Rail transport in Brazil

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Map of Brazilian rail network Railway network Brazil.svg
Map of Brazilian rail network
Train of CPTM in Greater Sao Paulo. CPTM novo trem.jpg
Train of CPTM in Greater São Paulo.

Rail transport in Brazil began in the 19th century and there were many different railway companies. The railways were nationalised under RFFSA (Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima) in 1957. Between 1999 and 2007, RFFSA was broken up and services are now operated by a variety of private and public operators, including América Latina Logística, Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos and SuperVia.


Track gauge

The rail system in Brazil operates on three rail gauges:

A 12 km section of the former 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas is retained as a heritage railway.

Regional rail system in Sao Paulo. Trem Linha Coral CPTM.jpg
Regional rail system in São Paulo.

Metros operating, and under construction:


Santa Teresa Tram in Rio de Janeiro. Bondest1.jpg
Santa Teresa Tram in Rio de Janeiro.
Interurban tramway in Campos do Jordao. Estrada de Ferro Campos do Jordao, em Santo Antonio do Pinhal.JPG
Interurban tramway in Campos do Jordão.

Steam-powered, horse-drawn and electric tramways operated in Brazil from 1859 until 1989, new systems were introduced in the 1980s and 90s in Rio de Janeiro and Campinas with no success, [1] nevertheless, that may change soon as studies are being conducted to introduce tramway systems in Goiânia, [2] and Curitiba now plans a light metro to replace bus rapid transit (BRT) in a major corridor, [3] and in Cariri, the Cariri MetroTram that will run between Crato and Juazeiro do Norte is under construction. [4]


Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world and had a hundred tram systems, almost as many as all the other Latin American countries combined. It had one of the world's first tramways: an 1859 system in Rio de Janeiro predates street railway experiments in all European countries except France. Trams still operate in Rio today, over 150 years later. Brazil has one of the first steam-powered street railways and had the world's first steam locomotive designed specifically to work on the street. It had one of the world's first electric trams, Rio de Janeiro had electric streetcars before London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon and any other city in Latin America. Niterói, Brazil, may have been the first place where the trams were successfully fed by storage batteries. Brazil had the largest collection of American streetcars built outside the United States, and had the world's largest foreign-owned street railway empire.

Five trams were still operating in 1989, the Santa Teresa and Corcovado lines in Rio de Janeiro; the Campos do Jordão line near São Paulo; the Itatinga line near Bertioga; and the tourist tram in Campinas. A sixth line, the Tirirical tram near São Luís, ceased operation in 1983 but may be reactivated. [5]

Currently, there are vintage tramways operating in:

From the 1930s to the 1970s, the railways were the main way to transport agricultural product from the rural farms to the ports. However, the different gauges, owners and severed connections between multiple networks lead to the abandonment of much of the rail network, being replaced with highways.


The first incentive to start building a rail network in Brazil occurred in 1828, when the then imperial government incentivized the building of all transport roads. The first significant try to build a railway was the founding on an Anglo-Brazilian company in Rio de Janeiro in 1832, which planned to connect the city of Porto Feliz to the port of Santos. The government, however, did not support the project and so it didn't progress any further. [12]

Three years later, in 1835, the regent Diogo Antônio Feijó passed the Imperial Law n.º 101, which conceded privileges for 40 years to whoever built railways connecting Rio de Janeiro to the capitals of Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, and Bahia. Even with the incentives in place, no investor risked starting the project, as there wasn't any guarantee that this railway would be profitable. Some groups did study the possibility of building this railway and its profitability, including another group of English and Brazilian investors, but none of them actually started building the infrastructure. [12]

On 26 July 1852, Law 641, which gave advantages like a 90-year guarantee of a 33 km exclusion zone, the right to desapropriate any land that was "in the way", and a tax break for the import of railway material. However, it also came with an 8% limit to all dividends. With a revision of interest rate from 5% to 12%, the interest in building railways in Brazil spiked across the world, mainly in England, which was the main force behind the early construction efforts. [12]

First railways

Placing of the fundamental stone of the Estrada de Ferro Maua, on 30 April 1854. The event had the presence of many Brazilian authorities, including Dom Pedro II. Pedra E.F. Maua.jpg
Placing of the fundamental stone of the Estrada de Ferro Mauá, on 30 April 1854. The event had the presence of many Brazilian authorities, including Dom Pedro II.
The first Brazilian locomotive, Baroneza, today being exhibited in the Museu do Trem in Rio de Janeiro. Baroneza.JPG
The first Brazilian locomotive, Baroneza, today being exhibited in the Museu do Trem in Rio de Janeiro.
The first loco of the Recife and Sao Francisco Railway Company, the second oldest Brazilian railway. Recife and Sao Francisco Railway Company Loc. no1.jpg
The first loco of the Recife and São Francisco Railway Company, the second oldest Brazilian railway.

