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History of the Porto - Guimarães line


Railway tracks in Portugal

Portugal has 4 categories of railway track:

  • standard gauge (1435 mm)
  • broad gauge (1688 mm)
  • narrow (several types, 500-1000 mm) gauge
  • monorail (just an experimental track in Lisbon)

Two different companies

The first appearance of narrow gauge track was in 1874 when a private company started building its line north from Portugal´s second city Porto. On 1 October 1875 was the opening of the Porto-Póvoa line. At Porto it started in Boavista rather than the old city centre; the track was 900 broad gauge. Initial prospects were good and in 1881 it was extended from Póvoa to Farmalicão, to make a broad gauge connection with the Minho main line. Meanwhile in 1883 a metre gauge line from Trofa to Guimarães was opened. It had problems with initiative money – more foreign money initially failed to create this line but it finally obtained Portuguese backing. The state also subsidied the extensions from Guimarães to Fafe as well as many new kilometres of another lines in north of Portugal (Regua-Vila Real, Livração-Amarante, Pocinho-Carviçais). The railway track Porto – Guimarães as known today, was divided into two parts. The first from Porto to Farmalicão (another way than today) and the second from Trofa to Fafe via Guimarães.

The service on the first part was provided by company called Companhia dos Caminhos de Ferro de Porto à Póvoa de Varzim e Famalicão (PPF). The route started in the northern business district of Porto – Boa Vista and ran first north-west for about 4km through the suburbs to the village of Senhora da Hora where a halt was established. Thence it turned more northerly across the rolling coastal plain with halts at Crestins and Custóias, a proper passing station at Pedras Rubras, and further substantial halts at the villages of Vilar de Pinheiro, Modivas, Mindelo and Azurara before crossing the River Ave. Immediately following was the important station of Vila do Conde and then followed a runa long the coast to Póvoa.

The first timetable consisted of four trains daily each way, two in mornings and two in afternoons. There were three expresses which stopped at minor stations only by request and all-stations mixed. It took no less than two and a half hours as against the 1h 20min. allowed for the others. The company was inspired to ask for an extension to its line. This 29km branch wat to run inland from Póvoa to meet the state line from Porto northward at Famalicão. Construction was in two phases. First was the reaching the station of Fontainhas in August 1878 and the second – track to Famalicão itself in June 1881.

In the early 1880s traffic was increasing. The number of passengers was increasing significantly but unfortunately profitability did not increase with traffic despite a rise in tariffs in 1888. The company had to find economical ways of increasing its resources. The investigation showed that Boa Vista Works might be able to build two vehicles a year if money was available. Then next fifteen years waw a good many improvements and developments despite the fact that the company was as likely to report an annual loss as a small surplus. Next step to extend the railway network was to reach Leixões in May 1893.

And in the following years the improvements were making. For example Boa Vista, Póvoa and Famalicão received turntables, goods sheds appeared at Leça and at Póvoa, siding were added at Famalicão, Vilar de pinheiro and pedras Rubras. New equipment for passengers also followed: shelters at Vilarinha and Real, halts on the Leixões line, a private siding at Senhora, continuing upgrading at Crestins, Famalicão, Vila do Conde and Mindelo plus Boa Vista. 1908-09 were the peak years in many ways. Certainly goods traffic peaked in 1908, showing a slow but steady decline thereafter. The company continued with completing or rebuilding coaches. The PPF was in surplus for most of this time, with passenger traffic still increasing steadilz from 205,908 in 1890 to 401,440 in 1900 and 1,043,169 in 1910.

Next years was filled with improvements of the Póvoa line – new broken stone ballast, new equipment at stations or also sidings in stations like Laundos or Gondifelos. After the war the situation was naturally worse. Money generally was very tight, coal for locomotives was almost unobtainable and inflation, together with pressure to keep staff wages down, was causing serious unrest. The result was a 38-day strike in summer 1919.

In 1910-21 the company conducted serious negotiations with the Porto municipality regarding an extension from Boa Vista to the centre of town. The PPF also raised the possibility of re-gauging to metre and building a link to the CF de Guimarães at Trofa but in the event nothing was done.

The service of the Guimarães line was provided by the Companhia do Caminho de Ferro de Guimarães (CFG). The company has probably its origin in 1871, first it wanted to build a connection along Royal Roads 32 and 27 from Porto to Braga via Santo Tirso and Guimarães. But the more important for us is the concession from December 1872 to construct a metre gauge line from the Minho railway with a branch to Fafe via Vizela which would cross the 1871 proposal between Santo Tirso and Guimarães. The line should have been built thanks to English capital. The Minho District Railway Company Ltd. with head offices in London agreed to take over the Fafe line concession on 28 October 1874 and was formally constituted on 10 February 1875. Its capital was 260,000 pounds sterling. This was the era of railway mania all over Europe and there was clearly a strong speculative element in the venture.

There were many problems during construction. The English company changed the leaders and built just a track, nothing else (turntables, water tanks, goods sheds, crossing keepers huts). Portuguese shareholders became very disturbed – so much so that they held a public meeting in porto in May 1878 and set up a commission of enquiry which included Antonio de Moura Soares Velloso who later did so much to help the line. The English company was bankrupt and been placed in chancery. Then more than 40,000 pounds of the Portuguese subscription had definitely been spent.

