Paranapiacaba Cable Railway, Santos, Brazil

The Paranapiacaba Cable Railway was part of the Santos – Sao Paulo – Jundiai Railway in Brazil. The out of the common Cable Railway section was necessary to overcome the Serra do Mar, a mountain range that separates the city of Sao Paulo from the Atlantic Ocean.

“Serra Velha” Cable Railway

“Serra Velha” was the name of the first version of the Cable Railway built by the British owned Sao Paulo Railway Company and went into operation in 1866. The maximum gradient was 10.3 %. The Cable Railway overcame an altitude difference of 773 meters on a distance of 8km (5 Miles) between Raiz da Serra (Valley) and Paranapiacaba (Mountain). The “Serra Velha Cable Railway” consisted of four ramp sections. Each train convoy had connected mountainside a brake wagon (serrabreque) which was fixed to a rope. Between the ramp sections, there were horizontal platforms with stations and independently powered steam machines that helped moving the rope.  The route was double-track, similar to a system of a funicular. One end of the rope was connected with the train going uphill, and the other end with the train going downhill. The difference between the two trains’ weights could not exceed 36 tons. If the weight difference were more considerable, the carriages had to add additional weight to keep the balance in certain limits between the up and down running train units.


Museum Cable Railway Paranapacaba

“Serra Nova” Cable Railway

By the end of the 19th century, the original “Serra Velha Cable Railway” was too slow and not powerful enough anymore to transport the required freight quantity. Therefore, the Sao Paulo Railway Company built between 1895-1901 the “Serra Nova Cable Railway.” The new system was built parallel to the “Serra Velha” system. The new Cable Railway had a length of 10.98 km and included five ramp sections with a maximum gradient of 8%. Steam engines powered each ramp as in the “Serra Velha” system, but now Brake Locomotives (locobreques) were added to each train convoy on the valley side. Brake Locomotives were connected to the rope and helped to break the train convoy when driving downhill. Break Locomotives had the power to pull or push the train with their own engines on the horizontal platforms between the ramps. On the new system, each convoy could have a maximum weight of 155 tons, and the difference between the train going up and down the valley increased to 60 tons. The Serra Nova System was in operation until 1982.

Cogwheel Railway 

The “Serra Nova” System remained an operational bottleneck on the Santos – Sao Paulo – Jundiaí line. Therefore, between 1913 and 1922 were initial considerations made converting the steep sections into a cogwheel railway. It was only in 1968 when the construction of the cogwheel railway started. The old Serra Velha Cable Railway System was used partly for the cogwheel railroad. The cogwheel railway needed a minimum curve radio of 300m; for this reason, some parts the railroad had to have deviated from the “Serra Velha System.” The cogwheel railway finally went into operation in 1974, but the “Serra Nova Cable Railway” was kept operational until 1982, as the cog railway initially posed some technical issues.

During our tour “Brazil by Rail,” we will visit the railway museum in Paranapacaba, which tells about this unconventional Cable and Cogwheel Railway. At the moment, we are in the planning stage how and where we can visit some parts of this fascinating engineering site.

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