Some time before the enacting of Law 641, the banker Irineu Evangelista de Souza requested permission to build a railway connecting the Port of Mauá, in the Bay of Guanabara, to Raiz da Serra. This railway became effectively the first-ever Brazilian railway, being inaugurated on 30 April 1854, with only 14.5 km of track and 1,676m (5' 6") gauge. Irineu's company, Imperial Companhia de Navegação a Vapor - Estrada de Ferro Petrópolis, realized the first port-railway operation in Brazil, transporting cargo from the ship Praça XV to Raiz da Serra. The Estrada de Ferro Mauá had little value besides its political and symbolic values, however. Mauá directly and indirectly participated in the building of nine other railways in Brazil.

The opening of regular traffic in the first section of The Recife and São Francisco Railway Company, which had 31 km, occurred on 8 February 1858, between Cinco Pontas, in Recife, and the vila do Cabo. [13] This was the second-ever railway in Brazil, being managed by the first English company that settled in Brazil. The planned construction was only finished in 1862, due to delays caused by a variety problems.

The inauguration of the first stretch of the Companhia Estrada de Ferro D. Pedro II, on 29 March 1858, with the 47,21 km connection between the Estação da Corte and Queimados, in Rio de Janeiro. Later, with the proclamation of the republic, this railway was renamed the Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil, which was one of the main axis of connection between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in 1877, when the Estrada de Ferro Dom Pedro II connected to the Estrada de Ferro São Paulo.

Estrada de Ferro Dom Pedro II (1863). Chemin de fer de D. Pedro II. 1863.jpg
Estrada de Ferro Dom Pedro II (1863).
Recife was the first city in the world to operate steam locomotives specially designed to run in the roads: the so-called "maxambomba" was inaugurated in 1867. Metro Museum of recife, Pernambuco, Brazil.jpg
Recife was the first city in the world to operate steam locomotives specially designed to run in the roads: the so-called "maxambomba" was inaugurated in 1867.

In 1867, São Paulo Railway Ltd, the first railway built in the state of São Paulo, connecting the Port of Santos with the coffee farms was founded.

Station in Cruzeiro (SP), part of the Estrada de Ferro Minas e Rio. (1885) Railroad station brazil 1885.jpg
Station in Cruzeiro (SP), part of the Estrada de Ferro Minas e Rio. (1885)
Inauguration of the bridge over the Rio Paraiba in 1888. Inauguration of railroad bridge brazil 1888.jpg
Inauguration of the bridge over the Rio Paraíba in 1888.

In late 1889, when the republic was proclaimed, there existed in Brazil 9.583 km of active railways, which served 14 of the 20 provinces. With the new republic, the government decided to start a new plan to build railways across Brazil, but few new railways were actually built because of the financial crisis that plagued the new republic.


Photo of the Estacao da Luz in the 1900s, by Guilherme Gaensly. Guilherme Gaensly - Estacao da Luz, c. 1900.jpg
Photo of the Estação da Luz in the 1900s, by Guilherme Gaensly.

In 1907, the process of leasing out the Brazilian rail network started, with a statement from then president Campos Sales:

Our long experience has shown that there's no advantage in keeping the railways under national management. Giving them to the private initiative and stimulating their development not only relieves the national treasure but brings more utility for both commerce and industry.

During the years of the Old Republic, there was significant expansion of the rail network, reaching 29.000 km of rails, versus the 9.538 km that existed during the imperial period. The biggest expansion occurred in the state of São Paulo, where at its peak there were 18 railways, the biggest being the E.F Sorocabana, with 2074 km, Mogiana, with 1954 km, the E.F Noroeste do Brasil, with 1539 km and the Cia. Paulista de Estradas de Ferro with 1536 km, and the São Paulo railway, which held the connection with the port of Santos. Together, they helped the growth of agriculture and industry in the state.

An RVPSC steam locomotive in 1940. Vapor -302 - RVPSC.JPG
An RVPSC steam locomotive in 1940.

Besides the railways in São Paulo, other significant railways were founded in this age, like the Estrada de Ferro Vitória a Minas in 1903 and the Madeira-Mamoré railway in 1912

Electric locomotives, planned since 1922, were introduced in the 1930s, to substitute steam locomotives in some stretches of track. In 1938, diesel-electric locomotives started operating in Brazil, and continue to be the main locomotives in use to this day.

