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Paranapiacaba Cable Railway, Santos, Brazil

Written by Peter Lauffer
July 18, 2021
Old Sao Paulo - Santos Railway Map
Old Sao Paulo - Santos Railway Map

The Paranapiacaba Cable Railway was part of the Santos – Sao Paulo – Jundiai Railway in Brazil. The railway connected the important Brazilian Port City of Santos with Sao Paulo, the largest city in South America. The out-of-standard Cable Railway section was necessary to overcome the Serra do Mar. This mountain range separates the city of Sao Paulo from the city of Santos on the Atlantic Ocean.

Serra Velha Funicular Santos - Paranapiacaba, Brazil
Serra Velha Funicular Santos - Paranapiacaba, Brazil

"Serra Velha" Cable Railway

"Serra Velha" was the first version of the Cable Railway built by the British-owned Sao Paulo Railway Company in 1866. The mountain section of the Cable Railway goes from Raiz da Serra (Valley) Station to Paranapiacaba (Mountain) Station over an 8km (5 Miles) distance. The maximum gradient of the railway is 10.3%, and the altitude difference between Raiz da Serra and Paranacapiacaba is 773 meters (2536 ft).

View over the old Funicular System Raiz da Serra - Paranapiacaba

The first "Serra Velha Cable Railway" consisted of four ramp sections. Each train convoy on the mountainside contained brake wagons (“Serrabreque”) connected via rope (see below). There were horizontal platforms with stations and independently powered steam machines that helped pull the rope between the ramp sections. The railway was double-track, similar to the system of a funicular. 

One end of a rope was connected to the brake wagon going uphill, and the other end to the brake wagon 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 within certain limits between the up and down moving train units.

"Serra Nova" Cable Railway
"Serra Nova" Cable Railway

"Serra Nova" Cable Railway

By the end of the 19th century, the original "Serra Velha Cable Railway" was too slow and not powerful enough to transport the required amount of freight. Therefore, between 1895 and 1901 the Sao Paulo Railway Company built the "Serra Nova Cable Railway." The new system was built parallel to the "Serra Velha" system. 

Serra Nova Funicular Passenger Train from Raiz da Serra to Paranapiacaba
Serra Nova Funicular Passenger Train from Raiz da Serra to Paranapiacaba

The new Cable Railway had a length of 11 km (6.84 Miles). The second version of the Cable Railway included five ramp sections with a maximum gradient of 8%. Steam engines powered each ramp in a way similar to 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 brake the train convoy when driving downhill. Break Locomotives had the power to pull or push the train on the horizontal platforms between the ramps. Each convoy could have a maximum weight of 155 tons on the new system, and the maximum difference between the trains’ weights going up and down the valley increased to 60 tons. The Serra Nova System was in operation until 1982.

Cogwheel Locomotives Paranapiacaba, Brazil
Cogwheel Locomotives Paranapiacaba, Brazil

Cogwheel Railway Paranapiacaba - Raiz da Serra

Cogwheel Railway Paranapiacaba

The "Serra Nova" System remained an operational bottleneck on the Santos – Sao Paulo – Jundiaí line. Therefore, between 1913 and 1922 initial considerations were made to convert the steep sections into a cogwheel railway. It was not until 1968, however, that 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 radius of 300m; for this reason, some parts of the railroad had to deviate 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 Rail Tour, we will visit the railway museum in Paranapiacaba, which tells about this unconventional Cable and Cogwheel Railway. At the moment, we are in the planning stage of how and where we can visit some parts of the abandoned but still fascinating engineering site of the "Serra Nova" Cable Railway.

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