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Norwegian train travel
Author: Charles Spencer, Canada
I made a personal visit to Norway in September, and I thought visitors to the site would enjoy a brief description of my train travel. I don’t normally do travelogues, but from experience in both Europe and Western Canada, I am a pretty good judge of mountain rail travel, and this is a trip I would highly recommend.
We travelled from Oslo to Bergen, on Norway’s west coast, via the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) main line, with a diversion onto a branch line from Myrdal to Flåm and then down the fjord by express boat to Bergen. Our return was straight back on the Bergen-Oslo main line.
Our train for Bergen left Oslo’s main station at 0811. We had reserved seats, which seem to be essential for all long-distance travel in Norway -- our coach was almost filled with a large and enthusiastic tour group from Japan. The Bergen express was a train of six modern type 7 sealed coaches hauled by an rather older El16: the classic Norwegian look with reverse sloped front and bright yellow snowplow. (Roco has a very good model in Era 4 livery). The train also included one older series 3 BF12 baggage car in old dark red with yellow stripes - a very distinguished livery in its day (era 4) but now somewhat faded. On good advice we sat on the left hand side which is the better side for views most of the way. Surprisingly for those used to main lines in Europe, the line became single within a few kilometers of Oslo. (In much of mountainous Canada, single lines are the rule.) The line was sinuous almost from the outset and the views and engineering became steadily more impressive as we made our way through the mountains. The Norwegians love tunnels, so there were lots, but still ample opportunity to look out on both sides. The line goes above the treeline as it crosses the col of the mountains at Haugastøl and indeed several of the villages there, including our junction at Myrdal, are accessible only by rail or by off-road vehicle. This section of line has magnificent views of lakes, glaciers and rocks--and a lot of snowsheds. After leaving the express at Myrdal at 1248, we boarded the Flåmsbana train: six green-liveried type 3 coaches with an El17 at each end. (We were also amused to note that the mainline platform at Myrdal is numbered 1 & 2, while the only other platform, for the Flåmsbana, was number 11.)
The Flåmsbana is a scenic and engineering extravaganza. It descends 864 metres in 20km at grades as steep as 5.5%, reportedly the steepest conventional traction line in the world. It does so with 6 kms of tunnels plus loops (some of them completely in tunnels, miniature versions of the Kicking Horse and Gotthard spiral tunnels) and three valley crossings on embankments. At one point one can look back and see three separate sections of line one above the other.. The train makes a photostop below a waterfall at the top of the Flåm valley, and slows (from its not very fast normal speed) for views at several other spots. Halfway down, we met the other, upbound, trainset at a passing track: it was two three-coach EMUs in tandem.
At Flåm, the end of the line at the head of the Aurlandsfjord , is the Flåmsbana museum, which was closed, so I can’t report on it. From here we took the express boat, a fast catamaran doing about 25knots, down the fjord and south through the coastal islands to Bergen, about a 6-hour trip with stops.
Our return trip on the Bergen-Oslo express left at a more civilized 1015. Reversing the pattern of the westbound trip, the coaches were older type 3 models, but hauled by the latest El18, a modification of the Swiss pattern Re460 and the BLS Re465. (The NSB El18 is also currently available from Roco.) It was a heavy consist of 10 coaches including two baggage cars. Unlike the type 7 coaches, the older ones have some opening windows, which make photography much easier. The part of the line we hadn’t seen before, the climb through green fjords and valleys to Myrdal, is equally attractive. Once beyond Myrdal, we also had a 10-minute pause while waiting for the westbound train, which eventually emerged from a long snowshed ahead. At Finse, a skiing and hiking village, one photogenic attraction was a completely intact passenger coach, right down to the trucks, suspended some 4 metres in the air and serving as a footbridge between two buildings of the complex beside the station. A rotary snowplow and other maintenance equipment littered the small switching yard.
The large group of seniors who had been sharing our coach this time left the train slowly and painfully an hour outside Oslo. This clearly cost us our “slot” for the run into Oslo, and we limped in behind a local service some 30 minutes late at 1830.
The round trip, including the boat segment, seat reservations and a discount card for hotels, transport and admissions in Bergen, was about C$250 (US$160 or STLG100) per person.
I also recommend trying the Flytoget express trains between Oslo central station and the new airport at Gardemoen: very dramatic looking grey streamliners just installed this year, in MU sets of three coaches, model MB71 made by Adtranz, operating at 200kph plus on about a 10-15 minute headway in peak periods and making the 50km journey in under 20 minutes. One-way fare is about C$25 (US$16, STLG10).
Finally, I can recommend two very helpful model stores with knowledgeable owners and a surprisingly wide range of Norwegian pattern stock, thanks in part, I gather, to energetic collaboration between the Norwegian model railway club and Lima: Oslo Modelbane in the Akersgt in Oslo; and HobbySenter in the Oevregaten.
[ last updated 31st Dec 2003 ]