Starting with the first government of Getúlio Vargas, the development of highways was prioritized, putting others ways, which until then had played key roles in national planning in the background. At this time, the nationalization of the railways also started, mainly the ones controlled by overseas companies. However, the lack of planning and investment in the interwar period made railways fall into disrepair, and few new tracks were laid.

Nationalization era

The lack of investment in the '80s led to much of the network falling into disrepair. ALCo FA-1 RFFSA.jpg
The lack of investment in the '80s led to much of the network falling into disrepair.

In the 50s, the government request a study into the state of the railways in Brazil, which as of 1956 represented 14% of the debt country-wide. On 30 September 1957, the Rede Ferroviária Federal S/A (RFFSA) was created, uniting 22 railways. Its objective was to standardize the railways, reduce the debts and modernize the network.

In 1971, the government of the state of São Paulo founded the other great state-owned railway, the FEPASA, uniting five railways already owned by the state. In the start, it had almost 5000 km of track, covering almost all of the state of São Paulo.

With the objective to reduce the debt of the railways, the used track was cut down to 32.163 km in 1964, and in the following years many branchlines which were considered "anti-economic" were closed down.

With the economical and political crisis that were happening in Brazil in the '70s, the RFFSA lost most of its budget. During the '80s, a lot of the network fell into permanent disrepair, and the railways, which were the most efficient method of transport lost much of its market share. In the end of the '80s, the RFFSA's budget was only 19% of what it was in the end of the '70s.

Privatization era

The Station of Paranapiacaba, in Vila de Paranapiacaba, Santo Andre (SP). Paranapiacaba's Clock Tower.jpg
The Station of Paranapiacaba, in Vila de Paranapiacaba, Santo André (SP).

On 10 March 1992, the RFFSA entered Collor's de-nationalisation programme.

Due to the opening up of the economy, Brazil entering international markets and the need for better alternatives for cargo transport, the RFFSA was sold off to private companies in 1996, with FEPASA following up in 1997.

With the extinction of the RFFSA, most passenger lines were also extinct, with only the Trem de Prata, which connect Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo surviving for one more year, being extinct 1998.

Passenger Rail

Intercity trains

Although Brazil has one of the largest rail network, it lacks passenger transportation. Passenger trains were controlled by state-run companies until a mass privatisation occurred in 1996–1999, by then most tracks and rolling stock were in a very poor condition and most trains would not run over 60 km/h even on broad gauge, forcing the now private-run railway companies to shut down almost every single regional and long-distance services in the entire country in the next 5 years, situation which remains the same as of 2017.

Brazil is densely populated on the coast and southeast regions, making passenger train operation highly feasible, some areas, like the area north and east of São Paulo, have an extremely high demand for passenger trains, [14] with, for example, over 4 million inhabitants in the 150 km area north of Greater São Paulo and over 3 million inhabitants in the 450 km area between São Paulo and Rio that have absolutely no passenger rail transportation and rely on other transportation, like airplanes in the case of São Paulo - Rio de Janeiro air bridge, which is one of the busiest shuttle air routes in the world, with flights taking off every 10 minutes between both cities. And closer destinations (such as Greater Campinas, which have 3 million inhabitants and is just 90 km north of São Paulo) need to rely exclusively on intercity buses that are slow, have low capacity and are close to being completely saturated.

Currently the country's rail network is almost entirely used for heavy freight transport only, all of the electrification of routes which were used for intercity passenger trains in broad gauge lines in São Paulo (state) are completely dismantled, as well as most of the train stations that are now in ruins (some were refurbished and are used as museums, government facilities and other purposes). Much of the dual-track lines are also abandoned, with trains making use of only one track now, most of which are in a very basic state of maintenance, running at very slow speeds. The lines and branch lines which were used for passenger only, the current cargo companies had no interest in, and are now completely abandoned. Brazil today has only a few heritage railways and two long-distance trains operated by Vale on narrow gauge that are more of a tourist attraction because of the scenic journey than a transportation system, especially because of the slow operating speed (60 km/h maximum), making Brazil's land public transportation infrastructure one of the worst and slowest in the world. [15]

Rapid-transit and commuter

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro both have extensive rapid transit and commuter train routes. Although there may be discussed that they are much less than it should be for cities with their proportions, both systems are almost fully electrified and mostly have modern air-conditioned EMU's. Both systems are in constant expansion, but São Paulo is growing much faster, with currently 6 projects of subway and commuter lines being applied (3 in construction and 3 in advanced planning). [16]

Apart from the large systems in Rio and São Paulo, the further cities in Brazil with smaller commuter train systems include the Cariri region, João Pessoa, Maceió, Natal, Salvador and Teresina. The other Brazilian metro systems are the Belo Horizonte Metro, Brasília Metro, Fortaleza Metro, Porto Alegre Metro, Recife Metro and Salvador Metro.

