The International Steam Pages

Brazil Tourist Trains January 2011

Clifford Schoff reports on his visit to (mainly steam) tourist railways in January 2011.

This trip was mainly in Minas Gerais, but the railway part began just over the border on 7th January in São Paulo State. My friend and I visited the ABPF narrow gauge “shop” in Cruzeiro to see what they were working on. They were rebuilding a General Electric 25 ton diesel-electric locomotive for use on a new train on the metre gauge line from Passo Quatro up the hill to and through the Serra da Mantiqueira summit tunnel. They had just completed a new tender for a 4-6-0 that had been rebuilt earlier (unfortunately I do not have any details on the locomotive).

The GE diesel-electric

The new tender.

The rebuilt 4-6-0.

The current Passo Quatro steam train (which runs in the opposite direction from the planned diesel train) was not operating that weekend due to a minor landslip brought on by weeks of heavy rains. It did operate the next weekend and beyond, however.

The metre gauge Trem das Aguas line from São Lourenço to Soledade de Minas had water nearly up to the track in places, but was operating normally. The railway was using recently rebuilt Baldwin (59712, 1927) 2-8-2 No. 1424, originally from the Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil. The trains normally run Saturdays (10:00, 14:30) and Sundays (10:00). During Brazilian summer vacation time (January-March), trains may also run on Sunday afternoons and weekdays (usually 14:30). Call (35) 3332-3011 to find out the train schedules. For accommodations, I highly recommend the newly remodeled Pousada Santo Antonio, Praça Dr. Ismael de Souza 26, next to the train station. Its only drawback is that it is away from the center of São Lourenço and good restaurants such as Churrascaria Sabor Gaucho (lunch only), Rua Dr. Olavo Gomes Pinto, 64 and several restaurants on the pedestrian street, Rua Wenceslau Braz. We rode the morning train on Saturday, January 8th and I photographed the afternoon train on that day and the next.

Trem das Aguas afternoon train, 8th January 2011 with Baldwin 2-8-2 No. 1424.

Our next stop was São João del Rei and its famous 2 ft. 6 in. gauge railway. There is a controversy regarding the railway, which is operated by Ferrovia Centro Atlantico, a subsidiary of Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. Local railway and history/heritage enthusiasts complain that FCA has not been taking good care of the property and equipment and has not allowed anyone else to help or even to observe the condition of buildings and equipment. The volunteer group that used to help with painting and other work on locomotives and cars was kicked out about ten years ago. Unlike past visits, we were refused access to the yard, roundhouse, loco shed, etc. with the excuse that they were “under maintenance.” We were not allowed to visit the museum that day, but it was open the next day. Other than a new floor at one end and the shifting around of locomotive No. 1 and a carriage, the museum has not changed since 1999 and has become dusty and dingy. There is a hole in the roof and rain water was running down the wall. The museum certainly is not being maintained properly.

The train still runs FSaSuHol in the morning (10:00) and afternoon (14:15 or 15:00, varying with the day?). On Thursday, we observed and photographed shunting of carriages by 2-8-0 No. 68 (Baldwin 52256, 1919). Most of the carriages were in good condition, but two of them had splits in their fabric roofs, showing bare wood and allowing the rain to come in. This was my fifth visit to the railway over a 12 year period and I had never seen damaged carriages in use before. We rode a fully loaded morning train to Tiridentes and back on Friday, January 14 behind clean and polished 4-6-0 No. 41 (Baldwin 38011, 1912). As we passed through the yard, we noticed that grounds were not nearly as well-kept as before and that the freight wagons were continuing to deteriorate.

The metre gauge Trem da Vale runs from Ouro Preto to Mariana and back FSaSu, leaving Ouro Preto at 10:00 and returning from Mariana at 14:00. The line is very scenic with excellent views of a waterfall as well as Mariana and its river valley. There is an interesting model railroad in the Ouro Preto station and both stations have educational programs, including videos and displays. Mariana has a number of interesting churches and several good restaurants. Unfortunately, for railway enthusiasts, the steam locomotive (Skoda 1949 2-10-0 No. 201) is not in use and probably will out of use indefinitely. I previously had heard all sorts of excuses for its not operating, but the most likely one is tire wear due to the sharp curves and braking. Brazilian railway men and enthusiasts were surprised that one of several available 2-8-2s had not been chosen rather than the large 2-10-0. The train is pulled by an FCA diesel, which does not seem to bother the clientele at all. The train was completely full. Another possible reason for using the diesel may be that the steam locomotive smoke in the four tunnels may not have been popular with customers, especially on the steep climb out of Mariana. I was impressed with the whole operation. It is a well run tourist railway.

Rob Dickinson