Rail transport in Brazil

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Train of Vale in the city of Açailândia.
Train of CPTM in Greater São Paulo.

Rail transport in Brazil began in the 19th century and there were many different railway companies. The railways were nationalised under RFFSA (Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima) in 1957. Between 1999 and 2007, RFFSA was broken up and services are now operated by a variety of private and public operators, including América Latina Logística, Companhia Paulista de Trens Metropolitanos and SuperVia.

Track gauge[edit]

The rail system in Brazil operates on four rail gauges:

A 12 km section of the former 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge Estrada de Ferro Oeste de Minas is retained as a heritage railway.

  • Metros

Metros operating, and under construction:


Interurban tramway in Campos do Jordão.

Steam-powered, horse-drawn and electric tramways operated in Brazil from 1859 until 1989, new systems were introduced in the 1980s and 90s in Rio de Janeiro and Campinas with no success,[1] nevertheless, that may change soon as studies are being conducted to introduce tramway systems in Goiânia,[2] and Curitiba now plans a "light metro" to replace "bus rapid transit (BRT)" in a major corridor,[3] and in Cariri, the Cariri MetroTram that will run between Crato and Juazeiro do Norte is under construction.[4]


Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and had a hundred tram systems, almost as many as all the other Latin American countries combined. It had one of the world's first tramways: an 1859 system in Rio de Janeiro predates street railway experiments in all European countries except France. Trams still operate in Rio today, over 150 years later. Brazil has one of the first steam-powered street railways and had the world's first steam locomotive designed specifically to work on the street. It had one of the world's first electric trams, Rio de Janeiro had electric streetcars before London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon and any other city in Latin America. Niterói, Brazil, may have been the first place where the trams were successfully fed by storage batteries. Brazil had the largest collection of American streetcars built outside the United States, and had the world's largest foreign-owned street railway empire.

Five trams were still operating in 1989, the Santa Teresa and Corcovado lines in Rio de Janeiro; the Campos do Jordão line near São Paulo; the Itatinga line near Bertioga; and the tourist tram in Campinas. A sixth line, the Tirirical tram near São Luís, ceased operation in 1983 but may be reactivated.[5]

Currently, there are vintage tramways operating in:

Passenger Rail[edit]

Intercity trains[edit]

Although Brazil has one of the largest rail network, it lacks passenger transportation. Passenger trains were controlled by state-run companies until a mass privatisation occurred in 1996-1999, by then most tracks and rolling stock were in a very poor condition and most trains would not run over 60 km/h even on broad gauge, forcing the now private-run railway companies to shut down almost every single regional and long-distance services in the entire country in the next 5 years, situation which remains the same as of today (2017).

Brazil is densely populated on the coast and southeast regions, making passenger train operation highly feasible, some areas, like the area north and east of São Paulo, have an extremely high demand for passenger trains,[12] with, for example, over 4 million inhabitants in the 150 km area north of Greater São Paulo and over 3 million inhabitants in the 450 km area between São Paulo and Rio that have absolutely no passenger rail transportation and rely on other transportation, like airplanes in the case of São Paulo - Rio de Janeiro air bridge, which is one of the busiest shuttle air routes in the world, with flights taking off every 10 minutes between both cities. And closer destinations (such as Greater Campinas, which have 3 million inhabitants and is just 90 km north of São Paulo) need to rely exclusively on intercity buses that are slow, have low capacity and are close to being completely saturated.

