Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

Brazil Railway May 2013

Having been pondering doing Brazil since 2007 I finally got round to doing it; and not before time!

The whole idea was to do the CBTU commuter lines with Alco RS8’s at Natal, Recife, Joao Pessoa & Maceio with a ride on the CPTM Expresso Turistico with an Alco RS3 to Jundai in Sao Paulo being a bonus. Initial research showed that we were almost too late but only almost.

Maceio had just taken delivery of their 8th and final VLT (new DMU) yet bizarrely there was still a hauled turn on their timetable, which only went part way up the line though, however this was changed when the 8th VLT was integrated and surprisingly the hauled turn was amended to cover the whole length of the line to Lourenco.

Recife had already introduced their VLTs some years previous but one section, Cajuero Seco to Curado was still hauled.

Joao Pessoa was as yet untouched and still solid Alco RS8’s.

Natal was still solid RS8’s on both its branches but it seemed that VLT talk was high on the agenda with a view to introduction in 2014.

Our entry into Brazil was from Cuba on the back end of a visit there. We booked a return trip through Copa Airlines, via Panama City and would ultimately fly back to the UK via Cuba & Spain; a long trip which neither of us were looking forward to upon arrival into Brazil but it was by far the cheapest option to get home from Brazil!

Friday 17th May 2013

We were early into Sao Paulo, which is what happens when planes depart early. Our next flight, to Natal, wasn’t until 1120 so we had 5h30m to kill before our onward journey. The declaration cards for arriving into Brazil were worthless in the end as I ended up going down the “Something to Declare” channel as I’d got some food in my bag. All they did was X-ray my bag and send me on my way, not even wanting to see the contents inside, or the declaration slip.

Check-in for our TAM flight to Natal was done on a self check-in screen, which then made it easier for me to take my overweight bag through customs, without the potential for it being weighed.

Once airside the services are very limited at Terminal 2, with only one shop selling coffee and soft drinks etc. There are however plenty of charging sockets which we used to recharge virtually everything we had as since leaving Pinar Del Rio we hadn’t been able to charge anything as all the plug sockets had the flat pronged connections and we’d only got the European style round pinned ones between us. While I’d almost flattened my computer battery, along with one phone battery and one camera battery, I’d probably have managed the rest of the trip without charging anything camera & phone wise as I’d got spares; still it was nice to start a fresh, all fully charged.

Our 5 hours flew by and we were on a bus out to our plane’s remote departure point before we knew it and up and away with TAM, our third on time departure in a row.

The City of Natal is visible as you come in to land, quite a variety of high rise buildings, spread out over quite a large area. The airport was a breeze and for the second time that day we found ourselves having time to spare before we needed to be somewhere so we chilled with a drink for half an hour watching all the Brazilian tourists being gathered together by the tour reps for transfer to Ponta Negra we assumed.

We got ourselves a pre-paid taxi from the airport to CBTU Natal‘s Parnamirim station. Getting that wasn’t very straight forward as the woman couldn’t figure out where we wanted to go. Thankfully I’d heard a guy speaking, what I thought was Portuguese, who was English. It turned out he had actually been speaking Spanish but his Spanish managed to get across where we wanted to go and R$28 later we were in a taxi.

Parnamirim station isn’t central to anywhere and is literally down some dirt road, back street. People were already waiting for the train when we arrived and there was music blaring out from some local house, along with the odd vendor selling bits n bobs. I instantly recognised the place as I’d spent a bit of time on Google Maps before we’d come out. The station we were at is shown as Jardim Aeroporto on Google Maps but it was clearly signed as Parnamirim! It explains why the tracks beyond it, towards where Google Maps actually shows Parnamirim, were all disused.

The fare on all CBTU lines is a flat R$0.50 and you enter the station premises through a turnstile, without being issued any form of ticket at all. It was a nice sunny afternoon and we’d only been on the platform for a few minutes when Alco RS8 6017 arrived, bang on time, with the 1518 Natal – Parnamirim. It was detached in seconds and run round onto the other end ready to go in 5 minutes; trains are given only 7 minute turnarounds at both ends on the Parnamirim line.

The train wasn’t full but the good thing was it wasn’t full of reprobates and general other types that you didn’t want to be sharing a train with in Brazil, especially when you had your big bags with you. There were however two security guards on the train, who did the rounds, one actually stayed in our coach throughout the whole journey; whether because of us I don’t know but he was friendly enough and attempted to speak to us in Portuguese.

6017 seemed to be making a bit of job of getting us to Natal, the line was downhill virtually all the way but there was one hilly bit near Pitimbu where it was flat out and the train was almost down to walking pace. I wouldn’t say it was cracking thrash either; it was more of a case of it trying to pull the train rather than making a lot of noise because there was a hill…..

All the stations en-route to Natal look similar, concrete platforms, turnstiles, down back streets and generally looking like local stations for local people. Even at Natal the place didn’t have the feel of a big station and outside it there was hardly anything at all shop wise; the place just looked run down yet the station had been given a face-lift both inside and out.

Natal’s loco shed is just off the end of the platforms and as we arrived we could see a blue/red RS8 (which we later found out to be 6005) in the shed on one road and another yellow one (which we later found out to be 6018) on the next road. There was plenty of stock lying around too, in the yard area around the shed.

There isn’t a taxi rank straight outside Natal station but taxis seem to hang about diagonally opposite the station entrance, to the left. The one we got took us to our hotel on the beach for R$10, on the meter.

 The Hotel Bruma sits just above the roadway, overlooking the beach at Natal. It was booked online through and while the staff on reception didn’t speak a great deal of English they used Google Translate to communicate some things to us, like where local restaurants were and the fact that it would cost us $300 if we lost the safe deposit box key! The room was fine, clean and with safe deposit box. It had hot water, a mini bar and TV, with some English speaking channels as well.

There are quite a few restaurants to choose from on the sea front, we opted for the nearest as the heavens had just opened and it was hammering down with rain. No menus were in English but a Portuguese translation book helped out.

It was still pounding down when we went to bed that night, May & June were apparently wet months in Brazil. It was the first rain we’d seen on the whole trip…..

Gen for Friday 17th May 2013

6017 (Alco RS8)

1518 Natal – Parnamirim

1610 Parnamirim – Natal

6005 (Alco RS8)

Stabled in the shed at Natal, which meant the Ceara Mirim service was cancelled as it is the only other serviceable loco at Natal

Saturday 18th May 2013

As the service on all CBTU lines is limited on a Saturday we were up for breakfast at 0700 and at the station by 0745 for the 0816 Natal – Parnamirim. We eventually departed Natal on the 0944 Natal – Ceara Mirim due to the fact that the Parnamirim service was cancelled, and not just the 0816, all of the trains on the Parnamirim line. It was a good job we had got it in the previous day! The woman behind the counter at the station front was gesturing something about waiting for a phone call about the Parnamirim service but we couldn’t understand what the problem was and assumed it was something to do with the rain, which was still pouring on and off.

With time to kill we wondered round the roadway outside the station to find a load three set of stock in the bay platform, while the main platforms were empty. Nothing loco wise was visible on shed so we walked round the main square outside the station, to find nothing at all, then sat it out in the booking hall, before being told to go round the side of the station to pay and enter the station premises for our train.

