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Rio de Janeiro Santa Teresa Tram

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Car #01, heading towards Dois Irmaos, and car #04 heading from Paula Matos to Centro, as the Largo dos Guimaraes station. Photo by Tim Deakin.

Overview

As the last true tramway operation in South America, the Santa Teresa Tram (known locally as the "bonde") in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro commenced electric operation in 1891, replacing horse-drawn trams and expanding the horse-drawn route. At this time the gauge was altered to 1100mm, which remains the case today; the tram cars which are currently in operation are Brazillian-built, are of the cross-bench open sided design, and are fitted with trolley poles.

For the purpose of this short description of the tramway, Santa Teresa will be considered South and Centro North.

The downtown terminal of the Tramway is Estação Carioca, situated adjacent to the Petrobras Building and above the building's parking lot. No signs are evident, and for a pedestrian the station can be a little difficult to find. An entrance to the Carioca Metro station is nearby, however. Entrance to the single platform is controlled by a single turnstile, next to a window behind which a fare collector is situated. The flat fare is R$0.60, which is the equivalent to approximately US$0.25. Passengers not commencing their journey at Estação Carioca pay the conductor on the tram.

The track layout at this station is a single track loop, around which trams operate in the anti-clockwise direction. There is also a 'bridge' track near the top of the loop, in which a spare car seems to be held. There is also a siding beyond where the loop ends, although this is overgrown and shows no sign of any recent use, and is only accessible from the southern direction.

Departing trams are controlled by a signal before exiting the loop, as the next portion is a single track to cross the famous viaduct which spans both a large public square and two roads. Formerly an aqueduct, it is known as "Os Arcos da Lapa" to locals. After having crossed the viaduct, there is a small station with a bench for waiting passengers, whilst at this point the tramway becomes double-tracked. Northbound trams are also controlled by a signal here - the viaduct is the the only signal-controlled section on the tramway. The tram continues climbing towards Santa Teresa, stopping numerous times at stops indicated by nothing more than a yellow 'Bonde' painted on the poles supporting the overhead wires.

Shortly after crossing the viaduct, a single track diverges from the southbound track and proceeds approximately 400m along a side street, before dead-ending at a bump-stop. Whilst the overhead wires are still present the line is disused and has many cars both parked and abandoned on it. This may be the remnants of the Muratori branch, which closed for service during 1966. Proceeding further along the in-service line, the tram reaches the Curvelho station which as its name suggests, is situated on a curve. It is a small island platform with a shelter from the sun.

Leaving Curvelho and heading further uphill, the tram arrives in the heart of Santa Teresa and reaches the Largo dos Guimaraes station, which is the junction where the line splits. One fork diverges to the left towards Dois Irmaos, one to Paula Matos and the third to the right along Rua Carlos Brant. The latter single-line branch is non-revenue trackage and extends around 400 metres and terminates at the depot, which also houses a small museum. The arrangement of track at Largo dos Guimaraes is an unusual one; whilst the Paula Matos line continues straight on, the two tracks to and from Dois Irmaos are split, with one being at a higher elevation to the other. Trams heading towards Dois Irmaos must cross from the southbound Paula Matos track to the northbound, 'wrong railing' for a short distance before the southbound Dois Irmaos track splits from the northbound Paula Matos track. A covered platform area sits immediately beyond the split of the two routes, although to access trams heading towards Centro coming from Dois Irmaos it is necessary to climb a stairway to the track.

Continuing on the Dois Irmaos line, the tramway continues to climb through a pleasant neighborhood until it reaches the terminal. Despite the trams having controls at both ends, they are turned here using a short spur off the southbound track. The car proceeds into the spur, the conductor sets the switch, and then it reverses back out before crossing over onto the correct track and continuing back to Centro. The line actually continues beyond here to a terminal adjacent to the Corcovado cog railway, although with the exception of two return trips on Saturdays all trams terminate at Dois Irmaos.

The line to Paula Matos departs Largo dos Guimaraes station and soon narrows to a single-track layout to negotiate a particularly tight section. After reverting to double track for a short, straight stretch it again becomes single-tracked to pass through a busy commercial area, climbing steeply as it proceeds. It again reverts to double-tracked layout along Rua Progresso before arriving at the terminal, at Largo des Neves. This consists of a loop arrangement, passing round a small public space.

It would appear that three cars are required to maintain the schedule, operating alternate trips to each of Dois Irmaos and Paula Matos, whilst a fourth car is held as spare at Estação Carioca. Having viewed the depot, there would seem to be around ten or more cars owned, although only five were observed in passenger service. Perhaps some cars are unserviceable or are used as sources of spares. Although both the Dois Irmaos and Paula Matos routes are advertised as running every fifteen minutes, punctuality is not a strong point, and there seems to be more of an "as and when we're ready" culture amongst crews regarding departures from the Estação Carioca terminal.

In conclusion, the Santa Teresa tram is a wonderfully interesting journey back in time, offering superb views of the city of Rio during a trip on South America's last tram line. Upon arrival at the outer terminal passengers are able to remain on the tram before it returns to Centro; whilst both routes pass through mostly bohemian, placid neighbourhoods, any potential passenger should bear in mind the fact that all guidebooks advise against showing off expensive cameras, and recommend keeping a good hold of any bags, as throughout the trip plenty of teenage boys join the tram for a short distance, hanging off the side rather than using the seats.

Photo Gallery


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Page Credits

By Tim Deakin.









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