The train arrived in Lagos 90 years ago: the difficulties of building the branch

In 1903, after the train reached Faro or Vila Real de Santo António years ago, the locomotive had only reached the left bank of the Arade, at the Ferragudo/Parchal station

On July 30, 1922, the Lacobrigenses solemnly celebrated the inauguration of the railway section between Vila Nova de Portimão and Lagos.

The event was worthy of such enthusiasm. Faro and the central Algarve began to enjoy such an important improvement on the 1st of July 1889, Vila Real de Santo António since April 1906 and, even before that, in 1903, the locomotive had arrived (almost) in Portimão, or rather, in Ferragudo/ Parchal.

But the Lacobrigenses never lowered their arms in the face of a struggle that was not always easy and with successive adversities.

Barely two months after the inauguration of the Southern Line, on 1 September 1889, a meeting was held in Lagos “of all classes of society”, as well as representatives of the municipalities of Vila do Bispo, Aljezur and Odemira.

The purpose of this meeting was to form “a large commission” and with it direct a joint representation of those municipalities to the government, for the construction of a safe harbor in Lagos, and a railway from this city to Odemira, connecting to the Southern railway line in the Garvão area.

The commission was chaired by Jacintho Inágcio de Brito Rebello, and the representation was fundamentally based on statistical data, with which it was intended to justify the profitability of that line.


In the exhibition, subscribers recalled the error made “in the route of the southern railway, which from Beja to S. Bartholomeu de Messines, stopped approaching the most important points, to cross almost a desert”, to later refer to “ even if a road was built from S. Bartholomeu to Lagos, it was essential to make it curve south to Odemira”.

In terms of inhabitants and in the totality of the three municipalities, about 42 thousand people lived. As for exports, Lagos presented itself as a large fishing and canning center, followed by the export of dried figs, wine, brandy, almonds and even carob and eggs.

Vila do Bispo, in turn, mainly produced cereals, vegetables, cattle and also some lime, which in the meantime had begun to be manufactured there. Aljezur took great care in cereals, vegetables, white rice, as well as melons and watermelons.

Finally, Odemira exported cork, wax and honey, but also cattle. While all of them were “rich in iron ore, manganese and other mining, some suspected and others in research”. What is certain is that the highly grounded representation had no effect and the railroad had nothing.


The promises of D. Carlos

In October 1897, on an official visit to the Algarve, King D. Carlos promised at the gala dinner in Faro, among several improvements, which “would recommend with special interest to the Government the construction of the railway branches of Faro Vila Real de Santo António, by Olhão and Tavira, and Faro to Lagos”, as reported by the newspaper “O Século” at the time.

Three days later, in Lagos, at the reception given to him, the monarch repeated the promised promise.

In fact, on October 10, 1899, the train arrived in Algoz, on March 19 of the following year, it reached Poço Barreto, and Silves on February 1, 1902. once Lagos' pretensions were not met.

The Lacobrigenses, together with the Silvenses, had the ambition of having the Silves station located next to this city, as this way the crossing of the Arade River would be very easy, which would allow the line to be built more quickly to Lagos.

But in March 1899, this hypothesis was irreversibly abandoned. The Municipality of Silves, upon learning of the project, launched in the minutes “a vote of feeling and at the same time of protest” against the “wrong guideline being given to the railway line from Tunis to Lagos”, for later conclude that "a long-claimed improvement is annulled under such extraordinary circumstances."

The city station was located two kilometers to the south, "hidden by a hill and with a very bad and bumpy communication with it". The layout in the project was thus directed to Estombar and Ferragudo, where the transposition of the river would only be possible through a bridge of considerable dimensions.

On February 15, 1903, the train arrived at Parchal/Ferragudo, a terminal station that started to bear the toponym of “Portimão”, thus completing the branch of the same name.

Lagos lost another battle, but not the war. It should be noted that, on September 17, 1883, a decree was published that determined the start of construction of the Portimão branch, but the concession granted by the government expired without anything being done.

In the following years and despite successive efforts by the Council of Lagos, little or nothing was accomplished. Only from 1909 onwards did the works develop with some activity, even so they were often interrupted and many times started again.


One more breath with the Republic



With the advent of the Republic, the Câmara de Lagos proposed to build the branch, taking out a loan in the amount of 500 contos. This would be guaranteed with the bar tax that the Chamber would charge. The proposal was authorized by Parliament in July 1912, and a son of the land, Senator Alberto da Silveira, actively participated.

His intervention in this process, as well as in others, motivated a public acknowledgment from that Chamber, drawn up in the minutes on July 17, 1912.

Shortly after, the first works of laying the line took place. But the loan was not enough for the works, which later returned to the State again, as well as the bar tax.

In 1915, the construction of the “magnificent” bridge over the Arade, in Portimão, began, with six sections of parabolic beams, supported by masonry pillars, with a length of 303 meters (the longest of the railway in the Algarve).

The metallic part was in charge of Companhia União Metalúrgica, while the foundations made of reinforced concrete were the responsibility of the Moreira de Sá Malevez house.

Also in 1915 and within the scope of the 1st Algarve Regional Congress, which took place in Praia da Rocha, Vasconcellos Corrêa defended, in the communication “Caminhos de Ferro do Algarve”, not only “greater activity in the respective construction works” on the branch from Portimão to Lagos , such as the construction of another secondary line, connecting the latter city to Vila do Bispo, Aljezur, Odeceixe, São Teotónio and Odemira, “connecting perhaps with Sines”.

It should be noted that the construction of another line was planned for the port of Sines, since 1898. In short, it would be a return to the objectives of the 1889 representation, which, as is known, never came to fruition.


Finally in Lagos



Meanwhile, the stations of Portimão (current), Montes de Alvor, Mexilhoeira Grande, Odiáxere and Lagos were built, the latter having been considered “one of the best and most luxurious in the country”. Simultaneously, several works of art were built, metallic (Vale de Lama, Torre, among others) and one of reinforced concrete (Farelo).

On June 22, 1922, at 18:00, the first locomotive arrived at the Lagos station, towing a service train, with about 500 workers on the track and works. These trains were already circulating on the new line, but this was the first one that approached the city.

The newspaper “O Século”, of 26 June, recorded the moment: “this fact filled the people of this city with joy, as they gathered in the «gare» and expressed themselves joyfully, breaking out in a great round of applause and alive and making many rockets go up in the air”.

As a corollary of the event, “bread, wine and preserves, offered by the City Council, local commerce and industry” were distributed to the workers, and to the engineers who accompanied them “a delicate glass of water, rising enthusiastically, cheering for Champagne” .

The line was completed, the small details were now missing.

The Câmara de Lagos fulfilled a long-established objective, and in fact the autarchy was tireless in its efforts to build the line, with particular emphasis on the terms in which Vítor da Costa e Silva was vice-president and also president.

The inauguration was then scheduled for July 23, awaiting this day “with nervous anxiety (…) after so many years of repeated promises suffered with unparalleled patience, it will finally become a reality”, reported the Farense newspaper “Correio do South".

But the date would still be postponed to a week later, “what new works in Santa Engrácia”, as the press proclaimed. Thirty-three years after the opening of the Southern Railway, the train finally arrived in Lagos.

That Sunday, July 30, 1922, the day dawned festive, the city awaited the presence of high-ranking magistrates of the Nation and had dressed up for that purpose. It was just after 11:40 am, when a “roll of smoke was seen in the distance, a whistle whistle blasting the air”, which was getting closer and closer… the inaugural train arrived.

(Go on)

Author Aurélio Nuno Cabrita is an environmental engineer and researcher of local and regional history