As we entered the station area RS8 6017 came out of the shed, then went back in, then came out again and was shut down just outside the shed. Just as we could hear the horn of our inbound train from Ceara Mirim 6017 was started up again, just in time to bowl us out and be shunted onto the opposite end of the set, replacing whatever was working into Natal; but no it was shunted straight back into the shed and shut down just as RS8 6005 arrived with the 0816 Ceara Mirim – Natal.

We were travelling as light as was physically possible and I only had a carrier bag with a bottle of water, some biscuits and a small Sony NEX camera. Everything else was left in the hotel safe deposit box, other than enough money to get us through the day.

As we were stood at the end of the platform we got photos of 6005 arriving without any issues and there was nobody around us. Once down at the blocks end we became braver and took more photos, the security guards not being bothered at all. Once finished though the camera was straight back in the carrier bag and out of sight. Although on board the train was a group of folk travelling together who all had mini cameras and were photting each other, there were plenty of smart phones visible so security on board the trains didn’t really seem to be an issue.

6005 had five coaches with it, which just fit on the platform when it went right to the buffer stops. It then had to shunt back a bit to clear the points so it could run round. Despite that it managed to do it in the allotted 10 minutes and was away 6 minutes late, just as it had been upon arrival.

The run up to Ceara Mirim has some steep bits and once the train is over the road/rail bridge where cars run alongside and the walkway is right by the train, the climbing begins. The old railway bridge can be seen just alongside which can actually be seen on the CBTU Natal Timetable, with an RS8 crossing the new bridge!

6005 sounded the part and smelt just like an Alco, burning oil. It clagged a bit as well and filled the coaches every now and again when the driver opened it up at speed. As the windows are sealed, and the ones which can be opened covered in mesh to prevent bricks getting in, there’s no bellowing. The Alco noise doesn’t quite penetrate the coaches enough for my liking but 6005 could be heard well enough when on full power going uphill.

The seats on board the trains are as basic as they come, bench seats down the sides of every coach. The windows are all plastic, due to the regularity that the trains get bricked. Our trips being no exception and one hit that hard that it knocked part of the frame out and actually sounded more like a gun being fired.

Upon arrival at Ceara Mirim we went straight trough the turnstile and straight back into the station again after paying our R$0.50 each. 6005 was already off the train and running round by that time.

The station is open enough at the Natal end to get photos of the engine running round and once it’s backed on. At the opposite end the loco is off the platform and behind a wall. Once the run round was done we were back on board with yet more folk with cameras and smart phones……. 

The run back into Natal wasn’t as entertaining as the way out and I was quite glad to get back into Natal to have a walk round and wake myself up a bit. The previous days flying seemed to have caught up with both of us.

We didn’t bother with going out of the station and back in for the next trip, and just used the spotless toilets on the station, while 6005 ran round, before boarding again; saving ourselves a massive 17p each!

6017 was nowhere to be seen and the stock which had been in the bay platform had gone so we could only assume that it had done the 1150 Natal – Parnamirim, which was the last out and back trip on that line on a Saturday anyway. When we got back from Ceara Mirim the second time 6017 was back in the shed and the stock in the platform again.

Curiosity got the better of us and we wanted to know what the other locos in the shed were so as I spotted a guy walking over to the shed I made a point of gesturing to the guy he was walking over to; the thumbs up response was just what we’d wanted to see and we were eventually marched round the shed. Inside, assuming on the running road, was 6017, which we were shown into the cab of, and 6007. The latter being an ex Maceio one and was now bent, having hit a truck on a level crossing, and was now consigned to the bin with rafts of bits already having been taken off it.

On the next road, which we assumed was the demic road, we found 6001, which was also consigned to the bin and had been partially stripped. It didn’t appear to have any crash damage so was probably stopped for mechanical reasons. 6018 on the other hand was in a bit of a mess and was crash damaged. How long it had been at Natal was anyone’s guess as it was in an older yellow livery and still had 6018-9C on the cab; none of the ones running round now have the 9C on the cab.

So out of 5 locos Natal only has 2 working, meaning they need 100% availability every day they run trains. 6017 had apparently been suffering from mechanical problems that morning, hence the Parnamirim service being caped. The fact that we’d seen 6005 (the only blue/red one at Natal) on shed when we arrived the previous afternoon at 1655 meant that the Ceara Mirim service wasn’t running that afternoon either so it looked like the people of the greater Natal area were getting a bit of a bum deal regarding their CBTU train service. Not to worry though as 12 VLT’s would arrive in 2014, according to the shed staff. Whether that was 12 individual coaches or 12 actual sets I don’t know but I’m guessing on the 4 sets (12 coaches) being more likely.  

That was Natal done, only 3 more CBTU lines to go. A taxi to the Rodoviaria (R$28) got us our tickets to the next city, Joao Pessoa, costing R$40 each on the 0930 Nordeste bus the following morning. There were regular buses every two hours with Nordeste so we had plenty of options, none of which were full.

Another taxi then took us back to the Hotel Bruma costing R$25 where it was still raining on and off but it hadn’t put the surfers off on the beach.

Food was done at the same place as the previous night, followed by a few beers, before an early-ish night, at 2200.

Gen for Saturday 18th May 2013

6005 (Alco RS8)

0648 Natal – Ceara Mirim

0816 Ceara Mirim – Natal

0944 Natal – Ceara Mirim

1112 Ceara Mirim – Natal

1240 Natal – Ceara Mirim

1408 Ceara Mirim – Natal

1536 Natal – Ceara Mirim

6017 (Alco RS8)

On shed all morning due to mechanical problems, resulting in Parnamirim service being cancelled until it was fixed

1150 Natal – Parnamirim

1242 Parnamirim – Natal

Alco RS8’s on shed at Natal

6001 cannibalised (no visible crash damage so assumed to be stopped due mechanical issues)

6007 ex Maceio Fleet crash damaged and cannibalised

6018 crash damaged and cannibalised

Sunday 19th May 2013

The sun was out again, just in time for us leaving. It was just as well we booked the 0930 bus and didn’t opt for a lay-in as we didn’t get one. The whole of the rest of the hotel, all female, was up and had decimated the breakfast area before we’d even managed to get any; and that was 0800! They were all dressed in gear for the beach and I’m guessing after the washout the previous day they were making up for lost time. It was only 27 degrees while we sat eating our breakfast……..

As there were no taxis outside, possibly due to it being a Sunday morning, we ordered one through the hotel reception and it turned up in moments. The driver was unfortunately an idiot and spoilt our Sunday morning karma en-route to the Rodoviaria. He was piping his horn at anything resembling a female and racing down the road with some other idiot, who thankfully gave up, leaving us to mind our own business as we made it to the airport in one piece!

Our 0930 bus rolled up, loaded up and departed on time, from stand 6 as per our tickets. All very efficient it was. Even more efficient was the fact that the bus was virtually empty leaving everyone on board to spread out. There were a couple of pick-ups as we headed out of town and then it was right away Joao Pessoa.

