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Visiting an extinct railroad

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There we go again, chasing remnants of railroads to satisfy the tip of Maslow's pyramid. I took the opportunity to visit the Ponta Grossa region, that I hadn't had an opportunity to know. (By the way, in case you don't know me or where I live, this text is about Southern Brazil.) The boring part was having to drive from Joinville to Porto União, a road that I have driven many, many times. The traffic was very light, which was a boon.

From Porto União to Irati, there used to be a railroad called "Itararé-Uruguai" that went extinct by 1996. Another segment was eradicated between Jaguariaíva and Itararé.

Figure 1: Railroad map of Southern Brazil region, delimited by cities of Ponta Grossa, Porto União and Mafra (not in scale)

The Figure 1 shows the rough positions of these cities in relation to each other.

It is quite a sensation to visit the cities, stations and the railway bed itself, through which so many people, including so many authorities, traveled in the first half of XX century.

The 1930 Revolution, that shaped Brazil more than any other historical event, advanced north through this way. The "Battle of Itararé", a battle that was expected to be epic but ended up not happening at all (this fact tarnished the "Itararé" city name) just happened because Itararé was the yard where this railroad connected with the rest of Brazilian railway system.

Also, my grandfather traveled by this railroad, in one of his famous "adventures" as a single man. He went by train to Campinas and worked in a coffee plantation to earn the money to travel back. He is said to have left some broken hearts there...

Figure 2: Possible remants of Paula Freitas railroad station
Figure 3: Abandoned railroad bridge, can be seen from the dirt road to Paula Freitas/PR
Figure 4: Recycled railroad bridge, Paula Freitas/PR
Figure 5: Straight railway section, road clover near Paula Freitas/PR

Itararé-Uruguai was built with very low technical standards: lots of tight curves to contour small-scale natural obstacles. This increased a lot its length, as well. The Paraná state segment is older and below average; in fact the segments that were extinct were the absolute worst. Even under the state-controlled railroad company (RFFSA), freight avoided these paths.

But I think that the best solution would be to keep the railroad, and rectify it here and there. Other railroads that are still in operation got many variants and improvements along their history. There are talks of building a new, broad-gauge railroad, but all southern Brazilian railways are metric gauge already. Alas, Japan proved that gauge standartization is much more important and advantageous than increasing gauge!

Figure 6: Old bed of railway at Rondinha district, Paulo Frontin/PR

Figure 7: The train could be seen on this hill if the railway still existed. Rondinha, Paulo Frontin/PR

The cities that were deprived of the railroad are not very rich, and the areas once used by rails, yards and stations are now the poor neighborhoods. Still, there is always something to be seen in each place, in particular the Ukranian-style churches.

This region of Paraná state, including the bigger cities around Ponta Grossa, was fun and laid-back to visit. No worries with robberies, etc. like you may have heard about Rio and São Paulo.

Figure 8: Ucranian-style church at Rondinha, Paulo Frontin/PR. The train used to pass quite near this building, and the station was in the same block.

Figure 9: Abandoned railroad bridge at Paulo Frontin/PR.

It became quite easy for anyone to visit these historical sites these days. There are Google Earth, free maps from IBGE (the Brazilian cartography and statistics institute), compass and GPS in the phone. And this excellent site (Portuguese only) with lots of information about old railroads and stations.

In one of these spots where a station once existed, I think I felt the smell of coal, as if a steamer had just passed by. It was a strange sensation. Perhaps someone was burning something that smelled like coal, but I could not see smoke anywhere. (It was not that cold, and we don't burn coal in houses for heating in Brazil.)

Figure 10: Restored station at Paulo Frontin/PR

Figure 11: Abandoned bridge Paulo Frontin`s station

By and large, the rail path is "still there", not occupied by buildings. In some places, it's been used as public or private road. The railway dismantling was complete, so there are no traces (sleepers, rail bars, ballast) that a railroad once existed there, save by the abandoned bridges and the geometry of these roads, with very round curves followed by very straight parts.

Figure 12: Railroad bridge repurposed for road, Dorizon/PR

Figure 13: Ukranian-style church at Mallet/PR

The railroad stations were almost all demolished as well, with a couple exceptions. Some bridges are still in their places, in surprisingly good condition. They could be put into use. In some places, people are indeed cat-walking the iron skeleton of these bridges as shortcuts to go home.

