Kiruna to Narvik
When my travelling companion and I were learning geography at school, we were taught all about the Swedish iron ore industry and how a train line was built to Narvik so the ore could be exported.
You see, the shallow Swedish Baltic Sea port at Luleå that was the main route out became frozen solid in Winter. This meant that exports had to be halted for several months every year. Before the Ofoten train line to the Atlantic ice-free port of Narvik was built that is.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, Narvik’s warmer waters had no such problems. Plans were therefore drawn up to build what was at the time the world’s most northerly railway. Sweden’s inconvenience was Norway’s and train lovers gain.
Construction of the railway started at both ends in 1898. The Ofoten Line to run the 43km from Narvik Port to Riksgränsen on the Norway-Sweden border. This would join with the Ore Line running from Kiruna and Gällivare to Luleå.
They were completed and joined up in 1902, a feat of vertigo defying engineering, tortuous hard labour in often extreme conditions, and masterful planning.
There were mountains to bore through, ravines to be bridged, boulders the size of elephants to shift and seemingly impenetrable permafrost to be cut through.
Lessons had been learned from construction of parts of the even more ambitious Trans-Siberian Railway, mistakes, delays and most importantly fatalities mostly avoided.
Up to 5,000 navvies from all over the Nordics built the railway. The conditions for the workers were incredibly hard, with the long winter and short days making it only possible to work within the tunnels. As usual the work of the navvy was extreme dangerous and poorly paid.
Electrification of the line took place between 1915 & 1923 to speed up the 473km length from Luleå to Narvik.
Today The line is dominated by the immense 8,600-tonne ore freight trains operated by Malmtrafik. The length of the trains is an incredible 750 metres, with the powerful loco pulling 68 iron ore carts, carrying 6,800-tonnes of ore. That’s some train set!
The trains have got progressively heavier and longer over the years, necessitating upgrades to bridges and tunnels, as well as decreasing the sharpness of some of the bends.
The journey really is awesome. I will never tire of it. The beauty of the lakes, mountains and fjords really is breathtaking. I will let the pictures tell the story.