The International Steam Pages

The Piacaguera - Paranapiacaba Incline at Work

James Waite was here in 1977, and has sent a report of the railway and his visit. As it happens, long ago Peter Mosse sent me some slides of his own visit in 1980, they show the railway from the lineside and perfectly complement James' efforts.

Today the ABPF, the Brazilian enthusiasts society, runs a museum at Paranapiacaba - see (Portuguese)

For a fuller history of the São Paulo Railway - see (Portuguese)

The railway between São Paulo and Santos, its port, opened in 1867 and was built to 1600mm (5' 3") gauge. The escarpment between Piacaguera and Paranapiacaba presented by far the largest engineering challenge in the construction of the line. The original route up the escarpment quickly proved to be inadequate and was replaced in 1896 by a cable-worked incline in five separate stages. Each stage had its own stationary winding engine and trains had a small tram-type 0-4-0 tank loco attached at their lower end to move the train the short distance between each stage. The track used a common centre rail, opening out into a passing loop halfway up each stage. The depot for the steam locos was at Paranapiacaba.

Each loco had a cabin at the downhill end in which visitors and workers travelled. Riding this extraordinary railway has to be one of the world's great gricing experiences for everyone fortunate enough to have been there. The ride took in numerous tunnels and viaducts, often close together. There was a stark contrast between the heat from the tropical sun and the cool inside the tunnels - punctuated by the acrid smoke from the loco and all the time the ringing sound from the cable. This ride was in a class of its own!

We'd arranged the visit in advance and were welcomed with true Brazilian hospitality, starting with a guided tour of the topmost winding station and with its beautifully maintained stationary engine followed by a depot visit and tea and refreshments with the director and his family before setting out on the ride. 

One of the meteorological quirks of the district is that even on a day which starts off sunny a fog very often develops over the coastal plain during the morning and by midday it's rolled up the escarpment and on over São Paulo. Photography in anything resembling sunshine after the early morning was therefore tricky. We started our ride at Paranapiacaba, at the top, in glorious sunshine but by the time we'd reached Piacaguera at the bottom the fog was building up fast. It turned out that our train back up the incline was the last that would be run before the system closed for an extended lunch break and so we didn't manage much linesiding. Still, you can't have everything!

A new electrified Abt rack railway opened in 1974 to supplement the cable inclines, following the original 1867 route. The original idea was that the two systems would operate in parallel to cater for the growing traffic on the line. However, the cable inclines closed in 1982 after fire had destroyed some of the installations at the summit the previous year.

These are James Waite's pictures:

17 getting ready at Paranapiacaba engine shed and starting the descent:

One of the passing loops and waiting to start the climb at Piacaguera

A pw trolley on the incline near Paranapiacaba during the lunch break. Public passenger trains used the new incline by 1977 but here is an old wooden coach used for staff transport getting ready in Paranapiacaba yard for a trip down the cable inclines.

Two foggy scenes at Paranapiacaba station. This was a magnificent wood and cast iron structure. Sadly it was destroyed in the 1981 fire.

These are Peter Mosse's pictures, note the trains crossing in the third picture, the new rack line is further down the hillside:

Rob Dickinson