The International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
Over the Hills and Far Away...
The Tamega Line, Portugal, June 1980

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

From the perspective of finding working steam the metre gauge Corgo, Tua and Sabor lines in Northern Portugal had been disappointing. From the perspective of enjoying the ambiance of narrow gauge railways, great scenery, friendly people and good food though it had been a fantastic week and I was loathe to move on. It hadn't originally been my intention to visit the Tamega line but with time to spare decided 'if not why not'. I would then be able to say I had visited all four metre gauge lines that started their journey over the hills and far away from junctions with the broad gauge Douro River line.

Mid morning at the junction station of Livracao revealed E162 in light steam alongside what appeared to be wood used for lighting up. Having seen minimal steam action so far I wasn't expecting any here so made no enquiries as to what was going on. The interchange platform between the two gauges can be seen in the background.

In 1948 Nohab of Sweden built three railcars for use on the Tamega line. With seating for both first and second class this neat looking little machine would shortly take me twelve kilometres up the line to Amarante, the largest town in the area, where I hoped I would be able to find a suitable hotel.

Amarante station was some distance from the centre of town and it soon became obvious, on the walk into town, that something was happening. I thought possibly market day but with stalls, banners, bands and people everywhere soon decided there was some sort of festival happening. Internet research, as I wrote this, revealed: 'Taking place on the first Saturday and Sunday in June, the annual Festa de São Gonçalo is among the most colourful fairs in Portugal. Traditionally, it is the time for unmarried people to exchange phallus-shaped cakes as tokens of their love.' I must have enjoyed the fiesta as my notes remind me it was still all happening at 11pm that night and that there were fireworks at 1.00am before things finally quietened down around 3.00. I was awakened the next morning at 9.00am as it all began to happen again.

My plan for the day was to catch a railcar to the far terminus at Arco de Baulhe forty kilometres away. As I waited at the station it was obvious today was going to be a big day though. The streets were even more crowded than yesterday and more and more people seemed to be arriving on buses and extra service railcars. I even started to wonder if there was a possibility, that with traffic being so heavy, E162 might be pressed into service to run a train.

And then it actually railcar service arrived but it wasn't a railcar! E162 was heading a consist of three carriages and van absolutely chocka with passengers. At last I had a real steam train in Portugal to photograph and ride on!

Most people got off at Amarante although a few joined for the onward journey. I travelled on the open platform between the carriages enjoying the atmosphere of a real steam train. Rural Portugal has some delightful scenery as can be seen in this picture of the loco watering at Chapa.

All too soon the train arrived at Arco de Baulhe where the driver disappeared leaving the fireman to add a couple of freight wagons to the rear of the train then turn and service the engine.

Waiting departure from Arco de Baulhe..........

The driver reappeared just before departure, saw the increased size of his train, and an argument ensued with the station master. The extra wagons stayed though and so began a long slow trip with numerous station stops and slow progress up and over the hills. I travelled on the front platform of the first carriage, right behind the loco, and 'helped drive' all the way. Watching the Mallets two sets of motion at work was fascinating but even more so was when rounding a curve. The leading pony truck would enter the curve and for a split second the smokebox (and rest of the loco) would carry on straight ahead before swinging round to follow.....incredible to watch. The little engine took two and a half hours to cover the forty kilometres back to Amarante and by the time we arrived it was standing room only as people headed for the fiesta. The carriages, the guards van and the two freight wagons the driver had wanted to leave behind were all full of passengers.

The train emptied out at Amarante, a few boarded and then 162 continued the journey back to Livracao.

Always hopeful I waited for the next train to arrive on the chance that 162 would be sent out again. It was not to be and the next train up the line was a railcar hauling a carriage.

Lady Luck had definitely on my side when I made that spur of the moment decision to head for Amarante. I'd enjoyed the fiesta plus seen my first working was a superb finish to my time in Portugal. Lady Luck has not been kind to the Tamega Line though with the section from Amarante to Arco de Baulhe closing in 1990. The remainder, south of Amarante, was closed for urgent repair work in 2009 and never reopened.

E162 was one of a class of four 0-4-4-0T built by Henschel & Sohn in 1905 with a further six being built in 1908. From what I can work out, from various sources, 162 seems to have been in use until the mid 1980s and today can still be found in storage at Livracao. 

Rob Dickinson