In the Portuguese railway system, narrow-gauge lines were an important part of the network, accounting for a fifth of the extent and roughly a sixth of the traffic. Portuguese historiography about these railways focuses on partial aspects of their evolution and does not provide a general critical overview of their history. In this article, I propose the analysis of Portuguese narrow gauge as a Large Technological System connecting the Portuguese center(s) to its periphery(ies) in different stages of its evolution, from its implementation to its decline. Using available literature and unpublished statistical data of operation, I demonstrate how narrow gauge was unable to compete with automobility and ceased to be an alternative for long-distance transportation, but is resurfacing with different uses and goals.
Hugo Silveira Pereira is assistant researcher at CIUHCT—Interuniversity Centre for the History of Science and Technology (NOVA School of Science and Technology), honorary fellow at the Department of History (University of York), and former visiting scholar at the History Department (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). He is author of several articles and books about the Portuguese mainland and colonial railways. His most recent publications include studies about the sociotechnical construction of railways, railways as promoters of circulation, globalization, and territorial appropriation, and railway imperialism. Current academic interests include photography of STEM activities and its role in the creation of technoscientific landscapes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org