Train Travel in Brazil - Part 1

Written by Peter Lauffer
May 5, 2022

Experience Brazil by rail, traveling through remote areas of beauty seen by few. 

The first railway in Brazil opened in 1835 between Fragoso and Mauá, a distance of over 14.5 km, in the greater Rio de Janeiro area. Soon afterward, the railroad was extended to Raiz da Serra. Thirty years later, the railway was extended again, this time into the mountains as far as Petrópolis. Many railway lines were constructed and operated by regional train companies during this period.

Luz Station Sao Paulo

Unfortunately, many of these lines now stand abandoned or are used only by cargo trains, as nowadays Brazilians prefer driving or flying long distances. Nevertheless, there are some sections of the old railway network where passenger services still exist or where the railroad was discovered as a tourist attraction. 

Carriage of the "Maria Fumaca Campinas"

Antique steam locomotives pull many tourist and museum trains, and historic carriages have been refurbished and introduced on some lines. Museum and tourist trains carry travelers along scenic railroads through the lush Brazilian vegetation and verdant mountains, allowing visitors to get an glimpse of authentic Brazil off the beaten track. These journeys let the traveler experience Brazil's contrasts and natural beauty away from the famous beaches.

Serra Verde Express in the Marumbi State Park

The most famous tourist train is the Serra Verde Express, which cuts through Marumbi State Park between the cities of Curitiba and Morretes. 

The Vitória-Minas Railway is the only daily service in Brazil that links two large cities, Vitória and Belo Horizonte, a distance of over 905 km (562 miles). 

Train Belo Horizonte - Vitoria - Brazil

From Ouro Preto southeast of Belo Horizonte, the scenic tourist train to Marianna departs. Another scenic, historic steam train in the Belo Horizonte region is the museum train between Tiradentes and Sao Joao del Rei. 

Railway Station Sao Joao del Rei, Brazil

Near Sao Paulo lies Paranapiacaba, perhaps one of the most outstanding railway towns in South America. At Paranapiacaba the railroad from Sao Paulo descends to Santos at sea level. The construction of the famous zig-zag railway line in the tropical mountainous terrain was considered a feat by British engineers and workers. Today, Paranapiacaba consists of many abandoned buildings and railway installations.

Paranapiacaba Railway Station

The original funicular installations are in decay because a modern cog-railway replaced them. There are passenger trains between Sao Paulo and Paranapiacaba, but there is no passenger service between Paranapiacaba and Santos. Nevertheless, Paranapiacaba is an excellent destination for visiting abandoned industrial sites and old railway infrastructure. 

Train from Capinas at the Railwaystation of Jaguariuna

North of Sao Paulo is the large town of Campinas, from which the museum train leaves to Juaguariuna, about 25 km north of Campinas. The train is operated by the Associação Brasileira de Preservação Ferroviária ABPF. The train needs about 1 hour and 20 minutes for the 25 km journey. A steam locomotive often pulls the train, and there are also historic diesel engines pulling trains on this line.

The Estrada de Ferro Campos do Jordão is a 47-km meter-gauge electric railway that connects Pindamonhangaba, a small city in the Paraíba do Sul Valley (alt. 550 m) 150 km east of São Paulo, with a vacation area in the Mantiqueira Mountains (alt. 1,700 m) called Campos do Jordão – also called The Brazilian Switzerland (A Suíça Brasileira).

Train in Campos do Jordao - Brazil

A section of the track has a 10.5% grade, and at km 37, the line reaches 1,743 m (5,660 ft), which is the highest point of any railway in Brazil. The tram-like railway was electrified in 1924 and still operates today. A major tourist attraction in the São Paulo state, the Estrada de Ferro Campos do Jordão is a mecca for railway enthusiasts worldwide.

Historical Diesel Locomotive near Campinas - Brazil

During our "Grand Rail Tour of Brazil," we travel on many museum trains in the Belo Horizonte - Rio de Janeiro - Sao Paulo area. Join us for this tour; you will be amazed by the beauty of this part of Brazil.

Get inspired by some photos of this amazing trip:
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