Figure 14: Abandoned railroad bridge at Mallet/PR
Figure 15: Mallet town seen from countryside. The railroad passed near this spot.
Figure 16: Old station of Minduí or Vera Cruz, halfway between Mallet and Rio Azul/PR.

In very few cases, the bridges were reassembled at different sites. Apart from the prettiness of these riveted bridges, it must be taken into account that they cost dearly to Brazil: at the beginning of 20th century, every piece of steel was imported. It is our sweat and blood lying there. It is a duty of conscience to give a noble destination to these objects.

Figure 17: Railroad station turned bus stop at Rio Azul/PR
Figure 18: Recycled railroad bridge between Rio Azul/PR and Rebouças/PR
Figure 19: Recycled railroad bridge inside the Quarry Park, Rio Azul/PR
Figure 20: Former Roberto Helling station, preserved inside the Quarry Park, Rio Azul/PR

All roads of this area are very good, if a bit narrow, which is compatible with the light traffic. All cities have tarmac access, I used gravel roads just because I could.

Figure 21: Endpoint of Engenheiro Gutierrez yard, Irati/PR. The gravel way at left used to be the rail exit to Porto União. The rail that turns right goes to Cascavel.

At Irati, there is a yard (Engenheiro Gutierrez). From this yard, the main line went to Porto União and later a side line was built, up to Cascavel, connecting Ponta Grossa to the west by rail. Since the railway from Irati to Porto União was eradicated, the side line became the main one.

Irati downtown has the interesting feature of embracing the railway instead of hiding it. Along the rail, there are illuminated sidewalks, gardens and trees. Very pleasant to see and very unusual. (The usual is let the railway neighborhoods to decay and become slums.)

Figure 22: Downtown Irati/PR
Figure 23: Railroad station, Irati/PR
Figure 24: Cereal hopper and silos near railroad station, Irati/PR

Even the street grid seems to "go with the flow" and it is not necessary to cross the railway every time to navigate through the city.

This manner of making peace with the railroad can be seen, in variable degrees, in several cities between Irati and Ponta Grossa, with honorable mention to Teixeira Soares town.

In Irati, it is very easy to spot how many tight curves were imposed to the railway, to avoid small-scale landfills that would have allowed straight segments.

Figure 25: Railroad map of Ponta Grossa region (not in scale)

Ponta Grossa is a huge railroad junction with a cute little city in the middle (just kidding) as can be seen at Figure 25

No less than five railroads interconnect there. In the older days, the Itararé-Uruguai went downtown. In time, yards and variants were build to divert freight trains, and downtown rails were removed by 1989 when the passenger service was shut down.

Considering that Ponta Grossa has 330,000 people, it is very organized, clean and quiet city.

Figure 26: Desvio Ribas yard, Ponta Grossa/PR

The "new" yards, Desvio Ribas and Uvaranas, are huge and full of trains. Both yards are easy to reach, the Uvaranas yard panorama can be seen from the street.

Figure 27: CONAB silos, nearby Desvio Ribas yard

The quantity and size of silos all around Ponta Grossa is noteworthy. Food for millions in each of these silos. Many of them are served by rail as well.

Ponta Grossa downtown has two ex-stations, one is very old and visibly small, the other has the expected size. Both buildings are relatively well-preserved, the older one even has a static steam engine in front of it to dress up the scenario, as if it were a giant diorama.

Figure 28: First railroad station of Ponta Grossa/PR, from 1909 to 1936

Unfortunately, "Oficinas" ("Workshops") is just the name of a city block now. The actual workshop was shut down and its rail entrance was covered with tarmac. Even the railway segment that went from main line to the workshop is marked to be eradicated.

Figure 29: Uvaranas yard, Ponta Grossa/PR

I haven't seen any "Access Forbidden" sign in yards, but I certainly entered private property to take pictures and record movies. I was prepared to be escorted out any time, but it didn't happen, I was even greeted by railroad workers.

Video 1: Pictures and footage of the eradicated railroad

I have made the video above (only in Portuguese, sorry) about the eradicated railway, and the video below with footage of operational yards.

Video 2: Desvio Ribas and Uvaranas yards
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