I didn’t see much of the 2h30m journey as I was checking my eyelids for holes, when I saw the Joao Pessoa skyline in the distance it was only a matter of minutes before we were alighting at the Rodoviaria.

First things first, we could see Joao Pessoa railway station from the Rodoviaria, only about 100m up the road, in the platform of which were two sets of stock; we couldn’t see any engines though, the depot being at Cabedelo we assumed they’d all be there over the weekend.

Second things second, bus tickets to get to Recife on Tuesday. These were easily purchased from the Progresso ticket stand, which is outside the bus station with all the other ticket offices. Each displays the routes they run but not all display the times. Progresso did and buses run daily, on the half hour, every hour, to Recife from 0530-1930. On some days there is the odd one on the hour in the morning and evening. Tickets cost R$43 for both, including the bus station departure tax that has to be paid; a lot cheaper than the tickets down from Natal, possibly due to more competition?

Taxi’s are a plenty outside the Rodoviaria and we managed to get the worst of the bunch to take us to our hotel, a bloody Fiat Uno, and what a wreck it was too! It cost R$13 door to door, dropping us at the Lagoa Park Hotel, about a mile from the station 5 minutes later.

 The Lagoa Park Hotel was booked through and is right on the edge of a lake in the middle of Joao Pessoa. It was basic but not a mess, had AC, a fridge and a TV in the room but the hot water wasn’t so hot in the showers. The restaurant only served breakfast so we had to venture out to get something to eat. None of the hotel staff spoke a word of English but we managed to establish that there was a shopping centre just up the road, which I located on Google Maps through the hotel WiFi before we ventured out.

It turned out the Shopping Centre was only about 400m up the road and there were plenty of people about so off we went. Inside it was packed with locals, just like you’d expect at Meadowhall on a Sunday. The third floor had the eateries and there was plenty to choose from. A decent meal finished off nicely with a rather large helping of ice cream before heading straight back to the hotel to sit the afternoon out and relax for a bit; which mainly gave me chance to catch up on my trip report and do some washing.

Monday 20th May 2013

Up at 0630; traffic on the street outside had been roaring by since about 0530 so there was no need for an alarm. Breakfast in the hotel was quick but at least there was a decent selection to choose from, including scrambled eggs and rafts of fruit and by 0725 we were standing outside the CBTU Joao Pessoa station having paid R$8 in a taxi with no meter!

In one of the sidings was blue & red liveried Alco RS8 6011 with a load five set of stock; which was when we realised something might be wrong as both sets of stock should have been descending on us from either direction.

The gates to the platform had cardboard notices attached giving the times of the next trains to both Cabedelo, 0853, and Santa Rita, 0807, the latter being the 0757 departure running 10 minutes late. There was no 0744 to Cabedelo. At that point we assumed that 6011 was the other set that should have been out and either it, or the stock, had something wrong with it. The loco itself had a pile of sand on the running board at the front and was covered in leaves and grass, the coaches also having leaves in amongst the window frames etc. It hadn’t dawned on us at that point that 6011 was actually a Recife based machine and if we’d looked closely at the stock it had Cabo on it, which is on the CBTU Recife network!

We paid our R$0.50 to get onto the platform, when allowed, and Yellow Alco RS8 6013 soon arrived with the 0725 Cabedelo – Santa Rita, on load 5. We managed to get photos as it arrived, and of 6011 in the siding, without any hassle or glares.

The front coach to Santa Rita seemed to be loaded with teens going out for the day somewhere and it was a little rowdier than we’d been used to on the Natal system. All behaved though, the presence of the two security guards seeming to do the trick.

The stock was set out slightly different to the Natal based sets with there being some seating at right angles to the coach sides, although there was the odd coach with seating down the sides only. Our little Alco RS8 sounded quite well, unfortunately though all the windows were meshed over so there was no bellowing. The best noise coming from station departures, when the sound could reverberate off the concrete surroundings.

It was a hot morning, the sun beating down at Santa Rita. Photographing there was no problem at all at either end of the train and we even ventured off the end of the platform at the Joao Pessoa end, the sun being perfect on 6013, which was off the platform end; load five just fitting in the platform.

En-route back to Joao Pessoa the shunter who’d run 6013 round struck up a conversation with us; he obviously seen us photographing and spoke decent enough English to be able to have a conversation with.

He confirmed that the first train from Joao Pessoa to Santa Rita had made it there and the loco then had to return light to Cabedelo for maintenance; a mechanical problem apparently. That would explain the stock that was in the siding at Santa Rita. 6011 at Joao Pessoa had arrived from Recife the previous day, which we though could be the end of loco-hauled trains on the Recife network but we later found out from the net that night, as posted on CBTU’s own site, that the set had been sent up from Recife to allow a Joao Pessoa set to be used on the Trem do Forro at Campina Grande (120km west of Joao Pessoa) during the month of June, where one of the biggest festivals in Brazil takes place. Finally the guy confirmed that 6008 & 6013 were the only working locos on the Joao Pessoa system; yet another system with only enough equipment to run the service if it had 100% availability every day they ran trains!

He didn’t have a clue if, or when 6008 would come back out to play, but he was confident it would and low and behold, just as we departed Joao Pessoa it was sat waiting to proceed towards Santa Rita to collect its set and work the 0943 Santa Rita – Cabedelo, behind us.

The line, in either direction, is quite fast and makes the RS8’s work, again though it’s a shame you can’t hear more but for the stock design. We tried sitting further down the coach en-route to Cabedelo but it didn’t make a great deal of difference.

Our plan upon arrival at Cabedelo was to do the 0948 Cabedelo – Santa Rita back to Mandacaru, where it was timetabled to cross the 0943 Santa Rita – Cabedelo, which would be 6008; CBTU had other ideas……

We nipped straight out of the station to try and get a photo but the whole place is fenced off and there isn’t even an option through the fencing. When we returned to the station to get back onto the train the sign at the gate to the platform said the next train to Santa Rita was at 1101, the thumbs down from the security guard when we asked about the 0948 confirmed it was cancelled. We had no idea why but during the time we had at Cabedelo 6013 was fuelled and watered and then shunted a coach out of the set, replacing it with another, before shunting the whole set into the sidings and then being shut down on the run round road, in the shade. Obviously it was going to replace 6008 when it arrived as there was no way 6008 could run round when it arrived!

We managed to get one of the security guards on the shed gates to confirm that the Alco RS8 we could see was 6012. When we got back onto the platform we could actually see that the whole body of it was off and some fitters were doing some welding on the long hood end; there was also another RS8 on the adjacent road, which we couldn’t see from the shed gates, which we never got the number of at all.

Sure enough 6008 rolled in, was shut down once removed from the train, 6013 was started and bolted to the front of the 1101 to Santa Rita. We had a decent run all the way back to Santa Rita, where the on train security staff then seemed have a problem with us. They seemed to be gesturing that we couldn’t return to Joao Pessoa on the train and when I went to pay one of them told the woman at the counter not to take my money. They eventually got us back onto the platform via the exit gate and let us go on our way to the front coach; where we fully expected some sort of issues on the return journey. However our shunter guy from the morning was running round 6013 again and he came to have a chat with us. It turned out that the security guards were trying to tell us we didn’t have to pay again to return to Joao Pessoa and that once you were on CBTU property you could ride around to your hearts content and didn’t have to pay per journey. So basically we could have ridden about all day for R$0.50. We had only paid for two of our three journeys that day mind but we didn’t pay for anymore at all! At R$1 for the days bash it works out at about 33p, just like a good old Out & About in South Yorkshire in the mid 1980’s!

