Braga trams

Braga tram no.4 with trailer no.4

Braga tram no.4 with trailer no.4 in 1962 on the Avenida Central.

Braga is situated about 55 km north-east from Porto. It’s a very old city, with its roots in the pre-historic period. Apart from the many monuments in the city itself, one of the most important destinations for visitors is the Santuário do Bom Jesus do Monte, a pilgrimage church situated on a hill about 5 km east of the city. The railway from Porto to Braga had opened on 21 May 1875 with the station at the west of the city.

Companhia de Carris de Ferro de Braga (CCFB)

The Companhia de Carris de Ferro de Braga opened on 20 May 1877 a mule tramline from the railway station via the Rua do Souto, which is the narrow main street of Braga, to the Largo de São Francisco where the depot of the trams was located. Soon, likely on 2 July 1877, a second line was opened from the Largo de São Francisco to the Portico of Bom Jesus at the bottom of the stairway to the pilgrimage church. To reach the church at the top, still this huge baroque stairway up the hillside had to be climbed. The time-table for July 1877 shows ten return trips for the section Largo de São Francisco – Bom Jesus and six return trips for the section Largo de São Francisco – Railway station, the latter apparently in connection on the trains. The 4.5 km trip from Largo de São Francisco to the Portico of Bom Jesus took 40 minutes, in opposite direction 30 minutes, a difference which without doubt was caused by the gradient over the route. The 1.2 km urban route took ten minutes for both directions.

Mule tram at the Arcada

Mule tram no.2 in front of the Arcada

The Bom Jesus funicular

On 26 March 1882 a standard-gauge funicular was opened up the hill alongside the stairway to the Bom Jesus church. The funicular has two parallel tracks and was constructed by Niklaus Riggenbach. With a length of 270 metres and a maximum gradient of 52%, this was the first funicular in Portugal and one of the oldest still existing in the world. It relies on the weight of the water ballast for motive power, and on a central Riggenbach ladder rack for braking. In 1967 the funicular was handed over to the Confraria do Bom Jesus, a religious organisation. It still uses the original cars and the water counter-balance system.

Funicular de Bom Jesus

The Bom Jesus funicular, 22 May 2016

Companhia Carris e Ascensor do Bom Jesus (CCABJ)

In June 1883 the tramway and funicular operators merged into the Companhia Carris e Ascensor do Bom Jesus. Two months before, in April 1883 two small steam locomotives were bought second hand from the since 1880 defunct Régua – Vila Real 900 mm gauge tramway. They were built in 1877 by SLM Winterthur with the works numbers 112 and 113. The locomotives had worked in Tras-os-Montes as a pair, coupled together by a load-carrying framework. The steam engines were in Braga mainly used on Sundays and holidays. At less busy times the service was provided by single cars hauled by mules.

The two locomotives in the coupled configuration as they worked between Régua and Vila Real

In 1886 a second, more northern tram route was opened between Largo de São Francisco and the railway station. This route was via Rua dos Capelistas, Campo da Vinha (nowadays Praça do Conde de Agrolongo) and Rua dos Biscanhois where it joined the first route again just West of the Porta Nova. This route might have been made to ban the steam trams from the busy but narrow Rua do Souto.

In 1887 a third steam locomotive was acquired. Of the origin it’s only known that it came from Germany.

After several serious accidents the locomotives were since 8 July 1891 only allowed to be used between Ponte de Santa Cruz (Peões) and Bom Jesus. Only mules were allowed to haul the trams in the urban area. As there are photos made after 1891 showing the locomotives on the Avenida Central and near the church of São Vitor, this restriction was lifted again.

Mule tram in front of the lower station if the Bom Jesus funicular

The lower station of the Bom Jesus funicular with in front a closed mule tram

Serviços Municipalizados de Braga (SMB)

In May 1913 the municipality decided to take over and electrify the system. AEG and Thomson-Houston Iberica were contracted for the electrification. The 900 mm gauge was retained. A new depot was built south of the station. The power station was located on the same site as the new depot. Two boilers, two steam engines and two dynamos could deliver together 600 hp of electricity, which was not only used for the trams but also for electric street lights and pumps to supply water from the Rio Cávado to the town. All these operations became the responsibility of the Serviços Municipalizados de Braga (SMB).

In the night of 3 to 4 October 1914, just after midnight the first electric tram started test riding. On 14 October eight experienced tram-drivers from Porto went to Braga for training of the local drivers. On 18 October the official inauguration took place and electric services began on 19 October 1914. The trams were unique in Portugal in using bow collectors instead of trolley poles.

