The Tramways of
Minas Gerais state


Allen Morrison

Minas Gerais ("General Mines") is Brazil's fourth largest state – larger than France – and is one of six that does not front on the Atlantic Ocean. With few navigable rivers industrial development in Minas Gerais was slow, but when railroads arrived in the 19th century gold, diamonds and iron made it one of Brazil's richest states. By the early 20th century Minas Gerais was Brazil's most populous state and today Belo Horizonte is Brazil's largest inland capital after São Paulo. Minas Gerais had 18 tram systems, more than any other state in Brazil. Eight – maybe nine of these – were electric.

There were two major electric systems: in Belo Horizonte, the capital, and in Juiz de Fora. The other six electric tramways were basically one-line operations between the railroad station and the town: Sacramento, Nova Lima, Lavras, Além Paraíba, Bom Sucesso and Carvalho Brito. These ranged in length from 14 km (Sacramento) to 0.4 km (Carvalho Brito). The Bom Sucesso and Carvalho Brito lines each had only one car. There are conflicting reports as to whether the tramway in Campanha was operated by electricity or other means. Horsecars exclusively ran in Pedro Leopoldo, Teófilo Otoni, Ouro Preto, Ubá, Cataguases, Guarará, Mar de Espanha, São Lourenço and Caxambu.

Belo Horizonte ("Beautiful Horizon") is situated in a bowl, surrounded by mountains, about 450 km north of Rio de Janeiro. It is one of Brazil's newest cities, founded only in 1890, and was Brazil's first planned city, predating Brasília. A Baldwin steam locomotive that helped lay out the city's streets also pulled passenger cars in the late 1890s and established what is considered its first street railway, the Ramal Férreo Urbano. Its second was a horsecar line inaugurated on 16 February 1899 by two hotels, the Romaneli and the Lima, to transport guests to and from the railroad station. On 2 September 1902, only a decade after its founding, Belo Horizonte became the fifth city in Brazil – after Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Manaus and São Paulo – to have an electric tramway system [see map].

The installation was by General Electric under the supervision of a local industrialist, Júlio Brandão, and the first six electric cars were built by the Jackson & Sharp Co. in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.A. – this company's only order for Brazil: four 8-bench models in 1902 and two 10-bench models in 1904. Eduardo Guinle, who became GE's principal agent in Brazil in 1903, took over management of the Ferro-Carril de Bello Horizonte in 1904 and ordered two 8-bench trams and a sprinkler car from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia. The FCBH purchased trucks from Peckham Manufacturing in Kingston, New York, and built a parlor car and several freight cars in its shops in 1908. Fifteen more 10-bench passenger cars came from Brill after ownership passed to the Companhia de Eletricidade e Viação Urbana de Minas Gerais in 1912. The Belo Horizonte tramway company purchased additional trucks from Brill in succeeding years, but imported no more vehicles from the United States. The 4-wheel and 8-wheel arch-roof models seen in postcards of the 1930s, 40s and 50s were built either in its shops in Belo Horizonte or by railcar manufacturers like Trajano de Medeiros in Rio de Janeiro.

Belo Horizonte ran its first bus in 1922 and Electric Bond & Share, the U.S. conglomerate, took over all utilities, including the tramway, in 1929. Ebasco's subsidiary, Companhia Força e Luz de Minas Gerais, opened new tram routes in the 1930s and acquired 28 bogie trucks from the tramway system in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1945. The trucks arrived in Belo Horizonte already adjusted for meter gauge and CFLMG built 14 new car bodies upon them. (Ebasco sent complete Worcester cars to Salvador and Porto Alegre.) In 1950 the Belo Horizonte tramway operated 87 passenger motor cars and three freight vehicles on 73 km of track. The single-truck 10-bench cars were numbered 1-75; the double-truck 12-window cars 80-99; the double-truck 12-bench cars were in the 100 series; and the double-truck 14-bench cars in the 200s. The Belo Horizonte tramway rarely used trailers.

Ebasco was forced out on 1 January 1959 and the new municipal operator, Departamento de Bondes e Onibus, ran the last streetcar in Belo Horizonte on 30 June 1963. Mayor Jorge Carone proposed a tourist tramway along the lakeshore in Pampulha, but nothing was built. Cars 55 and 69 were donated to the tramway in Lavras, where they operated until 1967. Car 75 is on static display today at the Museu Histórico Abílio Barreto on Rua Bernardo Mascarenhas.

The city had a trolleybus system between 1953 and 1969 [see 1963 photograph]. The first section of the Belo Horizonte metro, which also uses overhead wire, began operation on 6 March 1985. Today it has 30 km of track and 20 stations. A light rail line was proposed in 1989, but was not constructed.

See pictures


(in order of publication)

Alves Pinto, Raymundo, and Pontes, Tito Lívio. Album de Bello Horizonte. São Paulo, 1911. Numerous interesting streetcar pictures.

Untitled news item in Brazil-Ferro-Carril (Rio de Janeiro), 24/7/1924, p. 98. Good account of tramway development.

Silveira, Victor. Minas Geraes em 1925. Belo Horizonte, 1926. Full page of tram photos, p. 1149.

Amaral, Alfredo. Guia de Belo Horizonte. Belo Horizonte, 1946. Tram itineraries, pp. 17-34.

Barreto, Abílio. Resumo Histórico de Belo Horizonte. Belo Horizonte, 1950. "Ramal Férreo Urbano", p. 122. "Bondes," pp. 194-196.

Guia Rivera 1958. Belo Horizonte, 1958. Tram itineraries.

"Mineiros Vendem Bondes e Compram Tróleibus" in Folha de São Paulo (São Paulo), 1963/8/29, 24. Tramway closing; trolleybus development.

Santos, Manoel Hygino dos. "Um Bonde (Que Não Existe Mais) Chamado Saudade" in Estado de Minas (Belo Horizonte), 5/9/1980, p. 9. Tram reminiscences.

Waldemar Corrêa Stiel. História do Transpote Urbano no Brasil. Brasília, 1984. "Belo Horizonte" chapter, pp. 35-51, has 17 photographs of trams and trolleybuses, many copied from the Pinto-Pontes and Silveira works noted above. On p. 35 the author says that the city's first electric trams were built by Brill. (They were built by Jackson & Sharp.) On p. 47 he says that the tramway system closed in June 1965. (It closed in June 1963.)

Allen Morrison. The Tramways of Brazil. New York, 1989. "Belo Horizonte" chapter, pp. 73-78, has seven photographs and a map. The text is online.

Prefeitura Municipal de Belo Horizonte. Omnibus: uma história dos transportes coletivos em Belo Horizonte. Belo Horizonte, 1996. Heavy 380-page volume with text, charts and many illustraions. Four maps in a sleeve are based on the map in my book, The Tramways of Brazil. (My name is on the maps, but not in the book's bibliography!) Description of steam tramway, pp. 33-34; electric tramway inauguration, p. 42; tramway closure, pp. 204-205; light rail proposal, p. 302.

In addition to the works above, the author is indebted to tramway authority extraordinaire Harold E. Cox of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania, for the information that he provided about the streetcars and streetcar equipment that U.S. manufacturers supplied to Belo Horizonte.


See Belorussian translation by Bohdan Zograf

See Bulgarian translation by Artem Delik

See Macedonian translation of this text

See Polish translation by Valeria Aleksandrova

See the Trams of / Veja os Bondes de
Além Paraíba / Juiz de Fora
Bom Sucesso / Lavras / Sacramento

See my index of

If you have comments, criticism or suggestions,
please e-mail me! Leio e escrevo português.


Copyright © 2005-2105 Allen Morrison