Estrada de Ferro

Raposos – Nova Lima / Brazil

Allen Morrison

Minas Gerais ("General Mines"), one of Brazil's largest and most populous states, had (at least) 18 tramway systems. Eight were electrically powered, including an unusual 9 km line that ran from Raposos railroad station, 40 km southeast of Belo Horizonte, to the Morro Velho gold mine at Nova Lima [AM]:

Gold had been discovered at Nova Lima in 1725. The Morro Velho mine grew fast and by the 20th century had the world's deepest mine, at 3,000 m / 9,843 ft. The railway was built by St. John del Rey Mining Co., an English organization that acquired the mine in 1834. Construction began in 1911 and, according to author-engineer Dermeval José Pimenta [see BIBLIOGRAPHY, below], operation began "em toda a sua extensão" on 3 April 1914. The quoted phrase suggests that partial operation had begun sooner, and in fact an 8-page article entitled "O Trenzinho de Ouro", published in the Carioca magazine O Cruzeiro in 1958, says that the line opened on 3 April 1913. The earlier date might also explain the use at the mine of the following very primitive electric locomotive [Elmo Gomes, A História de Nova Lima, "Fotos Antigas V"]:

The EF Morro Velho served the miners, their families and the residents of Raposos, Nova Lima and other villages along the route. Several times a month passengers were banned, the right-of-way was lined with militia, and the railway transported gold ingots to the Raposos station for export to Rio de Janeiro and beyond. The Minas Gerais Anuário Estatístico of 1921 reported a 1913 inauguration, 26 employees, 4 locomotives, 10 passenger trailers and 14 trailers for carga – in addition to 7 locomotives and 900 vagonetes for use in the mine. Track gauge was an unusual 660 mm/2 ft 2 in. The English company transferred passenger service to a subsidiary, Mineração Morro Velho, in 1960.

The following 14 color photographs were taken on 29 October 1963 by transport enthusiast Earl Clark of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. The first shows the Raposos station shared by the EFMV, on the left, and the meter-gauge main line of the EF Central, on the right, that ran between Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro:

A train composed of locomotive 35 and passenger car 37 approaches. The little General Electric locomotives worked the mines and also pulled passenger and carga cars between Raposos and Nova Lima. The overhead wire construction was unique – quite different from the hardware that General Electric had installed for the tramway system that opened in nearby Belo Horizonte in 1902 [Earl Clark]:

When an EF Central train suddenly appeared across the platform, Earl says he remembers scrambling up a ledge to get this view of the two trains together. [Now in his 90s, Earl is still active today in railfan activities.] Note train passengers waiting to board the EFMV. The first car is number 37, the same shown in the previous photograph. The EF Central coach is P 10. The slatted, almost closed windows of the EFMV cars must have made the interior rather dark. This car design has not been seen anywhere else [Earl Clark]:

The EFMV train left town and crossed what on old maps was called Ribeirão Água Suja (Dirty Water Creek). If Earl was riding the train, and not just standing on the bridge, he must have been leaning quite far out the window [Earl Clark]:

A view inside open car number 30. Riding a cross-bench open car of the EFMV was not very different from riding an open tram in Belo Horizonte or Rio de Janeiro. During his visit Earl encountered three open passenger cars – numbers 26, 30 and 35; and two closed passenger cars – 27 and 37. He did not see the other five cars of the 10-car fleet [Earl Clark]:

A view along the route – and a good closeup of one of the strange wire brackets. Those hills are full of gold [Earl Clark]:

Open car 26 pauses at one of the small stations along the way [Earl Clark]:

Locomotive 36 and passenger car 27 approach Nova Lima. The EFMV line circled through town, with numerous branches to the mines [Earl Clark]:

Locomotive 35 [Earl Clark]:

In Nova Lima, passenger service terminated at Praça do Mineiro, at the intersection of Ruas Dr. João Pena and Aníbal Morais de Quintão. View is eastward. The Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosario still sits on the hill, but otherwise this area is unrecognizable today. Car 37 and locomotive 35 [Earl Clark]:

Locomotive 34 and car 35 at a garage; Rosario Church on the hill [Earl Clark]:

Location of the following two photographs is uncertain. This must still be the Praça do Mineiro area. But sunlight and shadows are gone, and men in jackets and ties roam the yard. Perhaps these pictures were taken at dusk, as Earl prepared to ride the EFMV back to Raposos. Locomotive 35 and open car 26 [Earl Clark]:

Passengers wait while the conductor adjusts the trolley pole. (Where was Earl standing?) The same locomotive and open cars [Earl Clark]:

The location of locomotive 17 and its trailers is also unknown [Earl Clark]:

Alas, by mid-century the rail line was no longer profitable and Mineração Morro Velho discontinued passenger service on 31 December 1964 – a little over a year after Earl's visit. New, direct highways had been built to Belo Horizonte, which had grown exponentially and whose suburbs now almost reached Nova Lima [see map above]. Residents rebelled and mine workers threatened to strike. The Prefeitura de Nova Lima took over the service on 1 January 1965 and ran the trains for the next five years. The line finally closed permanently in 1970 and the rails were removed. Part of its route was replaced by highway AMG-150.

