The Extraordinary Tramways of
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The tramway on the pampas that so many rode and photographed at the end of the last century has gone forever and covered its tracks. In its last years its single car, number 9007, carried only a motorman and tramway enthusiasts. Trams and rails struggled without maintenance for two decades and the system finally fell apart. However, it was not always that way. Here are some of the high and low points in the history of an unusual street railway in South America.
The first horsecar line was built by James Horrocks, an English agent of the Paraguay Central Railway, whose steam line reached the Paraguayan capital in 1861. Using rails discarded by the PCR, Horrocks opened the city's first street railway in July 1871, a 1.5 km line between the Puerto (port) and the railroad station on Plaza Uruguaya [see map]. Track gauge was 1435 mm and the tram sheds were at the Puerto. (The PCR continued to use 1676 mm gauge until conversion to 1435 in the 20th century.) The Compañía de Tramways de la Ciudad de Asunción extended the line to Belvedere, a pleasure garden on Av. España, where the photograph below was taken [W. D. Boyce, Illustrated South America, p. 434, Chicago, 1912]:
In 1884 Horrocks sold his company to a medical doctor and local developer, Francisco Morra, who formed the Empresa de Tramways noted on this ticket [col. AM]:
Morra pushed the line further to San Miguel, La Recoleta, Trinidad and a village that he built and named Villa Morra [see map]. The tramway system was sold in 1890 to another Englishman, Campbell Oglivie, who imported locomotives from Pittsburgh and, in 1894, began running steam trains from Belvedere to San Lorenzo, 20 km from the capital. This postcard shows one of his trains at San Miguel. A few years later this spot will be occupied by the garage and offices of the electric tramway system [col. AM]:
The colorized postcard below shows passengers transferring from a horse tram to the train at Belvedere. View is east [see map] [col. AM]:
Here is another postcard view at Belvedere [see map]. A horsedrawn funeral procession passes a steam train [col. AM]:
The hand-colored postcard below shows a Porter locomotive and three double-deck cars with passengers on the roof at La Recoleta cemetery about 1895. The church is still there today – at the intersection of Avenidas Mariscal López and Chóferes del Chaco in Villa Morra [see map] [col. AM]:
In 1910 Juan Carosio, an agent for the German companies AEG and Siemens – which controlled electric power and tramway installations in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile – secured a contract for electrification of the tramway in Asunción. There was an international confrontation in 1912: Paraguay Central Railway reorganized the AL&P as Asunción Tramway, Light & Power Co., the United Electric trams arrived from England, electrical equipment arrived from Germany, and Virgilio, Vangioni y Compañía of Argentina arrived to install the rails and wire. Britannia ruled: ATL&P inaugurated the city's first electric line, from the Puerto to Belvedere [see map], on 10 July 1913. Note that the English trolley pole was replaced by a German bow collector [col. AM]:
Here is one of ATL&P's tickets [col. John Baird]:
In 1914 ATL&P electrified the steam tram line as far as Villa Morra and ordered this trail car from Brush Electrical in England (which it later motorized and renumbered 21) [col. AM]:
Later that year ATL&P filed for bankruptcy and the tramway was acquired by a new Italo-Argentine firm called Compañía Americana de Luz y Tracción ("CALT"). In the mid-1920s CALT moved its depot and shops from its Puerto location on Calle Colón to the steam tramway yards at San Miguel [see map] and ordered six electric cars, numbered 22-27, from Società Italiana Ernesto Breda in Milan. (Breda supplied the same model to Lima, Peru.) Note initials "CALT" on car 22 [Breda photograph via Guido Boreani]:
A few years later, on 8 June 1929, CALT purchased six similar cars, numbered 28-33, order 22794, from J. G. Brill in Philadelphia. Number 28 was photographed at the factory before shipment to South America [col. AM]:
The Brill trams resembled Birneys, but in fact were plain single-truck cars. The specimen below had been renumbered by the time it was photographed in 1976 [AM]:
The tramway network reached its peak in the 1930s with 33 motor trams and 26 trailers operating 10 routes on 37 km of track [see map]. In 1932 CALT extended electric service on the Villa Morra line to Fernando de la Mora (but not to San Lorenzo). The postcard view below shows Av. Mariscal López about 1940. The English tram in the distance is still in original form, but the one in the foreground has been remodeled. Those two strips far left – was that the path of the steam line? [col. AM]:
Paraguay changed traffic direction in 1945 and downtown street track was reversed. Routes 1, 2, 3 and 4 closed at this time but a new route 5 was built to Las Mercedes [see map]. The tram system was nationalized in 1948 and passed to the Administración Nacional de Electricidad ("ANDE"), which scrapped much of the original tram fleet. In 1963 ANDE imported ten "Tassara" cars second-hand from the tramway system in Buenos Aires, which it numbered B1-B10. The following photograph, taken in 1963, shows three of them at the San Miguel yards of the former Villa Morra steam tramway [Earl Clark]:
The photographer also found this unusual tram – 5 windows in the front, 9 on the side – in the San Miguel yards in 1963. Ex-Buenos Aires B7 hides in the garage. The blue object on the left was used in funeral processions [Earl Clark]:
Brill car 5 and funeral car trailers in 1963 [Earl Clark]:
The photograph of remodeled English tram 17 below was taken on Calle Estrella in 1964 [see map] [Raymond DeGroote]:
Here is B9 on Calle Padre Cardozo in Las Mercedes in 1977 [see map] [AM]:
In 1964 ANDE demolished the old steam tramway structures at San Miguel and erected a modern office building in their place. The electric tramway moved its shops and yards to an adjacent lot and laid new access track on Av. General Santos [see map]. Tram operation passed in 1966 to the Administración del Transporte Eléctrico ("ATE") which closed the system in 1973. No streetcars ran in Asunción for two years. ATE reopened line 5 in 1975 and began importing used trams from Brussels, Belgium: trailer 603 and motorcars 1507/8/14/15, 1601/3/4/5/7/10 and 9001/3/5-8. Here is 1605 on Av. España [AM]:
ATE reopened line 9 in 1978. Inbound car 1515 is about to turn south from Av. Mariscal López onto Calle Brasil [see map] [AM]:
Here is 1607 on Av. Mariscal López in Villa Morra [see map]. Note the Siemens traction poles [AM]:
The motorman's view from a Belgian tram [AM]:
This ex-Brussels car is turning from Calle Padre Cardozo onto Av. España [see map] [AM]:
The passenger area of Belgian tram 1515 [AM]:
The Belgian cars were unidirectional, so ATE built turning triangles for them at the outer ends of lines 5 and 9. This photograph shows the "Y" at the terminus of line 9 in Villa Morra [see map] [AM}:
Car 1514 has just reversed at Villa Morra [AM]:
Route 9 closed again in 1979. But ATE reopened the entire length of route 10 for a group of Belgian tram enthusiasts in 1984 [see map]. The service lasted only one day! Later that year rails were uncovered and wire was installed on part of route 4 to Puerto Sajonia that had been closed for 40 years. But that project was abandoned. There was another revival in 1990. Acknowledging the appeal of its trams to visitors, ATE created a tourist service on a loop downtown – the "microcenter" – which it labeled route "A". Route 5 was relabeled "B". These signs appeared at several tram stops [AM]:
But the tourist service was short-lived. The second group of Belgian trams – the 9000 series – had begun arriving in 1979. The picture below, taken in 1994, shows 9007 turning from Av. España onto Calle Brasil [see map]. Note "Belvedere" sign. Trams had been passing this point for 123 years! [AM]:
In the 1990s ATE also decorated its trams with advertisements. Belgian 9005 was sponsoring the Dutch Bank at Las Mercedes terminus in 1994. Route 5 was single track with passing sidings – one of the last lines of that type in the world [see map] [AM]:
But paint was the only attention that the cars received. By 1993 their mechanical condition was decrepit. The track had not been repaired in 80 years and derailments were routine. Commercial service on the system ended about June 1995 – the date is uncertain. ATE could make more money renting the trams to rich foreigners – who enjoyed derailments! – than by risking embarrassment for local fares. Freshly-painted 9007, crammed with German tram fans, makes one of its very last trips to Las Mercedes in October 1995 [see map] [AM]:
At Plaza Uruguaya [see map] the car emptied and the visitors positioned to capture Asunción's last streetcar turning in front of the Paraguay Central Railway station for the last time [AM]:
During the next two years car 9007 operated a few more charters, but in November 1997 the company declared the tramway system permanently closed. A 126-year saga had ended.
A visitor in 1998 found wire removed from the streets and five derelict cars – 9001, 9003, 9005, 9006 and 9007 – in the yard. In 1999 tram number 9007 was sent to Mariano Roque Alonso, a town just beyond the airport, where it was restored, painted yellow and was still displayed in 2011 [see photo at the bottom of this article]. In 2005 tram 9006 was also repainted yellow and placed on display on Plaza Uruguaya in front of the railway station. This photograph was taken in 2006 [Ian Thomson]:
After it was vandalized in 2007, tram 9006 was removed from its perch and taken to the town docks. Visitors in 2011 reported four trams – 9001, 9003, 9005 and another unidentified – still rotting away at the old tramway depot in San Miguel [see map].
There was a rumor of a horsecar operation about 1900 in the city of Concepción 225 km north of Asunción. But no evidence of a tramway there could be found.
Paraguay. Dirección General de Estadística. Anuario Estadístico, 1914, 1915, 1917. Asunción, 1915, 1916, 1918.
Klug & Marés, S. A. Plano de Asunción. Asunción, 1917. Map shows numbered tram routes in detail.
Alejandro Maluga. Asunción, 1:15,000. Asunción, 1937. Map shows numbered tram routes in detail.
Allen Morrison. Latin America by Streetcar, pp. 126-132. New York, 1996.
Elvio Díaz Valinotti. "Una reliquia olvidada entre yuyos y basurales" in ABC (Asunción), 28/4/2011. Illustrated survey of surviving trams. Photo of beautifully restored car 9007 in Mariano Roque Alonso.
Copyright © 2000-2100 Allen Morrison - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED