|EN: The Lavra Funicular
It was 1882. The age of the omnibus had gone; the 'Larmanjat' railway was singing its swan song, and Carris was still running its transport system with carriages drawn by animals. But Carris was also experimenting with ways of replacing this form of transport. Lisbon was criss-crossed by carriages belonging to various transport companies. They coexisted but competed against each other in attracting the public, when they were not trying to reign supreme. One thing was common to all of them: the type of traction used. The carriages might be Carris or Rippert or Chora or Lusitania, but they all used animals as their power source. The efforts made by the animals, however, were in vain when they faced the steepest slopes.
On the 3rd of June of that year the Lisbon Mechanical Lift Company (Companhia dos Ascensores Mecânicos de Lisboa) was founded. Its aim, in the words of its articles, was (...) to build and operate mechanical lifts, on sloping terrain, propelled by mechanical means.
The first to see the light of day was the Calçada do Lavra, which ran from the Largo da Anunciada to the Travessa do Forno do Torel.
Work was completed in the middle of April 1884. The system used was a rack and cable with water as a counterweight. Basically, there were two carriages, linked by an underground cable, one of which moved up and the other down simultaneously on two parallel tracks laid at ground level. On the outside of the lines, by the side of the rails there were two racks which took the cogs fitted on the axis of the carriages. Motion was conditional on the weight of water which was pumped into a special tank on the carriage at the top and emptied out at the bottom, in the Largo da Anunciada. The carriages could take 24 passengers each and they had both a manual brake and an automatic system which cut in immediately if the cable snapped.
The funicular was opened on April 19, 1884 after an inspection by the city council engineer Ressano Garcia. From very early on, the Company set up a steam engine in order to cut in if there was any break in the water supply. On November 15, 1885, the management ordered this to be started on a trial basis and the fuel weight was gauged. The purpose of this was to find out whether water or coal was more convenient to use. The results would seem to have been on the side of the steam engine because we know that in 1898 there were two boilers working on the Lavra line. One of them was German, manufactured by the Maschinnnenfabrik Essling and the other was Swiss, manufactured by Theodor Bell & Co.
Several incidents darkened the scene during the first years that the funicular was operating. The most serious was in December 1897, when the two carriages and a large part of the line had to be taken out of service because of a fracture in the line caused by the simultaneous use of the two brakes. When they were back in service a few months later, there were apparently new carriages which had to have the boarding platform raised to avoid any scraping along the walls. In 1884, the Company was reorganised and was now called The New Lisbon Mechanical Lift Company (Nova Companhia dos Ascensores Mecânicos de Lisboa).
In 1912 they signed an agreement with the City Council for a new concession which would allow them to electrify all of their lines. The works began in 1914, after ensuring the energy supply from the Santos power station, which was owned by Carris.
The system was also used on the Glória and Bica funiculars, and the works continued for another year.
The line consisted of two tracks where the carriage wheels fitted and by a slot where the cable linking the carriages was laid. The rack was not used any more. The carriages were supplied by the Electric Car Co., they weighed nearly 10 tons and they were powered by two 25 horsepower electric motors in tandem. In this way, they could only be worked if the two brake operators set off together, although each one of them could stop the carriages alone. They were equipped with two types of brake, one of them a clamp which worked by gripping the central rails between two pads and the other by pressure on the rails. Electricity was supplied by pantographs fitted on the roof. The bodywork was in wood, painted the colour of mahogany and the benches were crosswise. They could take between 20 and 22 passengers sitting down.
In December 1915, the Lavra funicular was back in service. In 1926 the company was wound up and the funicular became Carris property.
During one of the periodical maintenance operations carried out by Carris, the carriages were given a new look, the dominant colour this time being yellow.
The centenary of the Lavra funicular was celebrated in 1984 and it has the honour of being the first Lisbon transport to successfully tackle one of the city’s steepest slopes. In February 2002, along with Glória and Bica, it was classified as a national monument.