At Joao Pessoa the train ran into the Bay platform, where we initially assumed it was being cancelled. However the notices at the platform entrance showed a 1250 to Cabedelo, the train we’d just got off in the bay, and a 1250 to Santa Rita, which meant 6008 had picked up the set 6013 had deposited at Cabedelo and was heading our way……

The security guard from our train gave us the thumbs up on the platform and was nice as pie, so there clearly hadn’t been an issue at all at Santa Rita, just a language barrier fiasco. He ended up getting us two bottles of pop from the stall on the other side of the gates so we didn’t have to pay again, bless him.

Sure enough 6008 arrived with the 1212 Cabedelo – Santa Rita, running about 5 late. We assumed that the trains had been forced to cross at Joao Pessoa as 6011 had departed Joao Pessoa for Cabedelo at about 1200, and was likely occupying the other platform at Mandacaru. That wasn’t actually the case at all as we found out back at Joao Pessoa when we ran into the bay platform with 6008 to await 6013 returning from Cabedelo with the 1323 Cabedelo – Santa Rita. Once that had gone we reversed out, cleared the points and ran into the platform, stopping briefly to pick up any stragglers and the train security staff.

While 6008 sounded a little meatier than 6013, it didn’t go as well, probably because it had a traction motor isolated, as per a notice in its cab, which we saw from the platform at Joao Pessoa. Still it did the job, and had to really with nothing to replace it.

It was run round in a flash at Cabedelo, where we were then invited into the cab by the driver, only briefly though. Enough time to get a photo of the controls before being sent back into the train. It was time for the teens to return home it seemed. The midday trains had been teen/child free but the rowdiness had returned and I was glad to be going back to the hotel upon arrival at Joao Pessoa. 6013 was already sat in the bay platform waiting for us to depart before it continued on its way to Cabedelo with the 1432 Santa Rita – Cabedelo. It made for a nice photo backing out of the bay in the late afternoon sunshine.

We found plenty of taxi’s at the nearby Rodoviaria to take us back to the HotelLalgoaPark, the meter reading R$8.50 when we got out. A quick check of all our baggage confirmed everything was still there before we headed up to the shopping centre again for something to eat.

The streets outside were a complete contrast to the previous day, a Sunday. There were cars everywhere, all the shops were open and people filled the pathways on both sides of the road as we made our way to the shopping centre. The choice of food was from a help yourself Chinese fast food place, which charged based on the weight on your plate. I have to say the food was bloody good too, as was the overindulgent ice cream afterwards.

Back in the hotel the WiFi proved useful to resolve an issue that had been ongoing for a couple of days. Our flight from Maceio to Sao Paulo on Friday was up in the air as the connecting flight from Basillia had been cancelled by TAM. They’d offered us a later flight but it didn’t arrive into Sao Paulo until 1938, which was later than we wanted. An e-mail advised that we had three options to choose from, after I’d asked if we could depart earlier, they were departing at 0350, 0517 or 0950. The first two being a bit rancid but the 0950 being direct and arriving into Sao Paulo at 1300. A bonus in three ways, one we didn’t book that fight in the first place as it was twice the price of the 1235 departure, two it got us to Sao Paulo with time to get to Luz and book our tickets for the CPTM Expresso Turistico the following day rather than having to turn up at Luz at 0600 on the Saturday morning and three because it was direct and allowed us to arrive Sao Paulo in daylight instead of just after dark. I snapped the girls hand off for the 0950 flight, all we needed was confirmation.

Gen for Saturday 20th May 2013

6008 (Alco RS8)

02 0430 Joao Pessoa – Santa Rita

Light engine Santa Rita – Cabedelo – Santa Rita

11 0943 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

16 1212 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

17 1318 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

20 1437 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

6013 (Alco RS8)

01 0425 Joao Pessoa – Cabedelo

04 0507 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

05 0611 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

08 0725 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

09 0829 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

14 1101 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

15 1207 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

18 1323 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

19 1432 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

Cancelled Trains

03 0501 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

07 0720 Santa Rita – Cabedelo

13 1056 Santa Rita  – Cabedelo

 06 0616 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

10 0834 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

12 0948 Cabedelo – Santa Rita

6011 (Alco RS8) – at Joao Pessoa in the morning then ran to Cabedelo at approx 1200. Was sent from Recife to replace one of the Joao Pessoa locos/set while it’s used on the Trem do Forro at Campina Grande during June

6012 + one other RS8 inside the shed at Cabedelo. 6012 had its long hood off and was having welding done at the long hood end.

Tuesday 21st May 2013

After a quick breakfast at the HotelLalgoaPark we had no problem finding a taxi to nip us to the Rodoviaria. While stood at the platform waiting for our 0830 Progresso Bus to Recife we watched 6013 depart Joao Pessoa, and run right by the Rodoviaria, with train 8 0725 Cabedelo – Santa Rita. A quick scan at the station on our way had revealed that CBTU were running a one train service again that morning, the other set being visible at Joao Pessoa station; we couldn’t see a loco though.

The 2 hour bus journey was harmless and empty, there were only about 15 people on the whole bus. At Recife we quickly bought tickets for the last of our Brazilian bus journeys, from Recife to Maceio the following day, each ticket costing R$44 with Real Alagoas on their 1130 service.

As Recife had a name for being a little “dodgy” we opted to leave our bags at the left luggage, on the ground floor of the Rodoviaria. This cost R$3.50 per bag for 12 hours then R$1.75 for each 12 hours after that. Anything valuable was locked up in Si’s bag and off we set with our carrier bags, with just a camera, to the adjoining CBTU Metro station for a train to the next stop at Curado. Our afternoon bash would be on the CBTU Recife Curado – Cajeiro Seco line; the last of the CBTU lines in Recife still using Alco’s.

The Rodoviaria station has an old MG station adjacent to the Metro station, visible when you walk over the top of the old MG tracks to the Metro. The lines are still in situ but very rusty. As with every CBTU line we’d used thus far there are no tickets issued but there are options to transfer between lines for a higher tariff so the fare structure is slightly different to the flat R$0.50 we’d been paying on the other lines. To get through the barriers to the platform we were handed a credit card sized piece of plastic to feed into the machine, which then allowed us through; the machine keeping the “token”.

At Curado access to the CBTU Diesel line to Cajeiro Seco is at the Rodoviaria end of the platform, where there is no barrier at all. We had about 25 minutes to kill before our train arrived so we just sat minding our own business on the platform, with one old woman; there was nobody else turned up for the train at all.

