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RAILWAYS OF BRAZILS
In Postcards and Souvenir Albuns



Hardback, 9x13 inches (closed). 248 pages,
4 coulours, printed on couché 170g, 555 images Price: R$ 148,00
English and portuguese

 



THE RHYTHMIC CADENCE OF THE TRAINS

Like our previous work Greetings from Brazil, this book takes readers on a trip through time and space to places shown in postcards and souvenir albums (the vast majority of which were issued during the first three decades of the 20th century). During this period, railways were the only efficient means of transportation for passengers and freight. Gradually, the lines were extended – linking together to form an enormous network that advanced into the unpopulated and unexplored regions of Brazil. Railways frequently opened up the wilderness, and settlers followed – establishing farms and cities along the tracks. Many of these settlements began as simple train stops.

A locomotive’s whistle was (and still is) a sure sign of progress. Many cities grew up around train stations, and these stations – along with old locomotives and cars, viaducts and tunnels – are an important part of our cultural heritage, and a source of future wealth due to their tourist potential. They should be preserved in their totality, and transformed into museums, cultural centers, and places to visit. This is a vision that looks to the future, not the past.

An entire era in which railways were an indispensable part of the lives of generations of Brazilians has already passed. In 1958 Brazil had 38,967 kilometers of railway lines. Today the number has decreased to 29,798 km. There was a time when it was common to talk about the short- and long-distance trains, mixed-passenger and freight trains, express trains, fast trains, night trains, luxury trains, special trains (such as those used for excursions and religious pilgrimages), first- and second-class cars, salon cars, sleeper cars, and the luxurious dining cars.

Beginning in the 1950s, as competition from highway transport increased, railways began to run deficits. In 1957 this led to the unification of 22 nationalized railways into the Rede Ferroviária Federal S.A (RFFSA). This federal railway network comprised almost all Brazilian railways, except for those in São Paulo state and the Estrada de Ferro Vitória a Minas, which was operated the state-owned Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (now a vital and prosperous private company). By unifying the railways, it was hoped that costs could be reduced and productivity increased. In 1971 the government of São Paulo state, which owned five railways, attempted to do the same by uniting the Sorocabana, Mogiana, Paulista, Araraquarense, and São Paulo – Minas railways into the Ferrovias Paulistas S.A. (FEPASA).

Starting in 1996, several private companies acquired the concessions for these old railways. They changed their names and linked many of them together, creating new networks. Thus, there are currently the following concessionaires: Estrada de Ferro Vitória a Minas (EFVM), Estrada de Ferro Carajás (EFC), and Ferrovia Centro-Atlântica (FCA) – all operated by the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce; Brasil Ferrovias – made up of Ferroban, Novoeste, and Ferronorte; Companhia Ferroviária do Nordeste (CFN); Estrada de Ferro do Amapá; Estrada de Ferro Norte Sul; América Latina Logística (ALL); Ferrovia Tereza Cristina (FTC); MRS Logística S.A., and Ferrovia Paraná S.A. (FERROPAR).

Pictures of Brazilian railways from the early 21st century have the same charm as those shown in this book: in all of them we can travel in our imagination, lulled by the rhythmic cadence of the trains moving along the rails.

To those who ask us to explain our passion for trains, we have this to say: a train trip is never monotonous. It is a journey from another time. It brings the soul back to the body. It can be reinvigorating. Seeing so much landscape causes us to meditate. It is a delight to fall asleep in the reclining seats.

The authors:
João Emilio Gerodetti and Carlos Cornejo

RAILWAYS OF BRAZIL

Some time ago I read a story published by the American press about a railway fanatic who had been convicted of stealing a train. He simply climbed into a stopped locomotive and, since the engineer wasn’t there, took it out for a spin. He was caught, and as this wasn’t the first time he had done this, he was arrested and "deported" to a part of the United States that didn’t have trains. A friend of mine read the story and suggested the man should have been deported to Brazil, seeing as there aren’t any railways left here. A joke? The truth? Or an exaggeration?