Currently the extreme majority of the country's rail network is used for heavy freight transport only, all of the electrification of routes which were used for intercity passenger trains in broad gauge lines in São Paulo (state) are completely dismantled, as well as most of the train stations that are now in ruins (some were refurbished and are used as museums, government facilities and other purposes). Much of the dual-track lines are also abandoned, with trains making use of only one track now, most of which are in a very basic state of maintenance, running at very slow speeds. The lines and branch lines which were used for passenger only, the current cargo companies had no interest in, and are now completely abandoned. Brazil today has only a few heritage railways and two long-distance trains operated by Vale on narrow gauge that are more of a tourist attraction because of the scenic journey than a transportation system, specially because of the slow operating speed (60 km/h maximum), making Brazil's land public transportation infrastructure one of the worst and slowest in the world.[13]

Rapid-transit and commuter[edit]

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro both have extensive rapid transit and commuter train routes. Although there may be discussed that they are much less than it should be for cities with their proportions, both systems are almost fully electrified and mostly have modern air-conditioned EMU's. Both systems are in constant expansion, but São Paulo is growing much faster, with currently 6 projects of subway and commuter lines being applied (3 in construction and 3 in advanced planning).[14]

Apart from the large systems in Rio and São Paulo, there are another 6 cities in Brazil with smaller commuter train systems.

Future developments[edit]

Rio–São Paulo High-speed rail.

In the light of the problems with the lack of intercity passenger rail transportation, there are many projects to reinstall fast passenger trains back to Brazil, although all of them are on halt due to the current (2016) political and financial crisis.

High-speed rail[edit]

In September 2008, Brazil's Transportation Ministry announced a high-speed train project for the world cup connecting São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Campinas. This would cost US$15 billion. These lines will use 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge.

The current financial crisis has put this high-speed project on complete halt, and has no prediction on when it will be resumed.

Regional Trains in Sao Paulo[edit]

In 2010, São Paulo state government showed off a project to build up 4 regional intercity trains routes connecting the area surrounding São Paulo with high population cities close by,[15] which today rely exclusively on intercity buses that are almost completely saturated and running at absurdly short intervals at full capacity. The original plan was for construction to start 2013-2014, but the Brazilian financial crisis that it is suffering since 2015 has put all projects on standby, and the next prediction is for construction to start only by 2020. All routes will depart from 3 different big interchange stations in São Paulo and will go to 4 destinations:

Sao Paulo to Sorocaba[edit]

The first line will depart Agua Branca interchange station in São Paulo and go to Sorocaba, a 500.000 inhabitants city about 100 km west of São Paulo, stopping at Sao Roque and a populous neighbor of Sorocaba, Brigadeiro Tobias in the way. The complete journey will take around 50 minutes

Sao Paulo to Santos[edit]

The second line will depart Sao Carlos interchange station in São Paulo and head to Santos, a 430.000 inhabitants city 50 km south of São Paulo in the coast, which an important beach town as well as Brazil's most important freight port. The train will stop in 2 cities on the way. The complete journey will take around 35 minutes.

Sao Paulo to Campinas and Americana[edit]

The third, and probably the most important and urgent line, is the line connecting São Paulo Agua Branca interchange station to Jundiaí, Campinas and Americana. Campinas is one of Brazil's largest regional centers, it is just 90 km north of São Paulo, and has its own Metropolitan area with over 3 million inhabitants, Jundiaí is a 300.000 inhabitants city in between them, and Americana is a 200.000 inhabitants city in the north limit of Campinas metro, the journey from São Paulo to Jundiai will take 20 minutes, to Campinas around 40 to 50 minutes and Americana just over an hour.

Sao Paulo to Sao Jose dos Campos[edit]

The fourth route will leave Penha intermodal station and head to Sao Jose dos Campos, a 550.000 inhabitants city 100 km east of São Paulo, which is a very important tech center, with the headquarters of Embraer, for example, and some universities.

Other routes[edit]

There are also future plans for other important routes from Sorocaba to Paulinia, Campinas to Piracicaba and Campinas to Rio Claro.