The Morro Velho mine was sold in 1975 to AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. of South Africa. Two decades later, in 1994, "AGA" opened an impressive mining museum, the Centro de Memória Morro Velho, on Rua Enfermeiro José Caldeira Brant, in the Boa Vista district overlooking Nova Lima. It has become a popular tourist attraction [Google]:

Among the museum's treasures are this nicely restored EF Morro Velho passenger car and locomotive 16 [AngloGold Ashanti]:

Here is the builder's plate on the side of the locomotive [Antonio Gorni]:

The little train photographed from another angle in 2018 [Antonio Gorni]:

Passenger car 27. The author has never before seen a cross-bench open car that is closed on one side. The design may be unique to the EFMV [Antonio Gorni]:

The closed side of the interior is decorated with photographs that were also shown in the Cruzeiro article of 1958, noted at the top of this page [Antonio Gorni]:

A hand-colored postcard [col. AM]:

AngloGold Ashanti has reduced operations, but the mine still functions today and claims to be the world's oldest continually operated mine.

The EF Morro Velho had a curious resemblance to the Ferrocarril Ogarrio which connected a steam railroad with the silver mines near Real de Catorce in San Luis Potosí state, Mexico. The FC Ogarrio also used small General Electric locomotives to pull open and closed passenger cars. Electric operation began in 1908, then returned to animal power after the line was de-electrified in 1934! Track gauge was 914 mm / 36 in (3 ft).

(in order of publication)

Brazil-Ferro-Carril, Rio de Janeiro. An untitled news item on p. 13 of the April 1911 edition states that an electric railway was under construction between Raposos and Nova Lima in Minas Gerais state.

Minas Gerais. Serviço de Estatística Geral. Anuário de Minas Gerais. The "Ferro-carris" charts in vol. 3 of the 1921 edition indicate that the Ferro Carril de Morro opened in 1913, was 9.5 km long, electric, and had four locomotives that pulled 10 passenger cars and 14 freight cars – in addition to seven electric locomotives that pulled 900 vagonetes in the mines.

Brasil. Ministério das Minas e Energia. Departamento National da Produção Mineral. "Nova Lima" topographic map, scale 1:25,000, published in 1949, provides good detail of the Raposos-Nova Lima electric line.

Dermeval José Pimenta. Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, Conselho Nacional de Estatística, I Centenário das Ferrovias Brasileiras, 1954. "Nossos Caminhos de Ferro Elétricos: Estrada de Ferro Morro Velho" on pp. 182-183 presents a description and short history of the line and states that it was the second to be electrified in Brazil (after the EF Corcovado). That is not exactly correct since the EFMV was not electrified – it was built electric, and also since on p. 177 the author asserted that the EF da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro was Brazil's first electric railroad [see text]. That would make the EFMV its third.

José Franco. "O Trenzinho de Ouro" in O Cruzeiro (Rio de Janeiro), 11 October 1958. Photo essay about the little train to the gold mines. Eight extraordinary illustrations. A landmark railway article in a large-circulation newsweekly.

"Prefeitura de Nova Lima garante circulação do bondinho histórico" in Estado de Minas (Belo Horizonte), 3 January 1965. One of several newspaper accounts of the tramway transfer. A good photograph.

Marshall C. Eakin. British Enterprise in Brazil: the St. John d'el Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho Gold Mine, 1830-1960. Durham: Duke University Press, 1989. This well-known 334-page study mentions the railway only briefly on pages 52 and 88. The line is shown on an area map on p. 23, but not on a sketchy Nova Lima street map on p. 25. Very disappointing.

  Antonio Gorni. A Eletrificação nas Ferrovias Brasileiras. E.F. Morro Velho. Excellent article in this pioneer online survey of Brazil's electric railroads. Quotes The Tramways of Brazil as a source!

Ralph M. Giesbrecht. Estações Ferroviárias do Brasil. E. F. de Morro Velho. Very fine, detailed description of the line. Includes text and photos from O Cruzeiro article noted above and three 1960 views by Leonardo Bloomfield. 


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This page was first uploaded on
23 December 2017

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