If the Thurso Railway ever runs out of 70 tonners, I now know a place where there are lots of them. In fact, the arrival of the Sao Paulo ELECTRIC multiple unit was effected by one. The "Electric" train, you say? That's right, and thereby hangs a most unusual tale.
Last November, a friend from Toronto asked me if I wanted to join him on a cheap trip to Rio de Janeiro. It turned out that an organization in Boston known as International Weekends regularly charters a large plane and many hotel rooms and thereby provides tourists with holidays at half the regular air-fare. I immediately said "Sure!!" and thus it was that on January 13 I arrived in Rio.
Since Rio is not all that interesting in terms of railways, we soon set off for other places, pausing only briefly to admire the beautiful Cariocas in their "string" bikinis. First stop was Sao Paulo, which we reached by taking the "Air-bridge" - a shuttle air service using Convair Electras.
In Sao Paulo, we rode the two lines of their new Metro, admiring the stations and the crowd control, for it is very well patronized. We also visited the three railway stations (Roosevelt, Lua and Julio Prestes). The last-named is a remarkible edifice with the stained-glass windows of a cathedral. Furthermore, although most tracks in the Sao Paulo area are 1600 mm. gauge, it still has one meter-gauge track: for the infrequent passenger service on that system.
Because it was raining we decided to leave Sao Paulo and by luck we caught the 16:45 electric multiple unit to Santos, which is Sao Paulo's port. In the beginning it was a standard trip, although we were amazed at the size of Sao Paulo and later impressed by the almost tropical jungle we entered as we left its outskirts.
When we stopped at Paranapiacaba, I noticed strange Hitachi locomotives which had unusual four wheel trucks. These trucks looked the size of three-axle trucks but furthermore they had side-rods! ! A bump on the front of our multiple unit signalled that two of these weird machines had coupled on to our train. What on earth was going on?
A few seconds after we had left the station the answer became clear. Our descent sharpened to an unrailway like pitch, we looked out of the window and found that we were now on (as far as we know) the only main-line rack railway in the world. The scenery was unbelievable as we descended the uountainside, dropping roughly 600 metres in 10 kilometres. On the way we literally descended through the clouds.
At the bottom of the cog section, the electrification stops. Here at Piacaguera the GE 70 tonner of the title coupled on and pulled us across the coastal plain to Santos. During this trip we were in a tropical area with the houses built on stilts. Most unusual.
Our arrival in Santos was on time. Much to my surprise the station also held four American-built Budd cars (part of 29 sent to Brazil in 1962 according to the December 1968 issue of Trains). There were some other European-looking railcars there as well.
Some brief observations should be made in conclusion. Good highways, new busses and frequent air service have killed the long-distance passenger train in Brazil. Even our run to Santos was a twice a day run at inconvenient times. We were warned against riding the day train between Sao Paulo and Rio because it was SECOND CLASS. The overnight service in cars that could have been off the Canadian looked not too bad, but it too had been cut back from two trains a night to one.
Brazil's "standard gauge" at 1600 mm. shows its Portugese ancestry, according to Extra 2200 South, the ubiquitous General Electric diesels were built in Brazil. Some of the General Motors products were built in Spain. All of the switchers that I saw were GE 70 tonners.
The BRS Hat on Paqueta Island
Paqueta Island is a resort island in Guanabara Bay roughly 20 kilometres north of Rio de Janeiro. No vehicles except horse-drawn carts are allowed. Access is by hydrofoil or large ferry. The beaches and their users are beautiful. There is one problem - there seemed to be no toilets. Help!!
Fortunately in a moment of need (great, urgent, Montezuma's revenge need) I saw a kiosk marked in English "Tourist Information". A young coffee-coloured Brazilian speaking excellent English saved my shorts by escorting me to a nearby reataurent and asking the help of the owner.
Ah — relief!! But how to say thank you. When I went back to the kiosk to express my appreciation, he started to compliment on my (in his words) "oh so beautiful" red BRS cap. What could I do? "Here", I said, "take it. Ches will sell me another one gladly."
Thus it is that a BRS-hatted Brazillian now mans the tourist kiosk on Paqueta Island in Guanabara Bay in Brazil.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, March 1983, page 3.