The Portuguese shareholders propmtly petitioned the Ministry of Public Works against the actions of the English side and in April 1879 were able to obtain fresh power to build the broad gauge from Bougado (near Trofa) to Guimarães over the agreed route. On 1 July 1879 they succeeded in gettin the English company declared in default under Portuguese law. This cleared the way for a fresh start and for the formation of a limited company in Portugal to také over the 6km already built. Despite continuing trouble between London and Porto, construction and upgrading was started almost immediately.

The formal opening ceremony took place on 31 December 1883. First months the service was provided only to Vizela. The line was extended to Guimarães on 14 April 1884. The stations were: Lousado, Santo Tirso, Caniços, Negrellos, Lordelo, Vizela and Guimarães. The CF de Guimarães was almost unique among the narrow gauge lines in that it pursued a largely stable existence, steadily improving its property and being prosperous enough to pay a fairly consistent 5-6% annual dividend to its shareholders. The company´s main workshops were established at Lousado, the point where it divergent from the broad gauge.

The results were promising so the company decided to extend the line from Guimarães to Fafe, 22km to the east. But meanwhile the original track was proving rather light and the company started relaying the whole system.

The concession for the Fafe branch was finally approved in May 1903. The line was to be 21,5 km in lenght. There were to be three stations – Fareja, Paço Viera and Fafe itself. There was a tunnel near Paço Viera and it caused some delay but the extension was opened formally in July 1907. The year 1908 saw more improvements at Caniços, extra tracks at Lordelo and Vizela. Passenger figures had risen consistently to 1911 from 125,850 in 1885 through 266,557 in 1905 and 414,589 in 1911. It is important to mention a high proportion of 1st class tickets. The war age brought no serious items of report, the equipment was adequately maintained.

The era of Norte company

The government considered that neither the Porto-Póvoa nor the Guimarães companies were so strong to survive on their own. A resolution from 29 October 1926 confirmed the join, technically a takeover of the CFG by the PPF and this was formally agreed in December 1926. The new company was called CF Norte de Portugal (NP or Norte) and officially came into existence at the beginning of 1927.

The new company had several major targets:

  • re-gauging of the system to metre gauge
  • a junction line between PPF and CFG from Senhora da Hora to Trofa
  • extension in Porto to the centre
  • a new line from Póvoa to north along the coast and the eastward to Braga with a subsequent link from Braga to Guimarães


The most creditable activity was undoubtedly the complete re-gauging of the old PPF system in March 1930. It was accompanied with conversion of locomotives, coaches and goods vehicles and luggage vans. Re-gauging was carried out in the short period of only 19 days with only minimum disruption to traffic. The Senhora da Hora - Trofa work also begin. This link was ceremonially opened in March 1932. There was also new double-tracked line from Porto to Senhora da Hora.

Problems came in 1933 when the company´s banks foreclosed on massive debts and the Norte had to go into receivership. Fortunately the government decided the system was too important to allow it to die. In August 1933 the whole system was put under governmental control. Then the system was stabilised and saved.

Funding was provided to extension in Porto which involved a tunnel and heavy earthworks, the works were in fight with opposition from the Porto Tramways operators. The terminal station was located in the Praça de Trindade and took its name. First it was constructed of wood but later it was a modern six platform station with the usual offices and facilities. The new modern station was opened in 1938.

The CP years

In January 1947 the system was taken over by the reconstituted national raiways, the Cia dos Caminhos de Ferro Portugueses. Despite heavy passenger traffic the system was in deficit, its infrastructure was far from perfect. The new concessionaires therefore had to act quickly. They had to modernize both the locomotives and bogies. Several new vehicles were built and sent to Porto.

In 1948 Lousado was linked to Famalicão by mixed gauge along the Minho route (meter gauge inside the broad gauge track). As a result of it, Famalicão was downgraded because the link allowed „round the circle“ workings. Then problems were coming – the railbuses frequently broke down. The CP decided that proper modernisation was essential. In 1945-55 it bought a series of modern bogie diesel electric railcar and trailer sets from the Dutch firm of Allan´s of Rotterdam.

Then very little was published in Portugal itself, the most one can say is that the system continued at work apparently almost uneventfully until 1965. In that year the Matosinhos branch closed finally to all traffic. After the political revolution in 1974 the new nationalised CP decidet that modernisation of the whole national system was desirable. The Famalicão and Fafe sections were largely reduced from Póvoa and Guimarães. In fact these services were steadily reduced to virtual uselessness over the next ten years. Service was suspended entirely on the Fafe branch, the official closure date being 31 May 1986. Fafe station site was reused although otherwise track was left in place. Huge local protests over the next few years almost closed the Guimarães service, workings being cut back to Lordelo for a period but then restored.

Since then a number of developments have taken place. Remaining freight services were withdrawn from May 1986 and the Famalicão branch had services discontinued from 31 December 1995. In 1999 the track from Lousado to Guimarães was re-gauged to broad gauge.

In recent years we must mention the modernisation in 2002-04 together with the Porto-Braga line. The service changed line. From Porto to Trofa the trains go on the former Porto-Braga line and the Lousado station has been still the transfer station.


Davies, W. J. K.: Narrow gauge railways of Portugal, Platerway Press, 1998, East Harling, Norfolk, ISBN 1871980356