International link[edit]

On 2008-08-23, a deal was signed between Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela to develop an electrified long distance passenger railway link between these countries. A minor hurdle is the use of both 50 Hz and 60 Hz railway electrification systems. There is also a confusion of gauges (3 gauges of 1435mm, 1600mm and 1676mm) to overcome.[16]

New freight line[edit]

A new metre gauge line from Maracaju via Cascavel to Paranaguá for agricultural products is proposed.[17]

Gauge conversion[edit]

All 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) lines are possibly proposed to be converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge.[18]

Railway links with adjacent countries[edit]

Country Location Line Gauge Brazilian Gauge Line Location
Argentina Paso de los Libres Urquiza 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) unknown Uruguaiana
Bolivia Puerto Suárez unknown 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) unknown Corumbá
Uruguay Rivera Linea Rivera 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) unknown Santana do Livramento
Uruguay Rio Branco Linea Rio Branco 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) unknown Jaguarão

Heaviest trains[edit]

Brazil has some of the heaviest iron ore trains in the world, and these run on the metre gauge track of the EFVM railway, these trains are pulled by a fleet of specially built locomotives that utilize 4-axle trucks or two pairs of 2-axle trucks with span bolsters. The first model of locomotive built specially for this duty was the DDM45, created by EMD in 1970. 83 examples were delivered to the EFVM. Later, in the early 1990s the EFVM also ordered BB40-8M models from General Electric and continues to order further BB40-9W models, also from GE.

However, a major power shortage occurred in 2002 across the Brazilian narrow-gauge systems. As new locomotives would be too expensive for many railways, or would take too long to be delivered for others, the solution was to buy second-hand standard gauge locomotives and fit them with new metre gauge bogies. The number of axles was increased due to limitations with tractive effort output from the smaller metre-gauge traction motors.[19] The dual-truck axle conversion was fairly expensive, so not all railways could afford it; some, such as ALL (América Latina Logística) retained the original trucks, narrowing them to fit the new gauge and fitting smaller traction motors. Additional issues arose with the extra axles, primarily due to the increased length of locomotives creating excessive drawbar swing, causing some derailments on tighter curves.


Railway companies[edit]

Pre-1957 companies - this list is incomplete

State ownership[edit]

  • RFFSA (Rede Ferroviária Federal, Sociedade Anônima). Created in 1957 and dissolved between 1999 and 2007.



  • FCA e Vitória a Minas railroads.jpg

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Light Rail in Brazil Two Sad Stories Retrieved on 3 July 2009
  2. ^ www.lightrailnow.org Goiânia (Brazil) eyes light rail transit system Retrieved on 3 July 2009
  3. ^ www.lightrailnow.org Curitiba (Brazil) now plans a "Light Metro" to replace "BRT" in a major corridor Retrieved on 3 July 2009
  4. ^ www.seinfra.ce.gov.br Archived 7 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine. Metrô do Cariri inicia obras das nove estações de passageiros (In Português) Retrieved on 3 July 2009
  5. ^ The tramways of Brazil Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  6. ^ The Tramways of Campinas Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  7. ^ The Tramways of Jordao Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  8. ^ The Tramways of Itatinga Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  9. ^ The Tramways of Rio de Janeiro Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  10. ^ Santos The Tramways of Santos Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  11. ^ The Tramways of Belém Retrieved on 26 June 2008
  12. ^ Smith, Kevin. "World Cup rail projects caught offside". Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  13. ^ "Railway infrastructure in Brazil". Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  14. ^ "Obras de Expansão e Modernização - Canal de Relacionamento | Metrô São Paulo". www.metro.sp.gov.br. Retrieved 2016-08-14. 
  15. ^ "Trens Regionais". www.stm.sp.gov.br. Retrieved 2016-08-31. 
  16. ^ Xinhua (2008-08-21). "Venezuela, Argentina begin construction of railway linking their capitals". China Daily. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  17. ^ Railway Gazette International April 2009, page 62
  18. ^ Railways in Brazil
  19. ^ International Railway Journal, July, 2005 by Theodor A. Gevert – Re-gauging offers a cost-effective fleet upgrade
  20. ^ pt:Estrada de Ferro Rio d'Ouro
  21. ^ pt:Estrada de Ferro Sorocabana