 1910 still functions. The rack tramway that Rio de Janeiro electrified in 1910 is now the only electric rack line in the Americas. The heritage tramway in Campinas celebrated its 35th birthday in 2007. The tramways in Chunkanán, Mexico, and Itatinga, Brazil, provide the only transportation between those remote places and the outside world.
Here are brief descriptions, 20 maps and 36 pictures of the surviving lines, arranged (approximately) from north to south. An effort will be made to keep this list up to date.
map]. In 1909 Mexico Tramways Company surveyed a 147 km interurban line from Huipulco east over the mountains into Puebla state, where it had a hydroelectric power plant. The first 7 km of the extension, as far as Xochimilco, was inaugurated by Mexican President Porfirio Días on 12 July 1910. The photograph below, taken in 1953, shows a 3-car train at Tepepan siding, halfway between Huipulco and Xochimilco. Note the body by the fence. Tram 880 was built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1907 [Wm. C. Janssen]:
The Puebla line was extended 11 km from Xochimilco to Tulyehualco in 1912, but the Mexican Revolution intervened and it never went farther. Servicio de Transportes Eléctricos still operates 12 km of the line today, from Tasqueña metro station in Churubusco south to Huipulco and east to Xochimilco. The route is the same as in 1910, but the area has developed exponentially and the single track is now double (and has acquired a better fence). This Google Maps view, taken about 2009, shows a 2-car train on Av. 20 de Noviembre at División del Norte, not far from the Xochimilco terminus (Google blurs automobile license plates). Note the absence of crossing gates:
The 20 vehicles that run on Mexico City's "Tren Ligero" were all built by Concarril S.A. at its plant in Ciudad Sahagún, 50 km northeast of the capital; Concarril was acquired by Bombardier Transportation in 1992. Concarril/Bombardier also built 48 similar units for the Sistema de Tren Eléctrico Urbano in Guadalajara, Mexico's second city, which ran its first "Tren Eléctrico" in September 1989. The photograph below shows a Guadalajara train in April 2010 [Pavel Kurdna, courtesy Jiri Kroupa]:
Guadalajara also used to run tram trains on long suburban lines. The present Guadalajara system is twice as large as the operation in Mexico City: two routes extend 24 km. Line 1 crosses the city from north to south and uses a former trolleybus tunnel in the center [see map]. There are numerous grade crossings protected by gates. East-west line 2 runs completely underground. Concarril/Bombardier also built 62 two-car trains of the same type for Metrorrey, the rapid transit system in Monterrey, Mexico's third city, which inaugurated its first line in April 1991. Another 22 units came from Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) in Spain. The 31 km Monterrey system also has two lines, which are completely grade-separated, above or below ground [see map]. The photograph below was taken in August 1991 [Foster M. Palmer]:
Metrorrey, the Xochimilco line in Mexico City and the Tren Eléctrico in Guadalajara all use standard gauge track and collect power from overhead wire. The Monterrey and Guadalajara systems are completely new lines: they do not duplicate any of the routes of the earlier tramway systems in those cities (which closed, respectively, in 1932 and 1944). On the other hand, all three of the new systems operate the same tram-like vehicles in 2-car trains, as did the earlier tramways, and therefore might be considered "light rail". With total grade separation, air conditioning and massive stations with escalators, the Monterrey system is really a full-fledged metro. For more information on the original, earlier tramway systems in these cities, see my pages on Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey. Also see the official pages on Mexico City's Tren Ligero, Guadalajara's Tren Eléctrico and Metrorrey. The UrbanRail website has links to its pages on the Mexican systems and Wikipedia has a page entitled Xochimilco Light Rail. This two-part film was shot from the rear window of an eastbound Xochimilco car: (1), (2). Here are two very short Guadalajara movies: (1), (2). And 58 seconds of Metrorrey.
