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MIT Portugal-affiliated conference gathers academics to discuss railroads

The international conference “Railroads in Historical Context: Construction, Costs and Consequences” brought together more than 40 experts on Oct. 11-13 to discuss both the history and the future of the Tua railroad and Tua Valley.

The conference occurred within the context of the FOZTUA Project, a joint interdisciplinary project between MIT (USA) and University of Minho (Portugal), sponsored by EDP and under the auspices of the MIT Portugal Program. The project aims to study, preserve and disseminate the memory of the Tua Valley and its historically significant narrow gauge railroad.

During the three days of the conference, scholars from different disciplines shared their research results based on the Tua Line or similar railroad projects focusing on themes such as decision-making processes, the management of labor, technical engineering concerns, and the economic and social impact of completed railroads.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century the railway line of Tua/Bragança (begun in 1883, completed to Mirandela in 1887 and to Bragança in 1906) was the “great highway” for the transport of people and goods in and out of the region of the upper Douro River, home to the viticulture made world-famous by Port wine. EDP, the largest Portuguese utility company, is building a new dam in the Tua River, close to Foz Tua Station, where the Tua River meets the Douro River. The new dam will submerge a section of Tua railtrack, close to Foz Tua station.

Tua line operations have been already closed since 2008 due to safety issues. Consequently, a new mobility plan was designed incorporating trains, boats and a cable railway. The historical project intends to help preserve the memory and the stories of the rail line, to discuss its role in the region, and to enhance its common heritage through an integrated, interdisciplinary, scholarly approach.

Eduardo Beira — formerly of the University of Minho and MIT Portugal Program faculty, and now senior research fellow at IN+ Center for Innovation, Technology and Public Policy in Lisbon — is leading the FOZTUA Project.

"This could be the rebirth of the railway, where, so far, the time has stopped,” says Beira, adding that this plan, especially within the context of tourism, "can be a great opportunity for the region."

The project is the basis of two PhD theses. Bruno Gonçalves, MIT Portugal Program PhD student at Doctoral Program Leaders for Technical Industries (LTI), is studying the long-term material and structural behavior of Tua railways. The project also has supported several MSc dissertations.

A team from LTI designed a transportable and easy-to-use family rail-rider powered by two bicycles. The project was developed in the LTI Product Design and Development course by Carlos Barbosa, João Figueiredo, Jorge Marques, Lídia Teixeira, Miguel Oliveira, Eduardo Beira and António Araújo.

The coordination of the project is also supported by Anne McCants (Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow and Professor of History at MIT); José Manuel Cordeiro (Institute of Social Sciences, University of Minho); and Paulo Lourenço (School of Engineering, University of Minho).

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