Future developments

Rio-Sao Paulo High-speed rail. TAV Rio Sao Paulo map.png
Rio–São Paulo High-speed rail.

In the light of the problems with the lack of intercity passenger rail transportation, there are many projects to reinstall fast passenger trains back to Brazil, although all of them are on halt due to the current (2016) political and financial crisis.

High-speed rail

In September 2008, Brazil's Transportation Ministry announced a high-speed train project for the world cup connecting São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Campinas. This would cost US$15 billion. These lines will use 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.

The current financial crisis has put this high-speed project on complete halt, and has no prediction on when it will be resumed.

Regional Trains in Sao Paulo

In 2010, São Paulo state government showed off a project to build up 4 regional intercity trains routes connecting the area surrounding São Paulo with high population cities close by, [17] which today rely exclusively on intercity buses that are almost completely saturated and running at absurdly short intervals at full capacity. The original plan was for construction to start 2013–2014, but the Brazilian financial crisis that it is suffering since 2015 has put all projects on standby, and the next prediction is for construction to start only by 2020.

On 23 August 2008, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela agreed to develop an electrified long-distance passenger railway link between these countries. A minor hurdle is the use of both 50 Hz and 60 Hz railway electrification systems. There is also a confusion of gauges (3 gauges of 1435mm, 1600mm and 1676mm) to overcome. [18]

New freight line

A new metre gauge line from Maracaju via Cascavel to Paranaguá for agricultural products is proposed. [19]

Ferrogrão railway

A new north-south (1600mm gauge) line is planned, known as EF-170 and separate from the rest of the network, between Sinop in Mato Grosso state and the inland port of Miritituba in Pará state on the River Tapajós, first phase 933km. The line is expected to be used primarily for moving export grain and soya products from Mato Grosso state, but it would also carry fertiliser, sugar, ethanol and petroleum products: this traffic is currently carried on the BR163 trunk road. [20]

Gauge conversion

All 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) lines are possibly proposed to be converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge. [21]

CountryLocationLine Gauge Brazilian GaugeLineLocation
Argentina Paso de los LibresUrquiza1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)unknown Uruguaiana
Bolivia Puerto Suárez unknown1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)unknown Corumbá
Uruguay Rivera Linea Rivera 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)unknown Santana do Livramento
Uruguay Rio Branco Linea Rio Branco 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)unknown Jaguarão

Heaviest trains

Brazil has some of the heaviest iron ore trains in the world, and these run on the metre gauge track of the EFVM railway, these trains are pulled by a fleet of specially built locomotives that utilize 4-axle trucks or two pairs of 2-axle trucks with span bolsters. The first model of locomotive built specially for this duty was the DDM45, created by EMD in 1970. 83 examples were delivered to the EFVM. Later, in the early 1990s the EFVM also ordered BB40-8M models from General Electric and continues to order further BB40-9W models, also from GE.

However, a major power shortage occurred in 2002 across the Brazilian narrow-gauge systems. As new locomotives would be too expensive for many railways, or would take too long to be delivered for others, the solution was to buy second-hand standard gauge locomotives and fit them with new metre-gauge bogies. The number of axles was increased due to limitations with tractive effort output from the smaller metre-gauge traction motors. [22] The dual-truck axle conversion was fairly expensive, so not all railways could afford it; some, such as ALL (América Latina Logística) retained the original trucks, narrowing them to fit the new gauge and fitting smaller traction motors. Additional issues arose with the extra axles, primarily due to the increased length of locomotives creating excessive drawbar swing, causing some derailments on tighter curves.


Railway companies

Pre-1957 companies - this list is incomplete

State ownership


See also

Related Research Articles

Transport in Brazil Overview of the transport in Brazil

Transport infrastructure in Brazil is characterized by strong regional differences and lack of development of the national rail network. Brazil's fast-growing economy, and especially the growth in exports, will place increasing demands on the transport networks. However, sizeable new investments that are expected to address some of the issues are either planned or in progress. It is common to travel domestically by air because the price is low. Brazil has the second highest number of airports in the world, after USA.

Narrow-gauge railway Railway line with a gauge less than the standard of 1435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)

A narrow-gauge railway is a railway with a track gauge narrower than standard 1,435 mm. Most narrow-gauge railways are between 600 mm and 1,067 mm.

Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos

Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos (CPTM) is a rapid transit and commuter rail company owned by the São Paulo State Department for Metropolitan Transports. It was created on May 28, 1992 from several railroads that already existed in Greater São Paulo, Brazil.

Estrada de Ferro Santos-Jundiaí

Estrada de Ferro Santos-Jundiaí was a 1,600 mm gauge railway line in São Paulo, Brazil.

São Paulo Railway Company

The São Paulo Railway Company was a privately owned British railway company in Brazil, which operated the 1,600 mm gauge railway from the seaport at Santos via São Paulo to Jundiaí. The company was nationalised in 1946 and became the Estrada de Ferro Santos-Jundiaí.

Corcovado Rack Railway Railway line in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Corcovado Rack Railway is a mountain rack railway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from Cosme Velho to the summit of Corcovado at an elevation of 710 m (2,329 ft). The summit is famous for its giant statue of Christ the Redeemer and for its views over the city and beaches.

Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil

The Estrada de Ferro Central do Brasil was one of the principal railways of Brazil, uniting the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais.

The Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima (RFFSA) was the state owned national railway company of Brazil created from Brazilian Federal Law #3.115 on March 16, 1957, after several railroads were nationalized by the Brazilian government. However, the railroad did not take full effect until September 30, 1957. The RFFSA linked 42 railways together, creating a regional system composed of 22 railroads. The goal of the RFFSA was to promote and advance the railroad sector of Brazil, creating a north-south-east-west rail network in all five regions of Brazil. But it failed and the RFFSA only served four of the five regions with a north-south rail network win 19 units of the federation of Brazil. By 1999, freight service of the railroad was liquidated and privatized, with the passenger service of the railroad liquidations occurring in 2007.

Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas

The Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas (EFOM) was a 2 ft 6 in narrow-gauge railway located in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. At its peak the railway's route totalled 775 km (482 mi). A portion of the railway still operates as a heritage railway, and one of the major stations is now Brazil's largest railway museum.

Transport in São Paulo

Transport in São Paulo plays a key role in the daily lives of the people of São Paulo and offers various methods of public transport that are offered in the city, including a complex bus system run by SPTrans, and various subway and railway lines. A contactless smartcard is used to pay fares for the buses, subway, and railway systems. São Paulo also has three airports.

Track gauge in South America

In South America, Argentina and Chile use 1,676 mm track gauge, as well as 1,000 mm or metre gauge.

Santa Teresa Tram Tramway in Rio de Janeiro

The Santa Teresa Tram, or Tramway, is a historic tram line in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It connects the city centre with the primarily residential, inner-city neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, in the hills immediately southwest of downtown. It is mainly maintained as a tourist attraction and is nowadays considered a heritage tramway system, having been designated a national historic monument in 1985. The line has a very unusual gauge: 1,100 mm. The main line is 6.0 kilometres long.

Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro

Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro was a Brazilian railway company located in the state of São Paulo. It was known for its high standard of quality in customer service.

Rio–São Paulo high-speed rail

The Rio–São Paulo High-Speed Rail is a planned high-speed rail project to connect São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. While originally planned to be operational by 2014 in time for the 20th FIFA World Cup, to be held in Brazil at a cost of $9 billion, as of May 2015 formal bidding for the project had yet to start, with the Brazilian government delaying the auction by "at least" one year in August 2013, pushing back hopes of completion to at least the 2020s.

High-speed rail in Brazil

The TAV is planned to be Brazil's first planned high-speed rail service. The first line was proposed to run between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It was expected to cover the 403 kilometres (250 mi) between Barão de Mauá station, and Campo de Marte Airport in an 85 minutes, reaching a maximum speed of 350 kilometres per hour (220 mph).

History of rail transport in Brazil History of rail transport in Brazil

The history of rail transport in Brazil dates back to 1854. In that year, Brazil's first railway line, with a gauge of 1,676 mm, was completed between the port of Mauá, in Guanabara Bay in the then province of Rio de Janeiro, and Fragoso in the Brazilian hinterland. The steam locomotive Baroneza hauled the trains on this 14 km (8.7 mi) long line.

Metre and 3 ft gauge lines are found in South America. Some of the 1,000 mm gauge lines cross international borders, though not as efficiently as they might.

São Cristóvão Station

São Cristóvão Station is a railway station in São Cristóvão, Rio de Janeiro which is serviced by the Rio de Janeiro Metro and SuperVia.

Rio de Janeiro Light Rail

Rio de Janeiro Light Rail is a modern light rail system serving Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The system is among several new public transport developments in the region ahead of the city's successful bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Its official name is VLT Carioca, the initialism "VLT" being equivalent to the English term light rail.


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