Great Western

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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In 1872, some English capitalists meet in London and created a company to build railroads in Brazil, the Great Western of Brazil Railway Company Limited, which became known in Brazil as ‘Greitueste’.

Like a similar English company, The Great Western Railway Company, created in 1835 to build a connection between London and Western England (Liverpool, Bristol), the new company was destined to open railways in a westerly direction, in a march to the wilds of Northeast Brazil.

In 1873, Great Western was authorised to work in the British Empire and, granted in 1875 by the Baron of Soledade, concession was given to build a railroad in Pernambuco which passed through Caxangá, São Lourenço da Mata, Pau d’Alho and Tracunhaém (with branches to Nazaré da Mata and Vitória de Santo Antão), connecting Recife to Limoeiro.

The work’s inauguration, in 1879, was very festive and took place in Santo Amaro, Recife, with the presence of the president of the Pernambuco province.

The first line from Recife to Pau d’Alho was completed only in 1881 and the Pau d’Alho-Limoeiro line was opened to traffic in 1882, as well as the branch to Nazaré da Mata.

The first directors of the company in Brazil were James Fergusson, David Davies, Hugh Robert Baines, Alfred Phillips Youle, Edward Keir Hett and Spencer Herapath. With the departure of Hugh Robert Baines, Frank Parish became one of the directors.

Between 1882 and 1883, the Limoeiro railroad transported 2,061 1st class and 33,377 2nd class passengers. In 1884 e 1885, with the introduction of 3rd class wagons, over 60,000 people were transported, with only approximately 4% being 1st class travellers.

Besides passengers, Great Western also transported the principal products of the region, such as sugar, alcohol, wood, cotton and beans.
After the Recife-Limoeiro line, the company built the Estrada de Ferro Central de Pernambuco (Central Railway of Pernambuco) (1885-1896) linking Recife to Caruaru.

The railroad began in the Afogados neighbourhood in Recife, near the Casa de Detenção (Detention House) (today the Casa da Cultura), passing through Vitória de Santo Antão, Gravatá, Bezerros and terminating in Caruaru.

At that time, Vitória had over 70 sugarcane mills, Bezerros over 20 brown sugar processing factories, and Caruaru exported a huge quantity of soles, leather, cotton, cheese and beans to Recife, as well as having one of the largest cattle markets in the region.

The first train to arrive in Caruaru was completely decorated and carried the Governor, Barbosa Lima, the Chief of Police, Júlio de Melo, and other dignitaries.
From the 19th century, the company annexed the majority of railroads in the region, including state, municipal and strategic tracks.

In the 2nd World War, Great Western had to resort to timber to replace coal, which helped to increase the devastation of forest reserves in the region. To alleviate the situation somewhat, the company created various forest gardens where thousands of species of native and acclimatised plants were cultivated. Later, they began to use combustible oil, sparing the remainder of the existing natural resources.

In 1945, Great Western owned four main lines: Recife-Nova Cruz, Recife-Albuquerque Né, Recife-Jaraguá and Paulo Afonso.

The company grew to own a rail network of over 1,600 kilometres spread through the States of Paraíba, Pernambuco and Alagoas.

The story of Great Western is linked to the production of Northeast Brazil, so much so that no-one can write about the economic history of the region without consulting its reports and archives.

Recife, 15 July 2003.
(Updated on 28 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


PINTO, Estevão. História de uma estrada-de-ferro do Nordeste. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1949. 310 p. (Documentos brasileiros, 61).

SOUZA, Alcindo de. Antologia ferroviária do Nordeste. Recife: Bagaço, 1988. 100 p.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Great Western. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.


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