The train arrived a couple of minutes late from Marcos Freire, which was when we left the MG platforms and headed back onto the Metro platform for a train into Recife; the damn thing was only a VLT, one of the new units that until now had been confined to the Cajeiro Seco – Cabo section of CBTU’s diesel lines. It left us wondering if indeed we had been bowled out by the fact that 6011 had gone to Joao Pessoa for the Trem do Forro, or whether VLT’s had been working the Curado service for a while. There had been nothing on CBTU’s site to indicate so and everything we’d seen before we’d made the trip had indicated that the line still used loco’s and stock; clearly not on this day though! The fact that the run round loop had been a little rusty should have probably given us a bit of a clue as to what would have been coming round the corner……

Disgusted, and slightly annoyed, we contemplated what to do, briefly. Had we not had accommodation booked in Olinda we’d have probably gone straight to Maceio on the next bus but I guess we were also hoping that the VLT had been a one off and that maybe we’d get lucky the following morning so off we went to Olinda, in Recife’s suburbs.

Taxi’s were plentiful outside Recife Metro station and we were dropped at Pousada Praia dos Milagres about 15 minutes later, the fare being R$23. No English was spoken at all by any of the staff. We were given room 1, which was right by reception, which had 3 beds, two singles and a double. The room looked a little rough around the edges and was quite imaginatively decorated but for the rancid green paint on the walls. It was full of mosquitoes, which had unfortunately tried to chew through my legs before we’d realised just how many there were. Hoorah for Google Translate though; we were in possession of their mosquito spray shortly after arrival and went on a mosquito murdering spree, until every last one was dead; they all deserved it for the dot to dot patterns they’d left on my legs, which were itching like mad.

With the rest of the afternoon to kill we took a wonder down the road to try and find some life. It seemed Olinda was a bit of a sleepy hollow with most of its bars/restaurants either closed or not serving any food. Our search did take us into the old town though, which is very colonial and relaxed; there were quite a few Brazilian tourists roaming around taking photos on their Ipads etc so it seemed a popular place. The views from the top of the town are excellent and with it being a nice sunny afternoon we could see all the way to Recife, the high rise buildings standing like matchsticks all the way round the coast, as far as the eye could see.

Having tried three places for food and just ending up having a drink, ultimately we ended up back at the hotel where Google Translate had the woman on the front desk ordering us pizza’s from the local takeaway; menu’s for which are on display at the desk. The rest of the evening was spent relaxing in the room, without any more mosquito related issues, watching crappy Brazilian soaps on the one and only TV channel. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the Pousada so we weren’t disturbed at all by excessive noise, however if it had been full the social area and pool were right outside the window of our room.

Wednesday 22nd May 2013

A taxi had been booked for us the previous night for an 0600 departure and after a cold shower (no hot water) our driver was already waiting for us the moment we walked out of the door. The traffic into Recife centre was starting to build up and it took a little longer to get into town than it had out the previous afternoon.

Before boarding a Metro out to Curado we had a quick scan at the old railway station, which now housed 3 locos:

Henschel 1952 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 #612

English Electric A1A-A1A 1954 #710  

North British Loco Co 2-6-2T Works #17228 of 1906, numbered #17

The first Metro to depart wasn’t going to Curado so we did it to Werneck, where we’d spotted a load of dumped Alco’s in the Edgar Werneck Workshop yard the previous day. It’s visible on the right hand side immediately as you depart Werneck station heading towards Recife. There are about 8 dumped Alco’s, some with RFFSA still on their hulk, having been there for many years. All were rusty and only two are actually visible from the platform end. The rest can only be seen from arriving/departing trains. There’s no way to get near them by going out of the station as they’re surrounded by a high wall and personally I wouldn’t fancy walking down the alleyway by the side of the place with a camera anyway.

At Curado there is no way of getting from the outbound platforms to the Curado – Cajeiro Seco platform without going through the barriers and paying again to access on the opposite platform. So rather than waste our money we waited on the outbound platform until a different VLT from the previous day arrived to form the 0735 to Cajeiro Seco then we were Rodoviaria bound, hoping to get our tickets changed to an earlier bus.

Real Alagoas operate buses from Recife to Maceio at 0715, which we’d missed by 15 minutes, then 1100, which is a stopper and then our 1130 express; so we had to sit it out and wait for our booked bus at 1130. The 4 hours being killed sat around just watching the world go by really…..

The bus eventually departed 10 minutes late and was almost full. When we’d booked our tickets the previous day there’d only been 6 spaces taken. Unfortunately the 4 hour journey ended up taking 5 hours, four hours being a bit optimistic in the first place and hindered by some idiot that had ploughed into a power line mast, bringing the cables down all over the road. Judging by the state of his vehicle the occupants would be lucky to be alive…..

Again taxi’s were plentiful outside Maceio Rodoviaria and we were at the Hotel Praia Enseada about 10 minutes later, having gone quite a way down the coast; which looked very civilised indeed. Maceio looked like any other seaside resort with a main road down its coast and a walkway on the beaches edge. It actually reminded me a little of Nice in the south of France; it certainly didn’t look like any other place we’d visited in Brazil thus far, at all. Locals were playing volleyball by the beach while we had food at one of the restaurants on the main road and the relaxed pace and environment that Maceio offered was very welcome as our trip was nearing its end.

 The Hotel Enseada was a typical beach hotel with a terrace outside, including small pool. It had a large reception with plenty of relaxing areas. The restaurant was open and the place was busier than any other hotel we’d stayed in during the whole trip, including in Cuba. There wasn’t any English spoken though but Google Translate came to the rescue. WiFi is free but not very strong in the rooms but excellent downstairs in the reception area. The rooms are well equipped as well, with free toiletries and scolding hot water, which was used to wash clothes for the final time on the trip. Thankfully both the SD cards I’d managed to wash in my shorts pockets survived the ordeal and all the photos were still on them! How ironic would it have been that I’d spent the whole trip trying to protect them, only to break them through my own stupidity? All in all a decent hotel choice by anyone’s standard.

Unfortunately, due to it being off season, we were limited to one place for food, other than the odd hut scattered down the beach front. Further down the coast there’d been plenty of places to eat, including the first McDonalds we’d seen in Brazil. The place that chose us though, as opposed to us choosing it, turned out to be a decent place and once we’d deciphered the menu with our phrase books we were well away. By the time we left the restaurant it was very busy, with hardly a table spare.

As all the plug sockets in the hotel room were sunk into the wall, made specifically to fit Brazilian plugs we had to go downstairs into the relaxing area to charge anything; where there just so happened to be a socket beneath the large TV. Two Brazilian teams were playing football while we charged our stuff. We only watched the first half but the tempo of the game was amazing, completely different to anything we see in Europe, no wonder the Brazilians win World Cups on a regular basis; 2014 likely being their next triumph, especially on home turf?

Thursday 23rd May 2013

As our bash for the day didn’t start until 1030, we had a leisurely morning and left the hotel just after 0900, having managed some breakfast from the buffet in the hotel restaurant. A taxi to Maceio CBTU station only cost R$9 and was more of less a straight journey down the coast.

A 4 hour bash on the CBTU Maceio – Lourenco line, which actually would be only one round trip on it, was the aim of the day. When we’d been planning the trip Maceio had been in the throws of having their fleet of VLT’s delivered, to replace the Alco RS8’s. There had however been two loco-hauled trains in either direction a day on their timetable at that point. Unfortunately neither went the whole length of the line to Lourenco. Strangely, after the 8th and final VLT was delivered and accepted into service, CBTU Maceio changed their timetable but still retained a loco-hauled train on it; the bonus for us was that it now went the whole length of the line and was at a very sociable time of 1030 from Maceio.

