Contestado ("Contestation") Railway is the non-official name given to a pair of Brazilian railroad segments: one from Mafra/SC to Porto União/SC (belonging to São Francisco line) and another from Porto União/SC to Marcelino Ramos/RS (belonging to Itararé-Uruguai railroad).
These lines are located at Southern Brazil, in the state of Santa Catarina. Mafra/SC is located about 26ºS,50ºW. Porto União/SC is at 26ºS,51ºW, and Marcelino Ramos/RS is at 27.5ºS,52ºW.
The construction and operation of these railway segments were a major contribution to "Contestado War", a civil war; and the tracks delimit the conflict area by north and west sides. Both were constructed by Percival Farquhar. In the vicinity of both lines, Farquhar developed the lumber business as well as colonization initiatives. Both railways exploited river valleys (Negro/Iguaçu and Peixe rivers, respectivly) to achieve lower construction costs.
Some authors include the whole São Francisco line in "Contestado railway", but the track between Mafra/SC and São Francisco port is clearly different, since it was bound to pass through pre-existing villages that were quite developed already (e.g. Araquari, Joinville, Jaraguá do Sul, São Bento do Sul).
The segment of Itararé-Uruguai railroad that crosses the state of Paraná has been mostly eradicated or abandoned. That segment was built before Percival Farquhar took over E.F.S.P.R.G. and it was built at a different time, place, pace and situation; its impact on Brazilian history was much less dramatic than the railroads built in Santa Catarina.
Another fate shared by the two railroad segments of Contestado Railway is the current commercial abandonment. The railway was not erradicated, and some irregular maintenance is still carried out, by sheer pressure of the community and by Brazilian justice. But the commercial traffic (goods or passengers) on these lines is nil.
I have written some posts in my blog about Contestado War, but I had never actually visited the region. Until now :) This article is divided in three parts and in this first part I will describe what I saw between Mafra/SC and Porto União/SC.
I sought to visit the old stations (or the places where they used to stand), as well as some major buildings like trestles, bridges, viaducts etc. In my first travel, I started by Três Barras and not by Mafra because I cannot roam the whole month, but I supplied this gap traveling to the region a number of times.
The lands immediately west of Mafra are beautiful, with good roads, even though they form a maze. Be sure to have map and GPS.
The stations between Mafra and Três Barras were all demolished, the yards removed. Sometimes the platform can still be found, or a piece of it. West of Três Barras, more stations have been preserved, as we will see.
In the map, one can always find a road that closely follows the east-west direction of the river and the railroad. In many places the two structures run side by side, like in this bridge between General Brito and Canivete:
In the picture above, the road bridge has that yellow/black tape because it was broken, and it is still broken as of 2015.
Even though Canivete (the literal translation of "Canivete" is "Jackknife", quite a menacing name for a district!) should be reachable from every cardinal direction accordingly to the map, nowadays the only connection to the rest of the world is a muddy road best left to 4WD cars if weather has been rainy. The nearest tarmac is 20km away.
In spite of the isolation of this community, people still live, play soccer and even choose to rest in peace in Canivete. The cross in the picture below signals the desire of a station agent that worked and lived there for many years, and asked that his ashes should be scattered in this place.
The isolation, and map discrepancies, get worse west of Canivete. Many districts that are plotted in the map, and even some of the roads, simply vanished.
For example, in the map below, the Osório district shows good roads from all directions, a bridge, church, school, many houses, and of course the station. The only railroad tunnel between Mafra and Porto União can also be seen nearby, in a rare location where the tracks of this railroad don't follow the contour of the river.
Very well, the picture below shows what is Osorio nowadays:
In the picture above, the hill at left is where the tunnel is. Natually I tried to reach the place but the dirt road becomes impossible even for 4x4.
Between Canivete and Bugre, the map can't really be trusted because many roads were swallowed by enormous reforestations, that have their own roads for harvesting, and public roads can't be distinguished from the private ones. It is a maze! References like churches, schools, etc. have vanished as well. GPS at least says where you are but it can't predict that a given road is blocked.
In spite of the orientation problems, going back and forth this region showed some interesting landscapes:
West of Osório, from Bugre to Três Barras and then to Canoinhas, there are good, "normal" dirt roads, so it becomes easier to find the locations of old stations.
The BR-280 highway was built more or less as a straight line between Mafra and Canoinhas and from there to Porto União. In a long span, it is pretty far away from Negro and Iguaçú rivers. Since the railway follows the countour of the rivers, I had to resort to dirt roads between Três Barras and Irineópolis.
Looking at a map, or at Google Maps, the railway cleary follows the river, seems to be built on riparian zone. But, at ground level, this is not so obvious. The railroad is laid on slightly higher ground, safe from any flood. Still, using the valleys increased a lot the track length. In some places, the river course forms big peninsulas and a tunnel would have elided 80% or 90% of the distance.
Many villages flourished around the original railroad stations. Since the BR-280 highway is too far away, such villages languished when the railroad passenger service was shut down. All villages except Irineópolis are smaller in the real world today than in a 1980's map.