Railways emerged in Brazil to fill a transportation gap. The trains – originally pulled by steam engines – were noisy and dangerous, but worth the trouble. They brought jobs and progress to the cities through which they passed. They opened up the world to the previously isolated inhabitants of towns lost in the interior of Brazil. At the time, these towns were highly dependent on sea and river transport, stagecoaches, and mule trains – all of which were extremely slow. Once the first railway was built in the area that is now the Magé municipality, in Rio de Janeiro state, people slowly gained the ability to travel in relative comfort to the rest of Brazil. By the beginning of the First World War, a good part of Brazil could be reached by train. Initially, the railways were private enterprises, though many of them were nationalized by the end of the 19th century, only to be reprivatized at the beginning of the 20th century (one of the few exceptions was the Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil). For a variety of reasons, some of the privatized railways were unsuccessful and the government again took them over. The remaining railway owners, the majority of whom were English, slowly began to lose interest in their investments and by the beginning of the 1960s the Brazilian government retook control of all railways through the Rede Ferroviária Federal, Ferrovias Paulistas S.A. (FEPASA), and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce. In the postwar period, the government had the money to take them over – and since the existence of railways was fundamental, it had no choice but to do so. This was the case even though the rapid progress of roads made the future of the railways uncertain. Trains had a near-monopoly until the stock market crash (and in Brazil, the coffee crash) of 1929, when they began to notice competition from trucks, although the highways were still precarious. Even so, the railways continued to act as though their monopoly would last forever. In the end, trucks steamrolled the locomotives, ending the supremacy they had enjoyed for years and leaving them with an insignificant 15% share of the Brazilian transportation market.

As the importance of the railways diminished, the government took over one line after another. By the 1960s, nearly all railways were government owned. Although their budgets were cut year after year, the railways remained active – carrying minerals, fuel, and grain. The losses accumulated, but the trains wouldn’t stop running. Was this because the locomotives were machines that impressed everyone who saw them? Or was it because they were really necessary? The answer: they were necessary. Even today, with highways in much better condition than they were 60 years ago, railways are very useful and are more economical than highways over a long distance. In fact, the longer the distance, the more obvious the railways’ advantage becomes.

At the end of the 20th century, the Brazilian government finally began giving railway concessions to private companies. However, the situation today is much different than it was a hundred years ago. Nowadays, railways are competing for customers in a market in which highways predominate. Unfortunately, the passenger trains have gone (they were always the weak link of the business financially). Suburban trains have survived in large cities and are now called "metropolitan trains" or "metros." There are still a few short passenger lines, which sometimes share rails with freight trains. These lines are run by organizations that attempt to turn back time with tourist trains that operate on holidays, weekends, and special occasions. And, as an exception to the rule, there is the marvelous Estrada de Ferro Vitória a Minas train – all that is left of a time when passenger trains made daily runs on a fixed schedule, and tickets were sold at every station. A miracle? No, perhaps it’s just competence.

A legion of railway fans also remains. Trains cannot be what they once were – after all, what doesn’t change on a planet whose technology advances at an exponential rate? – but nonetheless, once you are bitten by the train bug, you have a disease that has no cure. I’m one of those people. There are certainly different degrees of enthusiasm for railways, including fanaticism; but the simple sight of rails, whether new or rusty, cleared or covered with weeds, excites me. The history of railways, the excitement of seeing a locomotive blow its whistle, of hearing the story of a simple train trip, whether in the olden days, when they were a matter of routine, or now that they are relics and riding them has become something of an adventure – all of these things fill my heart. In the end, it seems that even those who don’t know anything about trains get misty-eyed when they talk about train trips they’ve taken.