The fourth truck service operates on part of a 23 km interurban line built in 1907 between the steam railroad station in Acanceh and Hacienda Chunkanán near Cuzamá, 50 km southeast of Mérida [see map]. After the plantation was destroyed by Hurricane Isidore in 2002, local residents maintained the railway since it passed three cenotes (underground rivers) which they thought had tourist appeal. The railway was the only way to reach them, so the tracks were repaired and a fleet of plantation trucks was restored, roofed and repainted. The Chunkanán tramway began transporting passengers over 9 km of the line, from the hacienda to the cenotes, in 2005 [see map]. The photograph below was taken in 2009 [col. AM]:
Riding the trucks to see, photograph and swim in the Chunkanán cenotes has become a tremendous success, a "must do" for tourists worldwide. The fee to rent a truck, horse and driver for three hours in 2006 was USD $5; it is about $20 today. The three cenotes, named Chelentun, Chansinic'che and Bolonchoojol, are spaced about 3 km apart and the line is single track [see map]. When two trucks meet, the driver of the inbound truck lifts his vehicle off the rails so that the outbound truck can pass. In this view the passengers and horse have stepped to one side [Art Kaligos]:
Hacienda Katanchel near Tixkokob, 24 km east of Mérida [see map], was turned into a luxury hotel in the 1990s and provided a truck ride for guests. But it also was damaged by the 2002 hurricane and its present situation is unknown. With the popularity of the trucks at Chunkanán, Sotuta de Peón and San Pedro Ochil, tramway operation may be restored at other places. Early data for Yucatán railways, including the hacienda lines, can be found in the 1893-1907 editions of the Anuario Estadístico published by Mexico's Secretaría de Fomento, Colonización e Industria. There are also interesting descriptions of Yucatán tramways on pp. 501-507 of A Handbook of Mexico published by Great Britain's Naval Staff, Intelligence Department, in 1919; see excerpt. My 5-part website on The Tramways of Yucatán surveys development in the 20th century. Try "chunkanán truck" or "cuzamá cenotes" or similar word combinations in Google and YouTube. (Note: there is another place named Chunkanán in Campeche state.)
Tram-like diesel vehicles also run on other railroads in Cuba and on secondary rail lines in other countries in Latin America.
Hershey Chocolate Corporation built an elaborate railway network in Cuba in the 1910s to bring sugar cane from the fields and workers from nearby towns to its central (refinery) 50 km east of Havana [see map]. The system was electrified in 1922 and was absorbed by Ferrocarriles de Cuba in 1960. After Cuba's last urban tramway quit in 1954, the Hershey railway became the only electric line on the island. The photograph below shows one of the original cars delivered by J. G. Brill in 1920, reconditioned and labeled "TRANS HERSHEY" for tourist service [col. AM]:
Electric operation continues today from Casa Blanca, across the bay from Havana, to Matanzas, a distance of 90 km, and along several branches [see map]. In 1998 Ferrocarriles de Cuba acquired eight electric cars second-hand from Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, which now provide the bulk of service. The Hershey sugar mill closed in 2002, but the railway struggles on. See my page on The Hershey Cuban Railway. Two 4-minute videos depict journeys on "El Tren de Casa Blanca a Hershey": (1) from Casa Blanca to Hershey, and (2) from Hershey to Casa Blanca.
The photograph above is from the park's delightful website (turn up sound). To see other pictures of the vehicles, click "Mapa del sitio", then "Carros Urbanos" in the right-hand column, then "Galería".
See official webpage of El Tranvía Eléctrico in Barranco. Barranco.net presents two photographs and information. See Part 4 of my pages on The Tramways of Lima. The photographer of this hectic video ran behind the moving vehicle . . .
The line has two trams, both built completely in Iquique. In addition to the horsecar shown in the photo above, there is also a doubledeck tram powered by ten (10) automobile batteries! Here is the "electric" car at the passing point midway on the line [Harold Middleton]:
The battery car continues to operate today; fate of the horsecar is unknown. The website southamericanpostcard.com provides several enlargeable views of Paseo Baquedano, which include photographs of the doubledeck tram. There is a partial view of the latter, with map showing location, on Google's Panoramio. A Tranvía de Iquique video by Diego González Vargas portrays a ride on the doubledecker! Also see my two pages on The Tourist Tramway of Iquique.