Transit is the lifeline of a small city. The railroad offered cheap transport service for people, goods and information (v.g. mail and wire — the "Internet" of a century ago). Suddenly the service is gone and there is no real replacement.
Três Barras used to hold the Lumber mill headquarters. Lumber, timber and paper industries are still the main economic activities of the city. But now the wood comes from reforestation.
The old Três Barras railway station is very well preserved. In theory it is a museum but it was closed every time I visited it — that happens to me for every museum-station that I visit!
Many villages around old stations have simply disappeared when the respective stations were closed. Some villages still exist because there they also offered a raft service to cross the river, and many rafts are still active — there are no bridges between Três Barras and Porto União, so the rafts are still necessary.
In these countryside places, churches still do what they are meant to do: aggregate people, be a beacon for the community and for the geography. You can see that churches are well-kept, freshly painted, even the cemeteries are well-kept. Most churches are traditional (Catholic, Lutheran), hardly a neo-pentecostal church, thank God.
An interesting feature of these places: they are completely plowed and cultivated. Who lives nearer the sea is spoiled, because there is a lot of preserved forest nearby major cities like Joinville/SC. At the countryside we don't see much of it. The first hills that looked like preserved forest were as far as Porto União/SC.
The countryside dirt roads were generally in good condition. No segment actually demands 4x4. The soil is soft, sandy and with clay, typical of the Iguaçú river valley. Not unlike the soil I've seen when I went to Engenheiro Bley. The roads must have taken a mountain of gravel to be usable in the rainy season.
Irineópolis is a small but pretty city that I found in route (ok, I did not visit Canoinhas downtown, so I cannot judge). The city managed to escape from the fate of most villages that depended on the railroad.
Looking the city from far away, it remembered that typical epic movie scene, with plantations going as far as the eye can see, and a church tower at the background. You won't see such scenario from the highway :)
A depressing "feature" of many places around railways is their tendency to become slums, or at least poor-people neighborhoods, including low-cost homes built by the government. The old railmen's houses are, by and large, occupied by squatters. Actually the squatted houses are in far better shape than the abandoned ones.
The track conservation status is highly variable. There are patches with bushes, other ones completely clean. Some vehicle, either a train or a track car, had passed recently by there; some railroad crossings accumulate mud and the mud showed recent flange marks.
Actually, I was surprised that many stations and deposits were still in good condition and/or clearly maintained. But most of them have simply vanished, as if they had never existed. The easiest vestige to spot is the station yard; the yard tracks have long been ripped off, but the well-consolidated terrain still looks cleaner and flatter than the surroundings.
The highway drivers unwilling to go to countryside get a perk, too: a very beautiful bridge over Timbó river, between Irineópolis and Porto União.
The bridge can be easily reached from the east side (direction of Canoinhas). Just take the first detour from the highway, and walk the railway from the crossroad to the bridge. (West of the bridge, it is not possible to reach the railroad for at least a mile.)
Looking at this bridge, the fellow reader should consider that such buildings are beautiful and lie there, ready for use. They have cost incredible fortunes, in relative terms, when we consider that 1910's Brazil did not have steel mills and did not have much foreign currency to spend. A lot of foreign debt was contracted to pay for these bridges.
This is enough reason to keep the bridges in use — out of respect. I don't agree with people that want the state-owned railroad operator back, keeping the railroad active even at a loss — but I do understand their angst.
Doing this kind of research implies sticking the nose in places that most people label as "suspect". Poor neighborhoods, squatted stations, etc. In pratice I found that I scare people more than they scare me :) This is easily fixed by a greeting and some questions about the railroad. These are people as abandoned as the railroad itself, and they are happy when anyone shows to care.
I arrived at Porto União still with daylight, after all I had to find a place to sleep. I spent the rest of the day looking around that city, going after some obvious sights.
The border agreement between states of Paraná and Santa Catarina specifies that the Iguaçú River is the border between Três Barras/SC and the railroad bridge at Porto União/SC. From that point on, the border is the railroad itself for a few kilometers. (This means that, after passing below the bridge, Iguaçú River runs inside the state of Paraná, until it reaches the famous Iguaçú Falls.)
Even though the railroad no longer crosses the river, the border agreement is still in effect. Therefore, at Figure 42I am exactly over the border. This place, between the station and the bridge, is now a square and a small track segment was kept exactly to illustrate the border agreement.
The right riverside belongs entirely to Paraná and to the city of União da Vitória/PR. (Since the river runs to the west, if I look downstream, the right side is at North. Looking downstream is the convention that we adopt here to tell apart left and right riversides.)
There are two major hills that allow a panoramic view of the city, at either side of the river. In the first day I went to Morro do Cristo hill, at north. There is a road uphill, but there is also a final staircase to climb. Almost a cardiological exam, and for free! :)
As a compulsory and compulsive Internet user, I always wonder how the countryside folks arrange their connectivity. I observed that the smartest rural houses have those cell phone booster antennas, and/or rural telephony Yagi antennas. And absolutely every house — including squatted railroad buildings, have BUD paraboilc antennas to watch TV.
This article is divided in three parts. This is the first part Click here to read the next part.