Tram no.8

Tram no.8 on the way to Ponte

The system was single-track, with loops spaced to allow a ten-minute service. The three steam locomotives were disposed of, but the trailers were retained for use on Sundays and holidays and whenever pilgrimage traffic was heavy.

The basic time-table of 1914 showed trams every 20 minutes in both directions via Rua do Souto and via Campo da Vinha, resulting in every 10 minutes a tram until Peões. The trams continued every 30 minutes from Peões to Bom Jesus. On Sundays and days of pilgrimage with heavy traffic to the church, there were separate services between the station and the Avenida Central and the Avenida Central and Bom Jesus.

Braga 7 Bom Jesus

Tram no.7 on the Avenida do Portico with in the background on the hill the Bom Jesus church.

Disaster

On Sunday 20 May 1923 the most severe accident in the history of the Braga tram happened in Tenões, between Bom Jesus and the Ponte de Santa Cruz, a section of the route with a gradient of about 6.5% over about 1.5 km. Motorcar 10 with an open trailer, both overcrowded, was on the way from Bom Jesus back to the city when the brakes failed. As the speed became far too high, the trailer derailed, hit a post of the overhead and then smashed into a wall with disastrous results. Eight people died and dozens were wounded. The open trailer was almost completely destroyed.

Tram no.10 with trailer at Bom Jesus

Tram no.10 with an open trailer at the lower station of the Bom Jesus funicular.

Extensions

The most important extension of the Braga tramways was a line Largo da Ponte – Monte de Arcos, intersecting the main route at Praça de Republica. The construction of this line started in September 1921. Problems with the acquiring of the necessary materials caused that the construction took almost two years and the line could only be opened on 30 June 1923. Four years later, on 19 June 1927 this line was extended at the southern end over the bridge to the entrance of the Parque da empresa e do Clube de Caçadores.

Another extension was beyond the depot to the suburb of Maximinos, introducing a service Maximinos – Peões, on 7 July 1923. With these extensions the system reached its maximum size. No more changes were made to the network until its closure in 1963.

The way down

During the years the necessary maintenence was done to keep the trams running, but no renewial or modernisation was executed. Already in a report made in 1938, the director of the SMB described the tram system to be in a state of degradation. The director put in the report the question if the trams should be maintained or abandoned. As an option he proposed to replace the trams by trolleybuses. However at that moment no action was taken to address the issue. The trams and the tracks were just gradually wearing out more and more. In the 1950’s it became clear that to continue the tram operations major renewal of the infrastructure and complete replacement of the fleet was necessary. That wasn’t feasible though. Instead the trams were replaced with trolleybuses bought second hand from Heilbronn in Germany. The last service trams ran on 20 May 1963, and buses provided a service until trolleybus operation commenced on 28 May, on which day tram 2 made a brief farewell run from the railway station to the Porta Nova and back to the depot.

Braga Argada - Praça da República

Arcada, about 1930. The destination of the first tram cannot be determined for sure, but is likely Monte de Arcos. Behind it a man is changing the points, which means that the tram with the trailer will go to Bom Jesus. A third, more dark coloured tram just comes from the direction of Rua do Souto.

Rolling Stock of the SMB

The Braga tram fleet comprised 11 electric motor cars, 13 trailers and two mail vans. The tram livery was originally light brownish yellow, then dark red, and finally most cars were painted yellow, but a few remained red until the end.

Electric Trams

At the start of electric services in 1914, Braga had eight 20-seat semi-convertible four-wheel cars from the J. G. Brill Company of Philadelphia, similar to Coimbra 1-8 except for their 900 mm gauge and their bow collectors. These cars had six windows at each side and seats for 20: four rows in 2+1 configuration and longitudinal benches for two in each of the four corners. They were mounted on 1.98 m wheelbase Brill 21E trucks and were numbered from 1 to 8. Motors and controllers were by AEG, supplied by Thomson-Houston Iberica.

Braga no.6

Tram no.6 on the Avenida Central, 24 September 1960.

Likely in the early 1920’s and because of the network extensions of 1923, two more tramcars identical with 1-8 arrived, getting the numbers 9-10. The builder is not known, but no.10 was involved with the disaster of 20 May 1923, so they were built before that moment.

The last car added to the fleet (no.11) was built by the local workshops in 1936/1937 with the use of parts supplied by the CCFP in Porto. It was the Braga version of the Porto Brill-28 type with seven windows at each side and 28 seats with rows of 2+2.

Braga eléctrico no.11

Tram no.11 on the Avenida Central, September 1962.

Trailers

The origins of most of the mule trams / trailers are not known. The first were ordered in 1876 and came from a company based in Liverpool. Type and number of them are not known. Two open and two closed mule trams were ordered in January 1883 from Starbuck. The open cars were of the cross-bench type with five benches and seating for 20. The closed cars had a seating capacity for 12.

When the system was electrified, the 13 existing mule trams continued their life as trailers: seven two-axle cross bench cars (1-7) with flat roofs and with panelled and glazed bulkheads, four closed cars (8, 10, 12, 13) with six windows per side and turtle-back roofs, one saloon car (9) with a flat roof and with six drop-sash windows per side and one cross-bench car (11) with a turtle-back roof.

Tram with open trailer

A tram with an open trailer series 1-7 on Praça da República. Postcard used in August 1936.

Closed trailers

Closed trailers nos. 12, 9 and an unknown, possibly no.10, September 1962

Open trailer no.11

Open trailer no.11, September 1962

After closure of the system all cars were scrapped.

Sources

  • Joaquim da Silva Gomes: Os Eléctricos em Braga [1914-1963] published 2014, ISBN 978-989-98974-0-3
  • Brian King and John Price: The Tramways of Portugal, published by the LRTA (four editions) in 1964, 1972, 1983 and 1995, fifth edition in preparation
  • STCP (CCFP) archives
  • Old Portuguese newspapers
  • Illustrations: map and photo of funicular made by me (Ernst Kers); all others are part of my collection.

Sintra trams

Sintra tram no.1 at Colares, 7 May 2013.

History

In 1904 an 11.7 km long metre gauge electric tramline was opened from Sintra (station) to Praia das Maças (Applebeach). An 1.0 km long urban line connected the station in Sintra-Estefânia with Sintra-Vila. Some freight transport existed, mainly between Banzão and the railway station. In the small Banzão depot is still a weigh bridge and the only track of the depot gives also access to the warehouse of a winery. At the railway station was a siding to make transfer of goods easy.

In 1930 the line was extended by 1.9 km from Praia das Maças to Azenhas do Mar bringing the total length of the system on 14.6 km. This last extension was closed again in 1954, the urban line was closed in 1958. From 1953 until 1974 the service was limited to Summer only. During the period 1975 to 2003 no service at all or only a very limited service on part of the line existed. Since the Summer of 2004 the line is almost reinstalled complete again between Sintra-Estefánia and Praia das Maças, except for the about 600 m long section through the town of Sintra until the railway station.

The time-table of the tram service is published on the site of the Câmara Municipal of Sintra.

Sintra station around 1910. In front of the station building are a closed and an open motor tramcar.

The line

Along the line are indications of distances. The current 0 km point is at Praia das Maças. With the description of the line these distances are used and that means the old Azenhas do Mar terminus gets its distance indicated as negative. The line is and was over its whole length single track with passing loops. Most was on reserved space or at the road side.

  • – 1.9 km Azenhas do Mar – terminus with two stub tracks near the Largo Chitas. The part in Praia das Maças of the route to Azenhas was street track. Opened 1930, closed 1954.
  • 0.0 km Praia das Maças – current terminus with passing loop and two stub tracks.
  • 1.5 km Pinhal de Nazaré – passing loop.
  • 3.0 km Banzão – former freight station, now small depot and sub-station. Passing loop with connected a stub track into the building and beyond into the adjacent building of the winery. A second stub track with a small turn-table was removed.
  • 3.9 km Colares – small station building that in recent years was converted to a large shelter. Passing loop removed.
  • 5.1 km Nora – passing loop removed.
  • 6.4 km Galamares – passing loop with a shelter. This location is a bit outside the village of Galamres.
  • 7.0 km Galameres, Rua das Flores – no special tram infrastructure, but central in the small village.
  • 7.9 km Ponte Redonda – passing loop removed. Named after the adjacent bridge. This was originally a narrow stone bridge with street track for the tram. Now it’s a wide bridge with the tram track on reserved space in the centre.
  • 8.8 km Ribeira – passing loop originally as street track because the road was here very narrow. With the construction of a wide road inside the curve, the passing loop is now on reserved space. There was a stub track into the former power plant.
  • 9.0 km Ribeira – line to the depot.
  • 10.1 km Monte Santos – passing loop with shelter. The current shelter is new, the old one was of the same type as the one in Galamares.
  • 11.0 km Sintra Estefânia – current terminus as single stub track. There is and was never a passing loop. From here the line was street track. The section until the station was used for the last time in 1974 and later lifted.
  • 11.7 km Sintra Estação – layout several times changed, but details are unknown. There was a side track to the goods shed at the back side of the station. Originally this track crossed the railway just outside the tunnel together with a road crossing that existed there at the time. Later the side line connection was moved to the top end of the railway station. Passing loop in front of the secondary station building “Grande Velocidade”.
  • 12.7 km Sintra Vila – Old terminus, one stub track with a passing loop next to the Torre do Relógio. The section from the station to Vila was closed in 1958.