Railways wrote part of our history and that of several generations. The pleasure of having someone waiting for you when you step down from a train car (whether it’s a beautiful wooden one, or a less beautiful, more comfortable steel one), of getting on a train that is going to the countryside, of the change of scenery as the train leaves the city and goes into the countryside, of the rocking of the train on the track – goodness, who doesn’t just love that rhythmic clickety-clack, clickety-clack? And the sunrise and sunset viewed from the window of a Budd or Pullman car, or even of a miserable little second-class car that’s falling to pieces? And conversations with the ticket taker, the conductor, and the engineer? In 1998, just before FEPASA was shut down, the train that took me from Apiaí to Sorocaba stopped in stations where it didn’t normally stop just so that I could get off and photograph them. The people crowding these stations were not there to get on the train, nor were they waiting for someone. They had come for the simple pleasure of seeing the train arrive and depart. Reading the saga of each railway, analyzing a picture of a train stopped at a station… Which station is it? It’s the Companhia Paulista’s Espraiado station, in the city of Brotas, São Paulo state. After all, it’s still there, in the same place, easy to find. When was the picture taken? How can we find out? It is a narrow gauge line with no overhead wires. The station was inaugurated in 1929. This is all confirmed in the photograph or in the archives. Narrow gauge rails were converted to broad gauge rails and electrified in 1941. And that locomotive in the background is a "Jibóia" ["Boa Constrictor"], as the German-made Henschels of the Companhia Paulista were popularly called. Those who know say that this type of locomotive began to operate on the railway in 1935. Thus, the photograph can be dated between 1935 and 1940. The answer came from two people, not just one. This type of work, for those who like the subject, is marvelous. Sometimes the answer arrives by accident – someone knows exactly where the photo was taken and can even give us an idea of the date based on the train and people in it.

Unfortunately, a good part of our railway patrimony has been abandoned because of drastic cuts in the railway workforce, which enjoyed much greater numbers one hundred years ago than it does today. Railway towns are a thing of the past. Stations sometimes existed merely for engines to "drink" water or for trains to pass each other, and many disappeared when technological advances eliminated these needs. They were, however, beautiful buildings: sometimes sumptuous and sometimes of a simple and pleasing beauty. A station can be recognized from far away, even without the rails, in the middle of forest. There are the eternal symbols of the old railways carved in the stations’ bricks – the blackboards noting arrival and departure times, the old station names that can still be seen underneath the new ones – all of this has become legendary. In São Paulo, especially, the names of railways that disappeared more than 30 years ago still remain in people’s memories or in the names of regions – Paulista, Mogiana, and Sorocabana. Even Ituana, which disappeared more than a hundred years ago! In southern Brazil, the "Rede" ["Network," in reference to the Rede de Viação Paraná – Santa Catarina] is still talked about. In Bahia, it’s the "Leste" ["East," in reference to the Viação Férrea Federal Leste Brasileiro]. And what about the Central do Brasil, the Noroeste, and the Leopoldina railways? Why have these names remained alive in people’s memory for so long, and for so many generations – even in the memories of people who have never seen them running?

Because all of this marked the time when people traveled not just to get to a destination, but also for the pleasure of traveling. It is true that the trip was not fast. Many trips, when you look them up in the Levi guides – does anyone remember those? – required a hard-to-believe amount of time for what takes just a few minutes or hours on a road today. However, there was pleasure in it – in the rocking on the rails and in the landscape passing by the window, admired in every detail. The trip itself was part of the journey – going there, being there, and coming back. Today, it is only being there that counts, and sometimes not even that.

Stories and nostalgia aside, the railways are still here, and rising to the challenge: growth without monopoly and a steady increase in the transportation of minerals, fuel, and grains – among other goods. After years of little or no maintenance, the lines are slowly being improved. We don’t live in a railway paradise, but railway fans are still there, photographing switchyards and trains in motion and commemorating the arrival of each new type of locomotive put into service (these are usually imported). There is still much to be done and the opportunities for growth are immense. Ten years ago, there was little to read about the railways. Now they are often in the news. Railways are coming back because Brazil needs them a good deal more than we imagine.

Ralph Mennucci Giesbrecht

 

 

 

 

Desenvolvido por:
MR Informática 2002