Number 110 ran a second time only that day, and did not run again for two years! There were problems with the traffic signals and there were complaints about wires in front of the cathedral. The engineers from Santos returned to Belém in 2007, shortened the route, removed the overhead wires, and equipped the car with a diesel motor. The line received its third formal inauguration on Friday 12 October 2007 [col. AM]:
Belém ex-Campinas 110, now powered by a diesel motor, has been carrying passengers every Sunday and holiday since that time. See Part 2 of my Belém tramway site. Also see videos of the new Belém operation: (1), (2), (3), (4). Other films are linked in YouTube's sidebar on the right.
The new vehicles are air-conditioned and can each hold 330 passengers (seated and standing). They resemble modern tramway equipment currently used in North America and Europe [Marcelo Almirante]:
The success of Metrô do Cariri has inspired similar projects in other cities throughout Brazil. Meter-gauge track is involved in every case and all have ordered equipment from Bom Sinal, which has become a giant enterprise overnight and brought prosperity to Ceará state. Here are three YouTube videos of the Cariri line: (1), (2), (3).
Rio de Janeiro:
Santa Teresa • Corcovado
The granddaddy of them all, the oldest electric railway in Latin America, the 1100 mm gauge Santa Teresa tramway in Rio de Janeiro has become one of the principal tourist attractions in Brazil. The first electric tram crossed the 18th century aqueduct in September 1896 [see map]. The photograph below was taken in March 1978. The system was operated by the Companhia Ferro-Carril Carioca until 1960, is run today by the Companhia Estadual de Engenharia de Transportes e Logística [AM]:
The tramway has a tortured history. Landslides wiped out the Sumaré line in 1912 and a hurricane closed the entire system in 1966 [see map]. Track to Paula Matos and Dois Irmãos was restored, but metro construction in the 1970s shortened the downtown section. Carioca terminal was relocated four times! The Muratori branch and track between Dois Irmãos and Silvestre were rebuilt in the 1990s, but are closed again today. Current operation is from Carioca to Paula Matos and Dois Irmãos. The gasoline-powered Vila Jardim Santa Cecília monorail is between Largo do França and Dois Irmãos.
Note: The Santa Teresa tramway has not operated since an accident on 27 August 2011. Both the vehicles and the line will be rebuilt and service is expected to resume in...
Rio de Janeiro's other surviving "tram" line is the 1000 mm gauge Estrada de Ferro do Corcovado. It began operation with steam power in 1884 and was electrified in 1910. The Swiss-built cars shown below climb 670 m / 2,198 ft to the Christ statue overlooking Guanabara Bay [AM]:
The Internet is full of text, photographs and videos of the Santa Teresa line: try "Santa Teresa tram" or "Santa Teresa bonde" in Google. My 10-part website on The Santa Teresa Tramway includes an historical survey and 37 photographs. The official Trem do Corcovado website has a choice of text in Portuguese, English, French, Chinese or Japanese. YouTube has many amateur videos of the line and a professionally made film (with narration in Portuguese) called Trem do Corcovado.
In 1956 the company acquired three electric trams from the abandoned Guarujá tramway near Santos, to provide local service along the urban section of the line, between São Cristóvão and Emílio Ribas [see map]. This photograph shows one of the German cars, built by Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg in 1924, near Abernéssia [AM]:
In recent years Campos do Jordão has become a popular destination for weekenders from São Paulo and EFCJ rides up the mountain are booked far in advance. My EFCJ website contains history, description, map and 40 photographs. See also the EFCJ webpages of Ralph Giesbrecht and Antonio Gorni, which in turn have links to other pages. YouTube offers numerous short videos, including (1), (2) and (3).
The park was renamed Parque Portugal in 1980, but most residents (and taxi drivers: take note) still call it Parque Taquaral. The line, which is municipally owned and operated, will celebrate its 40th birthday in 2012. It is the oldest heritage tramway in Latin America and one of the oldest in the world. Part 2 of my Campinas site has more information and 14 illustrations. YouTube videos are scarce: (1) shows a tram arriving at a station; (2) shows the entire line from inside a tram, but does not show the vehicle. For discussion and pictures of the Campinas VLT, which ran from 1991 to 1995, see my pages on Light Rail in Brazil.
