The International Steam Pages
Steam on the São João del Rei Preserved Railway, 1999
I visited the Sao Joao del Rei Tiradentes narrow gauge line (2 ft 6 in/762 mm gauge) in the hill country of central Brazil on Saturday and Sunday, 30-31 October. This 12 km (7 miles) railroad is a remnant of a system that once extended to over 200 km (125 miles) and operated until 1983. My wife and I rode the 10:00 FSSuHolOnly train to Tiradentes on Saturday, and I observed and photographed the 14:15 train that day and the 10:00 train the next. The train locomotive for the weekend was 2-8-0 No. 68 (Baldwin 52256, 1919) with 4-6-0 No. 41 (Baldwin 38011, 1912) in steam as the reserve locomotive. (I was told that one locomotive is used on the train for three weeks to a month, then another one is used.) Each train was composed of nine cars and each car was well filled with passengers. All the trains left late due to late arriving tour buses and other late passengers.The 12 km run to Tiradentes takes about 30 minutes and is a pleasant trip. Tiradentes is quite a tourist attraction and well worth a walk-around or a ride in one of the horse-drawn buggies that meet the trains. Trains return from Tiradentes at 13:00 and 17:00. The return fare is R13.30 (about $7) which includes a visit to the museum. There are no restrictions on photography. There is a good selection of T-shirts with excellent color images of locomotives at the Sao Joao station for those who are interested (and a more limited selection at Tiradentes).
I met a retired engineer who is now one of the handful of volunteers who help keep the locomotives running, run the museum, sell T-shirts, etc. He indicated that, contrary to the report in Continental Railway Journal 113 in 1998, the railroad had not ceased operation in 1997 (or any other time). Privatization saw it being transferred from the RFFSA to the Ferrovia Central Atlantico (FCA). Within the last few months it has become the property of a large mineral and transportation company, Cia. Vale do Rio Doce, which has put money into the operation. Roadbed, track, and buildings appeared to be in good condition. There were signs of fresh ballast having been applied very recently and the roundhouse looked as if it had received a coat of paint not long before. This pleases the volunteers, but they hope that the city of Sao Joao del Rei or the state of Minas Gerais will acquire the line. However, there are no negotiations going on to that end. They have been told by a government lawyer that the railway will not be allowed to close, but will be taken care of one way or another. The volunteers would like to see the railway become linked with the ABPF preservation group and the meter gauge railroad at Campinas near Sao Paulo.
The roundhouse at Sao Joao del Rei contained three metre gauge locomotives and seven 762 mm gauge Baldwins (Nos. 37, 38, 40, 43, 55, 62, and 69). I was told that all but 37 and 40 were operable. Two locomotives, 4-4-0 No. 22 and 4-6-0 No. 42 were under repair in an open shed near the roundhouse, with 22 being painted after heavy repairs. No. 41 was simmering at one end of the shed. 2-8-0 No. 60 was on display off by itself on a siding between two buildings fenced off from the rest of the complex, but near the roundhouse. I was told that the buildings (which looked like former freight sheds) comprised the SJdR "Convention Center". 4-4-0 No. 21 was on display under the station roof and 4-4-0 No. 1 was in the adjacent museum. The 600 mm gauge ex-Feldbahn (Henschel 16179, 1919) 0-8-0T was just outside the museum building along with a few other exhibits, but was under the station roof.
Locomotives at Sao Joao del Rei as of 31 October 1999
762 mm gauge (ex-E.F.O.M., Oeste de Minas)
* Plates are marked Baldwin as well, e.g. Baldwin Burnham & Co.
600 mm gauge