The International Steam Pages

Steam on the São João del Rei Preserved Railway, 2001

Clifford Schoff was here 9-11 November 2001. The pictures are on a separate page.

I made a return visit to the 2 ft 6 in (30 in) gauge São João Del Rei - Tiradentes railway (originally the EFOM, Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas) in Minas Gerais in central Brazil over the weekend of 9-11 November, 2001. Not a lot had changed since my first trip there two years ago and many of the changes seemed to be for the better. The management of the owners, Ferrovia Centro-Atlantico S.A., has taken a considerable interest in the line. The new general manager likes the steam train (the Maria Fumaça) and is supporting it. There is much more publicity than before. There were posters advertising the railway all over São João Del Rei and in neighboring towns. I even saw an advertisement for a bus trip to the railway when I was in Sabará, 220 km away! The train crew wears uniform shirts with the FCA logo and people have been hired to repair and restore coaches. The coaches used on the train had recently been repainted and were in good condition with fresh paint and either new or refurbished roof canvases. More coaches were under repair. Both locomotives in steam had been repainted since 1999. The small local support group of enthusiast volunteers has grown to ten people.

The biggest surprise was that the museum was closed. The large room that contained it had been cleared out with exhibits removed or having been pushed to one end. The floor was partly torn up and it appeared that construction of some sort was beginning. Locomotive No. 1 (4-4-0, Baldwin 5005, 1880) was nowhere to be seen. It was not clear as to what was happening with the museum and I did not get a chance to ask my friend in SJDR about it. I will be checking on this. The scene at the station was different with 2-8-0 No. 60 (Baldwin 13832, 1893) replacing the train composed of 4-4-0 No. 21 (Baldwin 38008, 1912), the breakdown crane and two passenger coaches as a static exhibit. Number 21 and its train now are in a fenced shed behind the roundhouse. Locomotives Nos. 22 (4-4-0, Baldwin 38009, 1912) and 42 (4-6-0, Baldwin 38050, 1912) were under repair in the roofed but open repair shed. The roundhouse is now kept locked, but will be opened up on request to the superintendent (ask at the ticket office). There were no restrictions on photography at the station or in the yard.

The morning trains have the same schedule as before (all trains FSaSuHol only), leaving SJDR at 10 AM with the return trip leaving from Tiradentes at 1 PM. The afternoon train now leaves SJDR a little later (3 PM), but returns from Tiradentes at the regular time, 5 PM. The 13 km trip takes about 40 minutes. The three days that I was there saw 4-6-0 No. 41 (Baldwin 38011, 1912) as the train engine with repainted and redecorated 2-8-0 No. 68 (Baldwin 52256, 1919) as the in-steam standby locomotive. No. 68 had changed so much since 1999 that I did not recognize it at first! Besides having been repainted recently, the brass was polished, the smokebox was black instead of white, many decorations were different, the cab side carried the letters RMV instead of RFFSA SR2, and the locomotive appears to have been named (or has taken the name from 4-4-0 No. 1). There was a metal plate with the name São João Del Rey above the letters RMV. The train had nine cars on Friday and Sunday, eleven cars on Saturday, all full. I took pictures at stations and of departures and arrivals along with some chasing the first two days, then rode the train on Sunday afternoon, 11 November. It was packed! The passengers included 100 student trainee tour guides from a school for guides in Rio. One of the student guides told us that weekend tours in Minas Gerais, both for foreigners and Brazilians, always included a ride on the narrow gauge. Certainly, there were many coach loads of riders on the three days that I was there.

I left São João Del Rei on Monday morning and noticed that No. 41 was quite active shunting passenger cars and puttering around the yard. The Thursday of that week (November 15) was a holiday, so the train would run four days instead of three.

Rob Dickinson