The city's new Bonde Turístico was a tremendous success, with both residents and visitors. A second motor car, closed tram 40, also from the city's original fleet, was added in 2002 [Antonio Gorni]:
In 2006 Santos imported three Brill-type trams from the system in Porto, Portugal. Their track gauge had to be adjusted from the "standard" 1435 mm used in Porto to the unique 1350 mm gauge used in Santos, and shown below [João Manuel Picado]:
The vehicles shown above are all 2-axle models. In 2009 Santos imported two larger cars from the tramway system in Torino, Italy: 4-axle tram 3265, shown below, and 6-axle articulated tram 2840, which it plans to turn into a restaurant. Note Porto 193 beyond [Rogerio Nascimento]:
Santos has also acquired a 4-axle tram from São Paulo which once ran on Broadway in New York. The tram line was lengthened twice in 2009 and is now 4.9 km long [see map]. Torino car 3265 began carrying passengers in September 2010, when the tramway celebrated its 10th anniversary. Present operation is Tuesday-Saturday 11-5. See the official website of the Bonde Turístico de Santos and the city's official 13-minute film: Parte 1, Parte 2. Also see links to numerous Santos videos by Emílio Pechini. There are many more photographs and videos online.
The Itatinga Hydroelectric Plant is located in a cove at the base of the Serra do Mar, 8 km north of Bertioga, a beach town on the Atlantic Ocean 35 km east of Santos. Electricity from the Itatinga Dam, 900 m above, powers the railroads, derricks and docks of the port. To build the plant in 1906, the Companhia Docas de Santos built an 800 mm gauge railroad and a dock on the Itapanhaú River across from Bertioga [see map]. A few houses, a grocery store, church and cinema sprung up around the usina (plant). But there were no roads or automobiles. CDS constructed two tramcars and electrified the railway in January 1958. Here is car number 1 in Itatinga village [col. AM]:
The two trams still ply the 7-km line today and provide the only transportation between Itatinga and the outside world. Unfortunately, in recent years a small gasoline-powered tractor has been used to pull the cars in normal service. The trams run electrically only when it rains! See A Trip to Itatinga, a 9-minute silent film made in 1980. Here's another film which lasts 10 minutes. This one shows the gasoline operation. Also see the photograph collections of Antonio Gorni and Heinz Bühler.
Local enthusiasts formed the Asociación Amigos del Tranvía in 1976, imported tram 258 from Porto, Portugal, and inaugurated a Tramway Histórico in the Caballito district on 15 November 1980. Another Porto car, number 252, was imported in 1983 – and renumbered 652, and tram 9069 from Brussels, Belgium, arrived in 1988. It wasn't until 1997 that a former Buenos Aires car, number 3361, was added to the fleet. Here they are, in that order, from left to right [Aquilino González Podestá]:
Trams 258 and 652 are similar to Porto car 193 shown in the Santos section above. The Tramway Histórico operates on a 12-block loop of street trackage used by rapid transit trains at the end of subte line "A" [see AAT map; line 'A2' on my map]. The photograph below shows Portuguese tram 258 turning from Av. Rivadavia (foreground) onto Calle Hortiguera [Aquilino González Podestá]:
The most recent addition to the Tramway Histórico fleet – and perhaps the most startling to see – is tranvía subterráneo car 3 built in 1910 in England for "subway-surface" service on subte line "A". It has high-level doors for platform loading in the tunnel, and originally also had low-level doors at each end for loading on Av. Rivadavia, shown here [AM]:
The Tramway Histórico operates every Sunday morning, and every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, year round. In September 2008 the AAT ran car 652 for two days over a short section of long-abandoned tram track in Quilmes, a suburb 15 km south of the city. The car was towed by a gasoline generator, but wire was strung and tram 3361 ran electrically over the same track two months later. The operations were popular with residents and 3361 was taken back to Quilmes and run electrically again in August 2010. There are plans to restore more of the line and make the operation permanent.
