STCP Tramcar Museum - here's a sneak peek
The calls to fight climate change are now growing louder around the world and electric mobility has indisputably come into vogue but the silent and charming zero-emission tramcars are actually running on tracks here in Porto for more than a century now...!
Let's head down memory tracks and unveil some of the past, see how people used to move around the urban area of Porto - when run-commuting wasn't yet that popular - is it popular now??! Jump in and grab on for a glimpse of the STCP tramcar museum & depot, once the not-so-green coal power plant that powered the entire tramways' network... (!)
Remnants of Porto's rich transit history can be found under the feet of joggers and walkers who make their way to the oceanfront but also in the city's historic centre: the old tramcar tracks are kind of omnipresent, some active, some decommissioned.
Electric tramcar's ancestors
Mule- or horse-drawn trams in Porto were definitely romantic - there's many references to them in the romantic novels of the mid-1850's - but absolutely unreliable. Schedules were non-existent and impossible to define. A ride from Foz to Ribeira would have a totally random duration. There were long downtimes because horses would need to be fed and needed to rest from time to time. Also, some were temperamental, despite being trained... and there would always be a distinct smell in the city due to their feces!!
Portuenses called these first mule-drawn tramcars the "Americanos" for the sole reason that some were imported from New York city (US), where this type of vehicle had been in use since 1832.
Towards the end of the 1800’s, Porto’s public transportation was scarce, inefficient and uncomfortable. The town closed itself in the medieval walls and was turned to the Douro river and the comercial activities happening along its north bank. Within this context, the local authorities decide to start the construction of a new road meant to connect the city doors and Foz, the fisherman village (presently Foz is an integrating district of Porto ).
Vehicles such as the Omnibus, the Char-a-bancs, also the mule-drawn tramcars and later (1878) steam traction cars were used to transport passengers from the inner city to the ocean front via this meandering new road.
FROM ANIMAL (and steam) TO ELECTRIC TRACTION
1895 was a year when the people of Porto witnessed enormous changes - Portugal was finally catching up the rest of the industrialized Europe, modernity was becoming visible: the harbor of Leixões was about to start its operations, the outer ring around the city called Circunvalação - two roads with a ditch in between- had just been completed and that was also the year when the first tram line (number 1 - Infante -Foz) was converted to electric traction.
Runners from Chicago during a Heart of Porto running tour stoping for a photo with one of Porto's tramcars (trolleycars)
Trams (aka trolley cars in North America) still run on tracks along Porto's streets and are now one of the most instagramable attractions for both occasional and professional photographers.
Photo credits: Joaquim Oliveira
For many decades, the electric tramcar was the favorite transport mean for people in Porto (those who could afford it). The network extended from Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro river - to the south- to Leça da Palmeira, across the Leça river - to the north. The electricity powered cars were very visible throughout the whole city and shared the streets with horse-drawn cars and some (the very few and recent!) petrol engines cars.
Sérgio is the founder of Porto Running Tours, a keen runner since 1999 and a friendly running tour guide-storyteller since 2015.
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