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Retrospect

Central do Brasil Station began to be built 150 years ago

First, Canon Chaves blessed the three locomotives of the Imperial Steam Navigation and Railroad Company of Petropolis, in the then municipality of Estrela, nowadays Magé , in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Next, the imperial retinue embarked on the train for the 14.5- kilometer journey to the village of Fragoso, close to the foothills of the Petropolis mountain range.

To the astonishment of those present, the trip was completed in a little more than 20 minutes, at the then impressive speed of 36 km/h. This was the first train journey to have taken place in Brazil, on April 30, 1854, on the small railroad constructed by Irineu Evangelista de Souza, the ‘businessman of the Empire’ – the first public railroad with steam traction had been built in England, in 1825. It so happens that this railroad, the E.F. Mauá, brought few economic benefits, for not reaching the coffee-producing region in the Paraíba Valley, and its starting-point station did not reach the country’s capital. With the transport of cargoes done by mule trains, the government decided to construct a line to serve to the coffee growers in the hinterland and created the D. Pedro II Railroad Company in 1855.

The railroad was to have two branches: one to the settlement of Cachoeira, in São Paulo, and the other to Porto Novo do Cunha, in Minas Gerais. The works began 150 years ago, on June 1st of the same year. The terminal was to be at Prainha (Mauá square), where there was a wharf and deposits for freight. But the desirability of constructing the terminal station in Campo de Santana was soon recognized, by virtue of its proximity to the center of Rio. “The Central Station of the E.F. D. Pedro II, which after the Proclamation of the Republic became E.F. Central do Brasil, was the largest technological development of that period and the main factor for the movement of the country’s wealth of the time”, explains  Helio Suêvo Rodriguez, a railroad engineer from the State Transport Engineering and Logistics Company (Central), a researcher into the memory of Brazilian railroads, and the author of the recently published A formação das estradas de ferro no Rio de Janeiro – O resgate de sua memória [The formation of the railroads in Rio de Janeiro – The recovery of their memory (Memória do Trem, 192 pages). The church of Sant’Ana, from 1735, was demolished to make way for the first building, inaugurated in 1858. In the following decades, the building of the Central station underwent reforms and expansions. The present-day structure began to be erected in 1935, with a main body of seven stories, a tower with 28 floors, 134 meters in height, and train platforms.

The clock, with four faces, is second only to London’s Big Ben in size. Surrounding it, bus and subway terminals integrated with the railroad were created. The place is one of the busiest in Brazil – every day, some 600 thousand from the capital of Rio state itself, from the suburbs of Rio, and from all over the country. The habit of calling the railroad Central did not change after the creation of the Rede Ferroviária Federal SA (Federal Railroad System Inc.), in 1957. “Going to the Central station, riding on the trains of the Central, or working for the Central are expressions that belong to the Rio’s citizens’ collective and affective subconscious”, says Rodriguez.

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