Inspired by its success of these AAT enterprises, the rapid transit company constructed a completely new tram line in 1986. Premetro route "E2" is a 7.4 km surface extension of subte line "E", from its terminus at Plaza de los Virreyes to Barrio General Savio [see map]. Revenue service was inaugurated in 1987 with eight rebuilt subte cars, which were replaced the following year by 17 completely new trams built by Materfer, a railway equipment manufacturer in Córdoba. The photo below shows Materfer tram PM8 at General Savio terminus [Ralph Forty]:
That was only the beginning. In 1995, a new company called Sociedad Comercial del Plata built a 15.5 km light rail line along the roadbed of a suburban railway that closed in 1961 ['1' on the map]. Track gauge of the Tren de la Costa, as of the Tramway Histórico and E2 lines, is standard 1435 mm, but its nine articulated units built by CAF in Spain operate left-hand, English style. Number 2 approaches in this view [M. Cáceres Miranda]:
There's more! In 2006 the rail operator Ferrovías built a 16-block "demonstration" tramway called Tranvía del Este along a disused freight line in the Puerto Madero district, just east of the city center ['TE' on the map]. The French manufacturer Alstom sent two of its multi-section trams, on loan, from the tramway system in Mulhouse, France, and the Puerto Madero Tramway began operation on Bastille Day, 14 July 2007. The Mulhouse cars returned to France in 2008 and a similar tram was purchased from Metro de Madrid. But the line ran basically "from nowhere to no place" and did not carry many passengers. Operation ceased on 10 October 2012 and the fates of the tramway and the tramcar are unknown. This picture was taken in 2008 [Bruce Russell]:
Aquilino González Podestá, president of the Asociación Amigos del Tranvía, has posted a detailed Historia del Tranvía en Buenos Aires. The Córdoba tramway amigos present a general history of the Tranvías Argentinos, which considers all cities including Buenos Aires. There are Wikipedia pages and photo surveys of all the lines. A chapter entitled Tren CAF describes the vehicles that Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles built for the Tren de la Costa. CAF has published its own descriptions with choice of text in English, French, Spanish or Basque! There is a forum on the Tranvía del Este (Puerto Madero) and there are YouTube videos of the Tramway Histórico at (1), (2), (3) and (4); Premetro line E2 at (1); Tren de la Costa at (1); and Tranvía del Este at (1) and (2). New videos are added frequently.
See my page on The Very Special Electric Tramway in
Mar del Plata
The original tramway system in this Argentine seaside resort, 400 km south of Buenos Aires, closed in 1954. In 1995 a local radio announcer and a group of tramway enthusiasts laid 1.5 km of track along a coastal highway and imported two 4-axle trams from Lisboa, Portugal: number 342 built by J. G. Brill in 1906 and number 343 built by John Stephenson in 1907. Operation began at Christmas 1997 and the line was extended 4 km to Parque Camet, farther up the coast, in 1999 [see map]. A tram garage and a 3 km circuit were built inside the park, the coastal line closed, and the two cars began running in the park in 2000. Operation has been intermittent since that time, but the line was recently reconstructed and extended. The photograph shows Brill tram 342 in 2000 [Aquilino González Podestá]:
The Parque Camet tramway currently operates 12-7 daily January-February and 12-5 weekends March-December. See more pictures on my Mar del Plata page. A travel agent describes the tramway and its schedule. A 2009 article about the park's Museo de las Comunicaciones erroneously states that the trams are from Porto (they are from Lisboa; it is Buenos Aires that has trams from Porto). Here are some curious architectural drawings. No movies of the Parque Camet tramway could be found.
It is possible that animal-drawn trams carry passengers in remote corners of Latin America that have not yet been discovered. But because they require a power plant and complex technology (often of foreign origin), it is unlikely that there are other electric operations. New tramway systems are planned or are under construction in several places, notably in Argentina and Brazil, which will be added to this list upon completion. If any reader has comments, suggestions or criticism of this page, please e-mail me!
See my index of
ELECTRIC TRANSPORT IN LATIN AMERICA
This page was placed online on
1 November 2010
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