The Porto Steam Trams

Steam tram with locomotive Henschel no.5 at Cadouços ca.1902. Photo Aurélio da Paz dos Reis.

In Porto, like in most cities before electric trams were introduced, horse trams provided the urban public transport, although in Porto more often mules were used. Steam trams were used in many cities too, most on busy suburban routes. Porto was one of the cities in Europe using steam locomotives for trams. This page is about the steam trams of Porto that operated in the city for 36 years.

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Merryweather & Sons, steam tram locomotive builders

The sole surviving Merryweather steam tram locomotive, works no.110 of 1881, RSTM no.2, in the Nederlands Spoorweg Museum in Utrecht in December 2008. (Wikipedia)

Actually the title of this page is wrong. The major activity of the Merryweather company was always making fire fight equipment. As such it was founded in 1692, although originally with a different name. Over the next 144 years the name changed several times with new owners and associates joining or leaving the firm. Fire fight equipment and its history is very interesting, but this page is about the second product that made Merryweather famous: steam tram locomotives.

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The Lisboa cable trams

Cable tram no.4 of the Estrela line. The photo was taken in 1913 on the last day the line was in operation.

Lisboa is built on hills. Mule or horse trams could only go up the steep gradients with the use of extra animals. As the animals were the largest cost of the whole tram operations, it was a too costly affair to have many or long steep inclines within the network. In 1873 in San Francisco a system was introduced employing a cable running continuously in a conduit below the track, which could be picked up or released by a gripper with metal jaws suspended from the car and passing through a slot in the road. Many such systems were built in America and other countries. Also in Lisboa three cable tramlines were constructed, all with a gauge of 900 mm.

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Metro do Porto

Eurotram at Viso, 31 August 2012

During the last decades of the 20th century the increasing number of cars made Porto the scene of an almost continuos enormous traffic jam. The buses were stuck in the jam too. The remains of the old tram system, in decline since 1959, were not suited to provide a base for high capacity public transport. But Porto was considered too small for a full scale underground system. It was decided to create a new light-rail system in tunnels in the central area of the city and at surface outside the central area. For this a new organisation was created, the Metro do Porto.

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The joint route of the Metro do Porto

Eurotram and Flexity Swift at Lapa, 21 June 2016

Five out of six lines of the Metro do Porto share a joint route between Estádio do Dragão and Senhora da Hora. This route runs from east via the centre to the north-west of the city over a distance of almost 10 km and has a total of 14 stations/stops: Estádio do Dragão – Campamhã – Heroismo – Campo 24 de Agosto – Bolhão – Trindade – Lapa – Carolina Michalis – Casa da Música – Francos – Ramalde – Viso – Sete Bicas – Senhora da Hora.

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Line A of the Metro do Porto

Parque Real 28 May 2012

Line A was in December 2002 the first opened of the Metro do Porto. From March 2005 it shared its route between Estádio do Dragão and Senhora da Hora with other lines making this the joint route. About 300 meter north of Senhora da Hora line A leaves the joint route and turns to the west in the direction of Matosinhos. This branch counts nine stops: Vasco da Gama – Estádio do Mar – Pedro Hispano – Parque Real – Câmara de Matosinhos – Matosinhos Sul – Brito Capelo . Mercado de Matosinhos – Senhor de Matosinhos. Until 1993 electric trams had been riding through Rua Brito Capelo, nine years later this street welcomed the trams of the MP.

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Lines B (Maia part) & E of the Metro do Porto

Custóias with a pair of Eurotrams on line E to Aeroporto, 10 August 2012.

The lines B and E of the Metro do Porto share their route not only on the joint route, but also beyond Senhora da Hora until Verdes. On this section are from Senhora da Hora 5 stops until Verdes: Fonte do Cuco (also shared with line C) – Custóias – Esposade – Crestins – Verdes.

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Line B of the Metro do Porto in Vila do Conde and Póvoa de Varzim

A Flexity Swift passes the old, disused narrow gauge railway station of Modivas, 18 March 2019.

Line B is the successor of the narrow gauge railway to Póvoa de Varzim. In Porto it uses the joint route. Counted from Senhora da Hora the length is about 24 km and there are 22 stops. The narrow gauge railway had nine stations on this part. The first part after Senhora da Hora is shared with line E.

