The International Steam Pages
A Historical Account of the Perus-Pirapora Railway
There are a number of reports and articles on the Perus-Pirapora Railway on this website if you want to know more:
James Waite writes:
Brazil once had numerous public and industrial 600mm gauge railways, the latter serving primarily the coffee and sugar plantations. By the time I got to visit the country in 1977 these had mostly closed but one magnificent exception was the EF Perus-Pirapora. With a running line some 19km long, a frequent train service and an eclectic collection of steam locos, many acquired as cast-offs from other railways which had long-since closed, it had become one of the world’s top attractions for narrow gauge enthusiasts.
Its history began way back in 1910 when the economy of São Paulo state was expanding hugely thanks to the large-scale establishment of coffee plantations. This had led to the rapid development of São Paulo city and, with it, a burgeoning demand for building materials. A group of three entrepreneurs formed the Companhia Industrial e de Estradas de Ferro Perus-Pirapora (EFPP). Their intention was to manufacture lime from extensive limestone deposits to the west of Perus, a station on the broad gauge São Paulo Railway and not far from São Paulo city. It wasn’t easy to get permission to build purely industrial railways at the time. The line was promoted as a public railway extending to Pirapora, an old pilgrimage centre some 20km or so beyond the limestone deposits, but this was just a ruse to permission for the line’s construction and there doesn’t seem to have been any serious intention to build that far. Nonetheless the line was always known at least unofficially as the EF Perus-Pirapora for the whole of its lifetime.
Construction proceeded quickly as far as Entroncamento, 15km to the west of Perus, where the junction for the supposed extension to Pirapora would have branched off from what became the de fact main line northwards from there to quarries at Gato Preto, a further 4km to the north. The line opened throughout in 1914 and settled down to a relatively quiet existence. Two 4-6-0’s were supplied by Baldwin in 1911 and were followed by two 2-4-0’s, one in 1912 and one in 1911. The quarries were run as a separate enterprise, latterly at least by a family named Benedutti, and had their own small locos.
The railway could well have become just another of Brazil’s numerous narrow gauge lines which gradually faded away were it not for the arrival on the scene of a group of Canadian industrialists in 1925. They formed the Companhia Brasileira de Cimento Portland (CFCP), built the country’s first successful large-scale cement factory alongside the line in the outskirts of Perus and opened new limestone quarries at Cajamar, near Gato Preto. There was some form of association between the new group and the railway company and as the railway company was ill-equipped to handle the large increase in traffic that was involved it granted the cement company the right to work its own traffic over the line. Mixed gauge was laid over the stretch between Perus station and the cement factory and a branch was built to a spacious yard at the new quarries at Cajamar.
In the same year the railway company disposed of its two 4-6-0’s. They underwent what must have been a somewhat drastic conversion to metre gauge and spent the rest of their lives on the Dona Teresa Cristina system in Santa Catarina down in the south of the country. I don’t know how long they lasted but if they were still there in the 1940’s when the first of the railway’s huge 4-10-2’s for which it became famous amongst enthusiasts three decades later then they must have provided quite a contrast in size!
The cement company bought a series of five 2-4-2ST’s from ALCO or its Montreal subsidiary between 1925 and 1932 and numbered them in a separate series – something which has bedevilled attempts to make sense of the numbers and histories of the railway’s locos as the fortunes of the railway, the quarries and the cement company became more and more intertwined and convoluted over the years. In 1939 this became even more so when the cement company bought out the Gato Preto quarries and their locos from the Benedutti family.
As the years went by production increased at the Perus factory. In 1945 the cement company bought two 2-6-2 tender locos from H.K. Porter which became no’s. 6 and 7. They were to be the last 2ft gauge steam locos constructed for commercial service in the USA. When I first visited the line in 1977 no. 7 had just been outshopped after heavy overhaul and looked very smart in its dark blue paint scheme and no. 6 was awaiting its turn for overhaul. They continued in service for the rest of the railway’s lifetime.
By 1951 the cement and railway enterprises had become unprofitable, said to be as a result of interference by the country’s military government which imposed prices below the cost of production and transport. Military governments, and the repression and corruption which went with them had been an unfortunate feature of life for many years throughout South and Central America. The two businesses were sold to the Companhia Brasileira de Cimento Portland Perus (CBCPP) run by one João Jose Abdalla who was the secretary of the São Paulo state government.
From that point on their fortunes became inextricably entwined and the combined rolling stock seems to have been used without restriction for both cement and other more general traffic. More and more locos were acquired second hand as other railways closed and as the business continued to prosper.
The final seven locos arrived in 1960 and 1961. They included three 2-6-2T’s which came from the Companhia Paulista’s Santa Rita branch, one of the country’s last genuinely public 600mm gauge railways, after its last train had run on 10th August 1960. One, which became CBCPP no. 9, was an unlovely loco built by Linke Hoffmann which was unpopular with the loco staff. It lasted in service only until 1968. The other two, CBCPP no’s 10 and 14, built by Baldwin for the CP in 1913 and looking very much like the 2-6-2T’s built for the British military during the First World War, were much more successful. During their time at Perus they were provided with tenders and the tanks were taken off, although by the time I first visited the tanks had been put back on to act as ballast. Both were in use then and they remained in service until the railway closed.
Four more locos which arrived from the Usina Monte Alegre the following year proved to be the last additions to the fleet. The usina, located in the outskirts of Piracicaba to the north west of Campinas, was blessed with excellent maintenance shops and a chief engineer who had a passion for steam locos. Three of the locos which became CBCPP no’s 15, 16 and 17, had arrived at the usina second hand from the Cantareira Tramway, a remarkable 600mm gauge line which provided a commuter service northwards from the São Paulo Railway’s Luz station in the heart of São Paulo city. It was gradually converted to metre gauge after 1947, the last 600mm section going in 1958. They weren’t the first locos from the line to run at Perus as one had been bought by the EFPP direct from the tramway as long ago as 1925.
