The International Steam Pages
Brazil's Devil's Railway gets new lease of life
This story about the Madeira-Mamoré Railway by Louise Sherwood appeared on the BBC News website on 27th November 2010 - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11578463. In the interests of the railway enthusiast community at large, I have abstracted it because news media items tend to be ephemeral, associated with the article was a gallery of mainly historical pictures of which I have abstracted one picture of Porto Velho to show recent positive developments.
It was the early 1900s and American Percival Farquhar was a man with a mission, determined to succeed where others before him had failed.
The wealthy entrepreneur from Pennsylvania had been granted the concession by the Brazilian government to build a railway to help transport rubber from Brazil and landlocked Bolivia to the outside world.
It would be the third attempt to lay rail tracks in this part of the Amazon rainforest, where treacherous rapids made sections of the Madeira and
Mamoré Rivers unnavigable. Farquhar, whose businesses went on to include other railways and ports in Brazil, contracted a US company - May, Jekyll and Randolph . Their task was to build the line from the Bolivian border to Porto Velho in Brazil, where goods could be loaded onto boats to reach the River Amazon and out to sea.
For those who worked on it, the railway was, and remains, a key part of Brazil's cultural and industrial heritage that deserves to be restored.
In the 1960s, with the growth of the car industry, Brazil's then military government decided to build a road to replace the railway route. By 1972 the line was closed, apart from an occasional tourist train running along a 7km stretch. Drug addicts moved into the vacant railway buildings, humidity turned the locomotives to rust and jungle reclaimed the tracks. For enthusiasts, the best step would be to see the trains running again on the line. Walking around the old train workshop today, Mr Bispo de Moraes points to what looks like a heap of metal surrounded by rubbish.
UK rail enthusiast Martin Cooper visited the railway in 1998 and was so shocked by its dilapidated condition he set up the Madeira-Mamoré Railway Society (MMRS) in partnership with campaigners in Porto Velho.
Although the society closed in 2009, Mr Cooper says he still gets emails from descendants of the European and North American citizens who built the line seeking to trace their relatives. Recent years have seen some moves towards restoring parts of the railway. In 2005, it was listed by Brazil's National Institute of Artistic and Historical Heritage (IPHAN).
Two years later, with a 12m reais ($7.2m, £4.5m) grant, Porto Velho's tourism board began to restore one of the train sheds. The railway's revival received another boost when the Santo Antonio Energia company began to build a hydroelectric dam close to Porto Velho. As compensation for their project's social and environmental impact, they are spending 27.6m reais ($16.6m; £10.4m) on restoration. This so far includes development of the station building and renovation of another of the train sheds. It is also planned to restore three locomotives and four carriages, as well as developing the site of the old hospital and cemetery in Porto Velho where many of the workers were buried. Mr Bispo is happy to see the station complex being restored.
Yet doubts still remain over whether sections of the track will be reopened and for the ex-train workers that is the most important step.
It is now almost a century since the first locomotives steamed along the tracks. Will the Devil's Railway roll again any time soon?