Augusto Pestana, who achieved fame as both a transportation engineer and public official, was born in Rio Janeiro at a time when the city was the capital of the Empire of Brazil. Pestana attended Escola Politécnica do Rio de Janeiro, the oldest engineering school in Brazil, and graduated from there at age 20 with a degree in civil engineering.
Just a few months after graduation, Pestana moved to the province (and present-day state) of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil to help perform engineering work for a railway connection between the region’s cities of Porto Alegre and Urugaiana. Along with providing him with significant hands-on engineering experience, Pestana’s work on this railway project also familiarized him with the overall transportation infrastructure priorities and political atmosphere of Rio Grande do Sul during a critical time in which the empire was replaced with the First Brazilian Republic. In 1897, Pestana assumed his first official public service role when
In 1897, Pestana assumed his first official public service role when Rio Grande do Sul Governor Júlio Prates de Castilhos named him director for state waterways in that part of Brazil. Pestana subsequently served in several other government positions in Rio Grande do Sul. He also briefly served as director of the Minas Gerais Western Railway Company in the state of Minas Gerais, located further north in Brazi’s southeast region.
In 1915, Pestana was first elected to the National Congress of Brazil. As a congressman, he strongly championed new investments in the nation’s rail transportation network. He was also instrumental in the nationalization of the Belgium-based railway enterprise Compagnie Auxiliaire de Chemins de Fer au Brésil, which became the Railway Company of Rio Grande do Sul (Viacão Férrea do Rio Grande do Sul, or VFRGS).
Pestana played a pivotal role in nurturing VFRGS, first as its chief executive officer between 1920 and 1926 and then as Rio Grande do Sul’s secretary for transport and public works from 1926 to 1928. Under his leadership, the number of VFRGS passengers grew from 1.1 million in 1920 to 2 million in 1928; during the same period, freight on board those trains increased from 640,000 metric tons to 1 million metric tons.
One of Pestana’s final major projects involved assisting with the modernization of the Porto Alegre harbor in 1932. He died two years later in Rio de Janeiro at the age of 66.