No. 15 had started life as a 2-6-2T but was rebuilt to become a 2-6-0. It had only a short working life at Perus, being withdrawn four years after its arrival. No. 16 was a stylish 4-6-0 which originated on the EF Dourado, another 600mm gauge line which had been taken over by the CP and which was converted to metre gauge. It was another loco which was running when I first visited the line. No. 17, a pretty 2-4-0, had been built new for the Cantareira Tramway. It was also in steam but didn’t leave Gato Preto shed and, judging by the number of people standing around it and scratching their heads it must have been suffering from some ailment. It had the melancholy distinction of hauling the railway’s last train when closure came in 1983. The last of the Usina Monte Alegre locos was a 2-6-2ST which became CBCPP no. 18. It had been built by the Usina in 1938 to drawings supplied by the Companhia Paulista and was one of only a handful of steam locos to have been built in Brazil.
A public passenger service had been maintained between Perus station and the non-existent junction at Entroncamento (a name which means “junction” in Portuguese) in accordance with the original concession right up until 1972 when it was discontinued by Mr. Abdalla, apparently as a reprisal against a strike. In practice most of the stone trains had a passenger coach attached to the rear in place of a caboose and local people, as well as visiting enthusiasts, seem to have had little difficulty in hitching a ride right up until the railway’s closure. A few months after the end of the official passenger service the whole enterprise was seized by the state on account of taxes which, on their version of events, Mr. Abdalla should have paid but hadn’t.
The inventory of the railway’s stock at the time of the seizure makes interesting reading. It included 22 locomotives and 136 stone wagons along with other wagons and carriages.
When I first visited the railway it was still being run by the state. The locos had had the letters “CEIPN” painted on them which indicated that they were under government control. I stayed there for three or four hours during which time at least three loaded and three empty trains left or arrived at Cajamar yard. The usual working method then was for loaded trains of around 18 wagons to run with a single loco on the generally level or downhill stretch as far as Corredor yard, 5kms short of Peru. The rest of the run involved a steep uphill grade. Trains were either split at Corredor and worked in two portions to the factory or, if a spare loco was available, it would be attached at Corredor and the whole train would be double-headed onwards from there. Most of the working locos were in excellent condition, at least externally, and looked very smart in their dark blue paint scheme with yellow lettering. It was a delight to see a 600mm gauge line looking so busy and prosperous.
Sadly all this was not to last much longer. By 1981 the outstanding taxes had been recouped and the business was sold off by auction. The buyer was none other than Mr. Abdalla and his family. This time he must have made a bad purchase. Demand throughout much of the country’s construction industry was being artificially fuelled by grandiose building projects promoted by its military government.
Military governments became widely discredited in South and Central America in the aftermath of the Falklands war of 1982, one of its more far-reaching if unintended consequences, and in the following years were swept away. Thirty years on there are still people throughout much of the region who are profoundly thankful for the British contribution towards its transition to democracy. Brazil’s government fell within a matter of months after the Argentine surrender. Cancellation of many of its building projects followed soon after. In its wake the Perus factory and the railway closed down. The last train ran in 1983. Another casualty of this sudden loss of business was the cement factory at Barroso in Minas Gerais. It was the main customer of the 200km long 762mm gauge São João del Rei line which led to the closure the same year of all but its 10km stretch as far as Tiradentes. This was already being used for tourist trains which have continued to run ever since as the country’s oldest preserved operation.
Back in September 1977, by coincidence the same month that I visited the line, the Associação Brasileira de Preservação Ferroviária (ABPF) was founded by Patrick Dollinger, a French enthusiast who had moved to live in Brazil in 1966 and had became passionately involved in the preservation of the country’s railway heritage. The ABPF took a leading role in 1983 in lobbying for both the São Joao and Perus lines to be preserved.
The São Paulo state government issued a decree granting the Perus line protection in 1987 though the ordinance specifying the protection limits was not promulgated until 2000. In the same year the state government arranged the transfer of most, though not all, of the track and all the rolling stock to the Instituto de Ferrovias e Preservacao do Patrimonio Cultural (IFPPC), a non-governmental organisation created for the purpose of preserving and restoring the line. By then, of course, the stock had been slumbering for almost 20 years. Some of it was out in the open, not a happy situation in what was basically a tropical jungle. Fortunately some of the locos and carriages had been kept under cover in the railway’s old shops at Gato Preto and sheds at Cajamar and these at least were spared the worst of the effects of the elements.
Several years passed during which various land ownership issues needed to be settled but in the second part of the decade restoration could begin in earnest. The new society set up its operating base in the old Corredor yard. It also received a great deal of practical and financial help from the Natura bio-cosmetics business which had become established a little further along the line. They financed the restoration of 0-4-2T no. 8 of mixed OK and Decauville parentage which had been withdrawn back in 1964 but which must have been something of a pet as by 1977 it had been plinthed and provided with a substantial roof outside the offices at Cajamar.
Today the line is under the control of the volunteer led IFPCC and you can read about if by following the links at the top of the page.
It’s been an exceptionally difficult task compiling this list, not surprisingly since the identities and histories of some of the locos were notoriously elusive even back in the 1970’s. It incorporates quite a lot of guesswork in reconciling conflicting accounts. If anyone can contribute corrections or additional info it would be even more welcome than usual! (Please send an email to the address at the bottom of the page.)