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Recife's Urban Transportation

The history of public transport in Recife can be traced back to 1841, when Englishman Tomás Sayle made four-wheeled horse-drawn stagecoaches available on the Monteiro line.

Recife's Urban Transportation

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 21/03/2022

By: Virgina Barbosa - Librarian at Fundação Joaquim Nabuco - Specialist in Librarianship and History

The history of public transport in Recife can be traced back to 1841, when Englishman Tomás Sayle made four-wheeled horse-drawn stagecoaches available on the Monteiro line. They used to depart from the Matriz de Santo Antônio, in the center of the city to Manguinho and Casa Forte.


In 1852, the service was extended to Olinda and Jaboatão, managed by Cláudio Dubeux. There were two diligences, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. At night they only circulated when there were theatrical performances. On weekends, extra trips were made to Apipucos where part of the population went for summer vacations and to bathe in the Rio Capibaribe.


The stagecoaches stopped being used when the maxambombas (1867) and the donkey streetcars (1871) appeared


The maxambombas, term originated in Portuguese from the English expression “machine pump,” were passenger cars pulled by small steam engines that belonged to the English company Brazilian Street Railway Company Limited, known as Companhia de Caxangá. The population’s discontent with the public transportation service resulted in the emergence of these locomotives and was supported by British entrepreneurs who invested heavily in the railroad sector.


Initially, the maxambombas connected the Recife’s downtown to the town of Apipucos, then they started serving Dois Irmãos, Casa Amarela and Várzea as the city grew, the lines and branch lines were extended.


Starting in 1870, a concessionaire owned by local investors was inaugurated. It was Trilhos Urbanos de Olinda, which operated more in the Northern area and had a lower fare.


Undoubtedly, the arrival of rail transportation in the second half of the 19th century in Recife promoted a transformation both in the urban scenario and the socioeconomic aspect of the city.


In 1871, another competitor to the maxambombas appeared: the Pernambuco Street Railway Company. These were animal-drawn vehicles that ran on rails. Its activities began in Bairro do Recife, from Brum to Madalena.


Even with adjustments and expansion of services, the animal-drawn streetcars could not meet the locomotion needs of the people of Recife. “The capital of Pernambuco already had, in 1912, 81,156 km of lines, 27 locomotives, 889 mules, 217 passenger cars and 64 freight cars.” In July 1914, alleging poor service, some users turned several streetcars around and set fire to them, which contributed to the closure of the company.


In that same year Pernambuco Tamways & Power introduced electric streetcars. The streetcars were from England.


In 1928 Pernambuco Tramways was sold to the U.S. company Electric Bond & Share. The new owner refurbished the streetcars, which many called zeppelins because of their aerodynamic design. In that same year, on June 7, the intercity tramway line to Farol de Olinda was inaugurated. In the following year, Auto Viação Cruzeiro was founded and ran the Serinhaém-Recife line, using a single bus


The streetcars ran until the end of the 1950s. The population and some politicians protested, but the company decided to keep a single streetcar to run from Boa Vista to Fundão until 1960.


Then, the phase of passenger transport by trolleybus (buses run on electricity transmitted by overhead cables suspended over the route) began in Recife, with the Companhia de Transportes Urbanos (CTU), an agency of the Municipal Government, in charge. There were 13 lines served by 65 buses imported from the Marmon-Herrington Automotive Company of Indianapolis (USA) for the state capital. In ten years CTU expanded its fleet to 140 vehicles and 18 routes.


In the 1970s, CTU had trolleybuses of the latest manufacture of the Indianapolis firm, with three doors and the only ones in the world in original condition.


The trolleybus system underwent a slow and gradual process to be deactivated. It completely left the streets of Recife on September 24, 2001, when the population had already adapted to the diesel-powered bus.


In 1972 the activities of the Pedrosa Transportes company began, which was located in the district of Nova Descoberta. The Expresso Vera Cruz passenger transportation company was founded in June 1969 and changed its administration and in 1975 it had 24 vehicles, serving only the Cajueiro Seco line.


In September 1982, the Metrorec Consortium was created—constituted by the Rede Ferroviária Federal S/A and the Empresa Brasileira de Transportes Urbanos (EBTU, now extinct)—which in January 1983 started the construction of the Recife Subway. In 1985, Metrorec was incorporated into the Companhia Brasileira de Trens Urbanos (CBTU, Rio de Janeiro) through the Superintendência de Trens Urbanos do Recife (STU/REC) and thus began the circulation of the first passenger trains.


From 1998 to 2009, the Recife Subway went through some modifications, among them the expansion works with the electrification of the South Line (Recife and Cajueiro Seco Stations) and the extension of the Center Line (Bus Station to Camaragibe, inaugurated in 2002).


In addition to the subway, public transport in the Metropolitan Region of Recife relies on diesel trains, which will probably be replaced in 2012 by LRV (Light Rail Vehicle) and VPP (Small Carrier Vehicle) type vehicles, with a capacity of 12 to 20 people, approved by the Recife City Hall and the Grande Recife Consórcio de Transportes (GRCT, extinct Empresa Metroplitana de Transportes Urbanos). The implementation of the LRV system will take advantage of the existing railway infrastructure and has great social relevance, as it will benefit the low-income population by offering them safety, speed and punctuality.



Recife, August 29, 2011.

sources consulted

DUARTE, José Lins. Recife no tempo da maxambomba (1867-1889): o primeiro trem urbano do Brasil. 2005. 184 f. Dissertação (Mestrado em História) – Centro de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, 2005.


GUERRA, Flávio. Das diligências às maxambombas e aos bondes de burros. In: ______. Crônicas do velho Recife. Recife: Dialgraf, 1972. p. 163-168.


MOTA, Alves da. No tempo do bonde elétrico. Recife: Celpe, 1982.


NO grande Recife trens a diesel serão substituídos pelo sistema VLT. In: Blog Meu Transporte, 27 jul. 2011. Disponível em: Aceso em: 29 ago. 2011.


SETTE, Mário. Maxambombas e maracatus. 4. ed. Recife: Fundação de Cultura da Cidade do Recife, 1981. (Coleção Cidade do Recife; XIX).


O SISTEMA de Transportes. Disponível em: Acesso em: 29 ago. 2011.


ZAIDAN, Noemia Maria. O Recife nos trilhos dos bondes de burro: 1871-1914. 1991. 180 f. Dissertação (Mestrado em Desenvolvimento Urbano) – Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, 1991.

how to quote this text

BARBOSA, Virgínia. Recife's Urban Transportation. In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, 2011. Available at: https: Accessed on: month day year. (Ex.: 6 ago. 2020)