Maceio’s station building is very nice and colonial and looked as though it had been recently painted in the light yellow & white that it was sporting. The booking office was closed when we arrived but had two girls inside preparing to serve. Despite there being an hour to the next train, our 1030 departure, there were plenty of people waiting around for the train.

The whole of the station area was spotless and very civilised with no graffiti anywhere and no riff-raff about. It could have been a station anywhere in Europe. The only platform occupied was the one to the far right, which had a load 5 set of stock in it and sat down the end of the platforms, attached to another coach in a nice red livery was Alco RS8 6002. There were a few VLT’s about but none in the platforms; of which there were 3. While we were assessing the situation, not being able to get onto the platforms for the electronic barriers, a second Alco RS8, 6019, shunted itself into the shed. So with two Alco’s in sight, and a set of stock in the platform, we sat confidently drinking a cold coke while waiting for the ticket windows to start serving.

We’d tried to walk down the side of the station to find access to the shed to see if we could get inside but all we found was an access gate with a security guard, so we didn’t even bother trying to get in.

People began to queue for tickets at 1000 and we joined them. At 1015, just as a VLT rolled into one of the platforms and shut down, the closed signs were removed from the ticket windows and serving began. All that could go through our minds at that point was, not again, after the previous bowl out at Curado.

The tickets were small card tickets the size of Edmondson tickets but not as thick. They had a list of the stations en-route and a picture of the Alco RS8, 6002, that was sat by the shed. Unfortunately they had to be shoved into the ticket machine to access the platform!

There was a moment of hesitation as people got to the barriers and as the first went through we were willing them to walk to their right, to the hauled stock and not the VLT to their left; thankfully they did and 6002 was already bolted to the stock ready to go.

While the train wasn’t very full ex Maceio, it was wedged by a few shacks out of town and the reason for the train remaining loco-hauled and not going over the VLT soon became apparent. The train was made up of 5 coaches, the front and rear ones being older and more knackered, with less seats. The middle three were all recently refurbished and in a lot better condition. The outer two were used by locals to transport their buckets of mussels from a few shacks out of Maceio, where they’d picked them, to stations at the Lourenco end of the line. It seemed the railway didn’t want their nice shiny new VLT’s being subjected to the mess that the mussel pickers left. Another possible reason was because the VLT’s only had access to one door at most stations due to the old platform levels being too low. Those that were had a metal platform erected which only gave access to the one door, which would have caused a nightmare where the mussels were loaded.

The line immediately outside Maceio used to run through a market that encroached on the railway; this was no longer the case. During their modernisation CBTU had built a fence round to prevent such things occurring. Reports had suggested that the thrash on the Maceio line was the best to be had on any CBTU system, I disagree. While there are a few steep bits on the line the thrash was far from great, even when being able to lean out of the door. Towards the top end of the line its all been re-ballasted and relayed with concrete sleepers and is faster than the bottom half of the line. Even then the thrash wasn’t that great; maybe it was 6002 that wasn’t up to scratch and the truth is I’ve never been a massive fan of RS8’s anyway yet 6008 (from the Joao Pessoa system) would have sounded way better going up the gradients. The last couple of kms into Lourenco are the steepest and 6002 was certainly put to the test there, this section being by far the best for any thrash.

Lourenco station looks like it’s been refurbished recently and has new high level platforms; the old low level one still remaining on the opposite side. Once all the passengers are off the train it has to shunt forward to clear the run round loop at the rear of the train, so the loco can hen run round. We didn’t bother going out of the station to spend another R$0.50 and just got back into the front coach for the run back into Maceio.

Again the train was empty from origin but filled up to wedge factor en-route. I preferred the run back down into Maceio and 6002 seemed to sound a little better thrash wise, maybe because it was short hood leading? It was the only reason I could think of. Still it wasn’t a patch on something like an Indian YDM4 and the whole thrash experience was a massive disappointment after our expectations were got up from previous reports.

Even though there was a timetable advertised at Maceio there seemed to be extra trains running. One of which was sat waiting to go, loaded with people as we arrived into Maceio. This did give us a bonus chance to get ourselves a souvenir for the trip as the booking office was open. The women behind the counter looked a bit dumbfounded as we purchased two tickets and admired them as we walked away from the platforms and out of the station; not towards the train. That was it, our whole CBTU experience over…….

Back at the hotel Google Translate helped me get the hotel staff to print out our boarding cards for our Maceio – Sao Paulo flight the following day. It had taken an age to check-in online and download them, then to e-mail to the hotel but it made life a bit easier the for the following morning.

As it was a bit overcast outside we sat beneath some trees over the road from the hotel, where the nearest bar was, just whiling the afternoon away. I’d decided that my shorts would remain well and truly in the bag for the rest of the trip anyway as I’d been bitten to death, on my legs, by mosquitoes on the train and it was getting quite annoying now, so much so that I had to take an antihistamine to prevent the swelling. The little things weren’t playing the game fairly; at night I can expect it but during the day is not playing by the rules.

The hotel WiFi allowed us to check the CPTM Expresso Turistico availability for Saturday, there still being 56 seats available; two of which would hopefully be sold to two English folk the following afternoon.

Gen for Thursday 23rd May 2013

6002 (Alco RS8)

USG04 1030 Maceio – Lourenco

USI13 1221 Lourenco – Maceio

6019 (Alco RS8)

On shed at Maceio; in service

Friday 24th May 2013

As our flights had been changed from 1235 to 0950 ex Maceio we had to be up at 0645 but it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Once checked out we were away in a taxi, which we accosted right over the road, and airport bound. The journey took 25 minutes and wasn’t on the meter; it seems there’s a set fee of R$60 for airport runs in Maceio. Guide books claim around R$55 so it sounds about right.

As we’d almost spent up all of our Reais we attempted to get some money from a cash machine at Maceio airport; not one supported any form of foreign card! We’d be buggered if it was the same in Sao Paulo. All we could do was wait in the empty departure lounge, our plane being the first one on the list.

By boarding time the waiting area was full but there were still a few free seats on the plane. TAM delivered us early to Sao Paulo Guarulhos airport, where we decided that leaving the big bags in a left luggage locker, available at both Terminal 1 & 2, was probably a good idea and having paid our R$12 for the first 24 hours we were soon in a taxi to Luz Railway Station to buy our tickets for the Expresso Turistico for the following day. Despite us trying to cut down the taxi costs by getting a fare to a near-ish CPTM station, we ended up with the taxi all the way to Luz as it was the same price to both locations; which was ching in the first place at R$96.96! The only taxi’s from the airport are all operated on a pre-pay system, tickets being bought at the booths outside the terminals, so you have no option but to use them I guess.

The journey to Luz only took about 25 minutes and we were deposited outside the very prominent station building, built by British folk back in 1901, evidence of its origins still showing on the iron work outside, made by Walter McFarlane & Co, Saracen Foundry, Glasgow.

 The ticket office for the CPTM Exprersso Turistico is not where the main office is at the station entrance. To get there having arrived by road, turn right out of the main entrance and about 50 yards along the pathway is a set of stairs which lead down to the Metro, follow these down and at the bottom is the booking window for the Expresso Turistico, all on its own. If arriving by Metro there’s a long tunnel linking the Metro platforms from some lines to the main line platforms of the others, this tunnel leads you straight to the booking window for the Expresso Turistico, once you’ve exited through the barriers.

There’d been 56 seats still available the previous day and the moment the screen came up to show availability we were relieved to still see plenty of green seats on the page. Moments later we were in possession of our tickets, which had to be paid in cash only. The good thing about the bookings is the more in your group, the cheaper each ticket gets. An individual ticket being R$32 but the second ticket was only R$16. All the details of pricing are on the CPTM website.

Tickets safely in hand we made our way to the CPTM Metro, Azul line, via the long tunnel and at least three sets of barriers; having purchased a ticket from the main ticket window back up stairs at the stations main entrance.

Our hotel of choice was the Ibis Budget at Paraiso, which is a few stations south of Luz on the Azul Line and is right outside the station entrance, set back from the main road. There were people queuing to check-in when we arrived and two guys who’d turned up on spec got turned away as the place was full. Check-in was straight forward but unfortunately we’d managed to get a room with a double bed and they had no twin rooms left. They were more than happy to offer a second room for a further R$175, which was politely declined. Armed with an extra set of bedding from reception, we made do with the double bed. The room was small, the shower smaller and the bog miniscule but it sufficed for what we needed and at least had a TV.

As we were in a bit of an unknown area of Sao Paulo we didn’t stray far and didn’t have to for food anyway, there were plenty of places to eat within a 60 second walk of the hotels front door. The remainder of the evening, after dark, was spent in the hotel room; there was no real reason to go out at all, despite the fact that it was cold and raining on and off.

Saturday 25th May 2013

0630 alarm call, shower and on the road; well the Metro to Luz anyway. We had grand plans of getting some form of breakfast at Luz, until we found two Alco RS3’s already in the platform when we arrived and that put pay to that; the cameras were out.

6001 was sat just off the stock for the Expresso Turistico. We assumed it had worked the empties into Luz as 6004 was sat bolted to the opposite end of the stock, shut down. The growl from 6001 as it sat idling in the platform, spewing out white smoke, was just what we wanted to hear. GE’s had been known to work the train from time to time and we were so glad we hadn’t found one of them attached to the train where 6004 was sat, especially as 6001 had worked the ecs into Luz.

It was a nice morning and the sky was relatively clear, contrary to the previous nights weather forecast and while 6001 bathed in the morning sun, 6004 unfortunately didn’t but the station front did; offering some far better pictures than we got the previous afternoon.

Photting done we accessed the platform via the entrance that is clearly marked for the Expresso Turistico, which usually departs from platform 1. Tickets are checked as you board the train and you’re directed to your seat. Both the coaches used for the operation are very clean inside and look newly upholstered. One is done out in leather with a typical commuter lay-out with low backed seats whilst the other, the one we were in, is cloth seats with high backs and felt the more sociable of the two to sit in; the toilets were pristine on board too. Whilst the coaches may seem like air conditioned ones from the outside the windows slide open at every seat, allowing for fresh air to circulate and bellowing to be done.

Both 6001 & 6004 were in very good condition both outside and in the cabs. The paint jobs were almost immaculate. There’d certainly been some money spent on the old RS3’s and long may there be more spent on them. So with a half empty coach, nice seating, open windows and an Alco RS3 to boot; off we set through the suburbs of Sao Paulo, us being in the second row back from the engine……

Just outside Luz there’s a yard with a load of demic stock and quite a few dumped engines. Just before that is Luz EMU shed, round the back of which can be seen two old electrics, which looked to have seen better days. Whilst it was a bit of a stagger out of Luz we hoped for better as we climbed up from Pirituba, we were let down though. There was a second climb from Francisco Morato which also let us down tremendously on the thrash front, whether it was because we were actually too close to the RS3 or whether it was because the driver, that looked like a girl, was actually driving it like a girl would be judged on the return. Either way we barely got above 50kmph throughout the whole journey and all in all it was a bit of a totter and about as disappointing as the CBTU Alco RS8’s.

While climbing away from Francisco Morato we passed CPTM GE U20C 3157 in CPTM livery and assumed that it was one of the GE’s that had been seen working the train in recent years? Upon arrival at Jundiai there’s a yard on the right hand side and an MRS Logistica stabling point which had various types of GE’s scattered about of both large and small varieties, the big ones dwarfing the little ones. They looked a little strange marshalled together; U20C’s 3150, 3144 & C30-7MP 3725 were stabled near to the station, 3725 making its smaller counterparts look inferior.

Whilst the trains passengers all did their own thing we got plenty of photos of 6004 as it ran round and then shunted the stock from platform 1 to 3, where it was stabled for the remainder of the day, then we headed off into town.

When in Jundiai you could do what we did, which was phot the RS3, not go on the Expresso Turistico bus to wherever it goes, bumble around town trying to find the railway museum (which we of course didn’t), then try a couple of different bars to pass the rest of the afternoon away by making the beers last as long as possible. Or you could go with the Expresso Turistico bus to wherever it goes and have a great afternoon. Better still you could even print off a map of Jundiai so you know where the hell everything is and prevent yourself ending up bumbling round town, like we did! Had the on train staff actually spoke any English or even took half a stab at telling us what should happen at Jundiai then maybe we’d have spared ourselves a very non-productive 5 hours in Jundiai. Still we made it through the day alive and with all our belongings so we hadn’t done too bad. Jundiai itself looked like a decent enough place and we had no bother walking around the places we did.

Outside the station entrance, to the right, is a plinthed steam loco, with a plaque on it saying “Sao Paulo Railway #16”. Turning left out of the railway station and following the road round revealed an old electric loco, on rails, in the middle of the roadway on a grass verge. It was right outside the MRS Logistica Depot entrance. We had a scan down towards the MRS shed, while trying to find the RailwayMuseum, it was GE-tastic.

We were the first back onto the platform once the stock had been shunted from platform 3 back to 1 and the gates were opened an hour before departure at 1530. The photos weren’t great in the late afternoon, the sun being directly behind the station building that shelters the train from it. Our coach was almost empty on the return from Jundiai, which is something to take into consideration if you do turn up on the day and there are no tickets available. 6004 did sound better from the rear of the second, of two, coaches and the run up the hill from Botujuru station was the thrash of the day and probably the only time 6004 was given full power. It was still driven like a girl, by the same driver, and was even more of a totter on the return than it had been on the way out; we were 27 late into Luz.

For some reason the driver kept bringing the train to a stand every now and again, not that we were hammering along at any point mind, and would then just totter way from a standing start. RS3’s should be given what for, not treated with any kind of respect.

After arriving back at Luz 6004 was detached and run round to take the ecs back to shed. On other occasions the loco that brought it in that morning has done the ecs in the evening as well; 6001 was sat on shed, shut down, at Francisco Morato as we tottered by. All in all the day had been another disappointment, on the thrash stakes. I’d had way better thrash off RS3’s on preserved lines in the USA; I’d expected way better on a main line, especially with 90kmph boards on it!