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Line C of the Metro do Porto

Castelo da Maia, 10 March 2012

Line C is the successor of the narrow gauge railway to Trofa, though it reaches only until ISMAI. In Porto it uses the joint route and then for a short distance shares the tracks with the lines B and E. Line C diverts from line B in Fonte do Cuco, one stop north of Senhora da Hora. Between the stops Custió and Parque da Maia line C diverts from the original route of the narrow gauge railway to join it again at Mandim. This is done to serve better the centre of Maia. Counted from Fonte do Cuco the length is 10 km and there are 10 stops: Cândido dos Reis – Pias – Araújo – Custió – Parque da Maia – Fórum Maia – Zôna Industrial – Mandim – Castelo da Maia – ISMAI. The old narrow gauge railway had on this part four stations and three more on the part which is not realised.

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Line D of the Metro do Porto

Ponte Luís I at twilight, 5 December 2013.

Line D is the only line not using the joint route between Estádio do Dragão and Senhora da Hora. It has a 4 km long tunnel between Polo Universitário and the bridge across the Douro river with 8 stations. For the river crossing the upper deck of the complete renovated Ponte Luís I is used. The upper deck of the bridge and the adjacent Avenida da República in VN de Gaia had electric trams from 1905 until 1959.

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Line F of the Metro do Porto

An Eurotram approaches the Rio Tinto stop, 1 October 2012.

Line F leads from Senhora da Hora via the joint route to Estádio do Dragão and then in eastern direction to Fânzeres. It serves the northern part of the municipality of Gondomar. The line has a 950 m long tunnel between the stops Nau Vitória and Levada to cross the Minho-Douro and Leixões railways.

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Metro Transportes do Sul

Cacilhas terminus 14 May 2009

The MTS, Metro Transportes do Sul also often called the Metro Sul do Tejo is a modern light-rail system in the towns on the south bank of the Tejo river opposite to Lisboa. Construction works started in 2003. The first tram arrived in 2005 and on 30 april 2006 the first section between Corroios and Cova da Piedade was inaugurated and entered public service the next day. On 15 december 2007 the route between Cova da Piedade and Universidade opened and finally on 27 november 2008 the current network was completed by opening the line to Cacilhas.

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Changing the rule of the road from left to right

Question:

I know that Portugal shifted from driving left to right in 1928. I could imagine, that the trams had only left doors when shifting. How did Portugal cope with this? Did the trams continue in the left side for some time, or was it properly planned as in Sweden, where public transportation introduced double sided door vehicles starting 10 years before cut over i 1967.

Porto tram no.277 built in 1926; 9 May 2009

Answer:

In 1928 all trams in Portugal were fully symmetrical: double-end with entrances / exits at both sides. So for the trams there wasn’t anything to change. The first unidirectional trams in Porto were put in service in 1946, the first in Lisboa in 1951. Sintra, Coimbra and Braga never had single-end trams with entrances at one side only.

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Trams on the steep slopes of Lisbon

Question:

I have just visted Lisbon and did a tourist tram ride. I have spent the last couple of days trying to find details of how the trams manage the very steep hills as the slopes are much steeper than I would expect. Can you signpost any internet sights for me.

Lisbon tram no.560 at the top of the steep Calçada de São Francisco; 19 July 2008

Answer:

I’m not sure about information on the internet about this. That the small Lisbon tramcars can tackle the hills is because of a combination of things:

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Larmanjat

A Larmanjat tram at Portas do Rego, 1873

The Larmanjat was a monorail system invented by the french engineer Jean Larmanjat (1826-1895). The system was made of a central vignola type iron rail and at both sides longitudinal wooden sleepers about 60 cm from the central rail. This system was adopted by “The Lisbon Steam Tramways Company ltd“. Locally the system was called “Companhia de Tramway a Vapor“, but commonly known as the Larmanjat. The lines used the existing roads from Lisboa to Sintra and Torres Vedras.

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Coimbra trams

Tram no.12
Tram no.12 in Rua Dr. Augusto Rocha, October 1968.

Coimbra was one of the five places in Portugal that had an electric tram system. The city is situated about 200 km north of Lisboa and 120 km south of Porto and dates from the Roman period. The oldest part of the city “Alta” or “Almedina” occupies an irregularly-shaped hill overlooking the Rio Mondego. Already in the Middle Ages the “Baixa” (lower town) was built along the river. Here the principal shops and other commercial activities are located. The Alta and the Baixa are separated by the main shopping street. This street has two names, Rua Ferreira Borges for the southern part and Rua Visconde da Luz for the slightly wider northern part, but they are in line with each other and in practice make one street.

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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 was one of the five places in Portugal that had an electric tram system. This very old city, with its roots in the pre-historic period, is situated about 55 km north-east from Porto. 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. Soon a mule tramline was opened to connect the city with the Santuário do Bom Jesus. The mule trams were replaced by electric trams in 1914.

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Sintra trams

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

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.

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