Map of the Sintra tramline

Rolling stock

Original there were three closed and four open cross-bench cars plus two closed and four open cross-bench trailers. All this rolling stock came from Brill of Philadelphia.

Brill works photo of an open motorcar, still without electric equipment, and an open trailer.

Brill works photo of a closed motorcar, still without electric equipment.

Brill works photo of the interior of a closed tramcar.

The original colours of the trams are not known, likely they were yellow. In the 1950’s the trams were yellow, in 1958 they became blue and in 1963 red. The original numbers of the trams are not know either. In the 1930’s the open motor cars had the numbers 1, 3, 5 & 7, the closed motor cars had the numbers 2, 6 & 8, the closed trailers the numbers 4 & 10 and the open trailers the numbers 9, 11, 12 & 13.

During the years reconstructions took place. Three new domed-roof bodies similar to the Lisbon “Standard” cars were constructed. Together with truck changes and renumbering this resulted in the following fleet:

  1. Brill made open motor car with eight cross-benches seating 32. This tram is painted blue again.
  2. Local made closed domed-roof motor car with seating for 24. Entered service in 1945. The truck came from the old closed Brill motorcar no.2 of which the body was scrapped.
  3. Brill made closed motor car with transverse seats for 17. This was before closed motorcar no.8.
  4. Local made closed domed-roof motor car with seating for 24. Entered service in 1946. The truck came from the old closed Brill motorcar no.6 of which the body was stored.
  5. Local made closed domed-roof motor car with seating for 24. Entered service in 1948. The truck came from the old open motorcar no.5, of which the body was used for trailer no.14.
  6. Brill made open motor car with eight cross-benches seating 32. This was before open motorcar no.3.
  7. Brill made open motor car with eight cross-benches seating 32. This tram is painted yellow again.
  8. Brill made closed trailer with longitudinal seats for 20. Before this trailer had the no.4.
  9. Brill made open trailer with eight cross-benches seating 32.
  10. Brill made closed trailer with transverse seats for 17.
  11. Brill made open trailer with eight cross-benches seating 32.
  12. Brill made open trailer with eight cross-benches seating 32.
  13. Brill made open trailer with eight cross-benches seating 32.
  14. Brill made open trailer with eight cross-benches seating 32. The body belonged to one of the original motor cars.
  • Brill made closed body without truck. The body belonged to one of the original motor cars. It’s in storage since 1946.
  • Overhead wire repair car.
  • One closed freight car.
  • One small open freight car.
  • Two large open freight cars.
  • One flat car.
  • Two lorries. 
  • Diesel locomotive.
  • Tram acquired from Lisbon (ex CCFL no.709) and prepared for service in Sintra, which got the number 100.

In 2006 the Ribeira depot was rebuilt. Except for the fleet of Sintra, two more former Lisbon cars are stored there. One is 703, the other the 615 owned by a tram enthusiast. Also two former Coimbra trucks came to Sintra.

Sintra tram no.2 has just left the terminus of Praia das Maças, 15 September 2018.

Sintra tram no.3 at Banzão, 8 July 2006.

Sintra tram no.7 on the Ponte de Redonda, 9 October 2013.

Sintra trailer no.9 inside the Ribeira depot, 7 May 2013.

Sintra trailer no.10 inside the Ribeira depot, 4 August 2007.

Sintra 3 Largo Afonso de Albuquerque

Open trailer no.12 and closed motorcar no.5 depart from the station to Praia das Maças. At the right closed motorcar no.3.

Old Ribeira depot with open motorcar no.1, open trailer no.14, closed trailer no.10 and one of the Lisboa type closed trams.

New Ribeira depot with closed tram no.4, the open trams nos 1 and 6 with behind no.1 just visible the yellow open tram no 7. At the right one of the open freighr wagons and behind it the overhead repair car. The people are a group of enthusiasts visiting the depot after they made a rental trip on the line. 4 September 2012.

Sources

  • Júlio Cardoso & Valdemar Alves: “Eléctricos de Sintra, um percurso centenário”, published by the Câmara Municipal de Sintra in June 2004.
  • Paulo Caldeira Martins: “Eléctricos de Sintra”, ISBN 972/700/095/9 published August 1997.
  • B.R. King and J.H. Price: “The Tramways of Portugal”, published by the LRTA, several editions.

Photos

  • Brill works photos: collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (USA)
  • Postcard railway station, photo in front of the station and old Ribeira depot: collection Ernst Kers
  • All other photos: Ernst Kers

More photos of the Sintra tram on Flickr.
Old pages about Portuguese trams.