As we bode farewell to 6004 and made our way out of the station we were officially on our way home. The taxi we found outside being the first step in a very long journey that would ultimately take me approximately 46 hours to get home. The taxi journey only cost R$72.50, on the meter, and not R$96.96 as it had done on the way out! It at least gave us a few more notes to spend on food at the airport; that was until we saw the prices and ended up having to use a card anyway…….

Gen for Saturday 25th May 2013

6001 (Alco RS3)

ECS into Luz for “Expresso Turistico” 0830 Luz – Jundiai (Alco RS3 6004 dead on rear)

Ran light engine behind to Francisco Morato and stabled on shed for the day; was there when we returned from Jundiai

6004 (Alco RS3)

0830 Luz – Jundiai “Expresso Turistico”

1630 Jundiai – Luz “Expresso Turistico”

ECS ex Sao Paulo for “Expresso Turistico”

MRS Logistica locos at Jundiai

GE U20C’s 3150, 3144 & GE C30-7MP 3725 stabled

GE U23CA’s 3656, 3605 & 3647 departed north with a freight at approx 1230

GE U20C’s 3151, 3146 & 3134 stabled at Jundiai

GE C30-7MP’s 3773, 3774 & GE C36ME 3551 stabled on Jundiai Shed


GE U20C 3157 (in CPTM livery) shunting at Francisco Morato

Sunday 26th May 2013

We managed to check-in at the counter by 01:45, even though Copa Airlines weren’t supposed to start checking in for our flight until 02:25. Unfortunately Copa were about the only airline of the Star Alliance bunch that used Sao Paulo that didn’t have self service check-in available.

The departure areas, once we breezed through immigration, were empty but it was a change of scenery and I even managed to get on the plane with a nice freshly charged spare battery for my Sony NEX, which someone had kindly left plugged into one of the plug sockets; clearly forgetting it as they boarded their plane. The irony of it was it had the Brazilian connections that we’d been lacking over the last four days, to charge our own stuff!

Our 10 hours at Sao Paulo airport ended as we took off at 0525 on plane number 1 of 4 of our long journey home. It wasn’t full though and we had three seats between the two of us to spread out.

Concerned a little about the transit fiasco that could occur when we reached Havana the free WiFi was put to good use upon arrival at Panama City and within 15 minutes I’d checked us in and saved the boarding cards for our Havana – Madrid – Gatwick flights, with Air Europa, onto my flash drive. The problem then became getting someone to print them out for us. The first Copa desk had a knackered printer, the second was completely closed and the gate where our flight departed from only had a dot matrix printer. In the end I walked back through the airport to try the other desks again and when the first I came to managed to get into the folder I’d save them to I thought we were in; only to be scuppered by the fact that the computers Adobe wasn’t up to date and wouldn’t open the files. The one and only final hope, the desk that had previously been closed, managed to open the files and print them within seconds. Not that she was actually going to bother in the first place until I told her that her colleague had tried but couldn’t open them, then she reluctantly put the flash drive in and hey presto!

Our second flight of four, from Panama City to Havana, had an interesting start. The pilot clearly didn’t want to fly through the deep layer of cloud that had formed since we’d arrived and guided the plane round as much of it as he could while climbing to cruising altitude. Unfortunately I was sat on the wrong side of the plane, both arriving and departing Panama, as I’d wanted to get some pictures of the City as it glistened in the sea; something I’d glimpsed on the way in, from the opposite side of the plane. Well worth looking out for if you fly into Panama, even at night time.

Once on the ground at Havana we weren’t allowed through the transit gate until our passports had been taken from us in the immigration hall. Some woman then took them to an office before returning and handing over a transit card and leading us back to the transit gate. We were then allowed into the departure lounge but our passports were kept, only to be handed back once our flight started checking in; the transit card being proof of receipt and proof of transit (having not had our boarding cards stamped to confirm we’d paid the 25 CUC exit charge) and was taken off us as we boarded the plane.

Luckily we had a few CUC’s left to be able to get something to eat at the airport, there were two exchange booths inside the departure lounge should we have needed more. As we left Havana, we could see light at the end of the tunnel, as far as our lengthy journey was concerned and once the evening meal was over some sleep followed.

Monday 27th May 2013

Having slept solidly until the breakfast trolleys appeared I was feeling quite refreshed, despite the fact that we had quite possibly the worst seats on the whole plane. Row 1, right behind the bulk-head, where the staff prepare their stuff in the kitchen, noisily, where the staff insist on flapping the curtain as they walk past, every time it ending up hitting me and where the leg room is actually less than anywhere else on the plane, just because of the way the three seats are orientated; the natural position for your legs would actually be in the aisle but of course you have to prevent yourself putting them there for fear of being bashed with a trolley. Still at least Air Europa deposited us into Madrid on time; shame they couldn’t do the same at Gatwick; the bit that counts!

We were 30 late from Madrid, for no apparent reason really, the plane had been on the stand since we’d arrived 3 hours before take-off. The anticipation of seeing UK soil was greater than it had been throughout our transit from Sao Paulo and once we hit land we knew our journey was almost over; and it was familiar land too. We were able to make out such places as Arundel Junction, Littlehampton station and we followed the coast to Brighton before turning left, inland to Gatwick and passing over Tonbridge Yard, which had 3 class 73s in the yard!

Immigration was a breeze, but for the fact that neither mine nor Si’s passports would activate the chip operated barriers but at least we were then allowed to the front of the queue to get through. And that was us; back on home turf. My bonus for the evening was being allowed onto the 1830 ex Kings Cross with my ticket for the 1930!

Brazil Summary

A vast country, with not a lot in it for cranks and a lot of time within the country is spent travelling to get to the places you need to visit. For me there was a lot of dead time due to the distances between the CBTU lines. Of the three we had Alco RS8’s at I found Joao Pessoa the best, merely because of the fast running and the fact it had two trains out, which allowed for something different. Natal & Maceio, while they have gradients in places, were a bit of a disappointment thrash wise and I actually preferred Joao Pessoa for the thrash too.

All the CBTU lines will have new VLT’s by May 2014 and of the three still using the RS8’s only Maceio seems to be able to run its hauled service, Joao Pessoa & Natal both have only enough locos to run the full service, if all are in service 100% of the time so cancellations are inevitable, as we found out. Strangely Maceio still runs a hauled service for a reason and has the best looking coaches of all three systems so maybe their RS8’s will actually stay around for a while yet?

With the Expresso Turistico in Sao Paulo the big issue is getting tickets. They don’t sell over the internet or over the phone and only accept cash at their ticket offices. In high season getting tickets could be a complete no, no, if you’re planning on getting them close to the day the train you want to do runs. It is worth noting that the return journey was half empty on the day we did it so if you do get bowled on the way out its worth turning up at wherever the train goes for the return journey, just in case.

Other than the vastness of the country the only other thing to be wary of is the fact that English is hardly spoken anywhere, even in the tourist hotels; as all the tourists are Brazilian!

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