Climbing 863 metres over its 12.6 mile length from Flåm to Myrdal with gradients of up to 1-in-18, the Flåmsbana (Flåm Railway) is a tourist-oriented loco-hauled branch line that is consistently rated highly in “most scenic railway” lists.
I often find that Norway is a country somewhat overlooked by haulage enthusiasts; perhaps because there are now only 27 locos of two classes (one diesel, one electric) which see use on passenger trains, and given the combination of this and its sheer size, it does not offer the opportunities presented by certain other countries to rack up seriously high numbers of locos for haulage in a day.
Sometimes overlooked even by those who do visit Norway is one short branch line in the west of the country, upon which neither Interrail tickets nor FIP rail staff travel passes are valid – although to miss it would be a shame.
Check out that gradient! El18 2246 leads the 14:40 ex Flåm through the passing loop at Berekvam, 06/04/18 (JW)
Running from a junction with the Oslo to Bergen main line at Myrdal to the bank of the Aurlandsfjord, the branch from Flåm to Myrdal opened in 1940, and electric traction replaced steam four years later. Initially used were class El9, replaced in turn by class El11, then class El17, and finally – within the last few years – class El18 have taken over. Reminders of the past are still visible, however, with El9 2063 the centrepiece of a small (free to enter) railway museum adjacent to the station in Flåm and the severed cab of El17 2231 is “bursting out” of a building on the right-hand side of the train shortly after departing Flåm (link to photo).
El9 2063 in the museum at Flåm, 06/04/18 (JW)
Named by Lonely Planet as their no.1 train journey in the world in 2014, by National Geographic as one of the 10 best European train trips, and a feature of many other “best of” scenic railway lists, this branch line is one of the world’s steepest adhesion-worked railways.
It sees a tourist-oriented service all year round, and as with any “must-do tourist activity”, it could not be described as cheap. However – again as with any “must-do tourist activity” – it is popular because it is worth doing. The mountain scenery is absolutely stunning, and the trains pause at Kjosfossen station for a grandstand view of a waterfall.
It’s fair to say that the waterfall at Kjosfossen was not quite as impressive when viewed in its frozen state in early April! (Here‘s how it “should” have looked!) 06/04/18 (JW).
Traction and times
All trains on the line are operated by NSB and are formed of six B3 carriages top-and-tailed by El18 electric locos (“Lok 2000” machines externally identical to SBB class 460, VR class Sr2 etc), both powering.
Between April and October, two sets (and therefore four locos) are in use; for the rest of the year, just one set suffices. My journey in April 2018 brought to mind brief flashbacks to bashing in the USA as only the rear three carriages of the six were available for travel (the others being locked out) and staff on the platform at Flåm were initially very reluctant to let me past that point to view, identify and photograph the loco on the front of the train! (This would have been no great problem, though, as viewing it at Myrdal would’ve been easy).
How to cover it
A PDF containing timetables and fares can be found here. A round-trip ticket costs up to 550 NOK (£50 at the time of writing) which is admittedly a lot for a 12-mile branch line. Holders of Interrail passes do at least get 30% discount on these fares, but there is no rail staff concession. Reservations are required on specific services.
If you are only bothered about getting the locos in the haulage book and not covering the track, however, there is a cheaper way of doing so. A return from Myrdal to the first stop – Vatnahalsen, less than 0.75 miles away – and back is 140 NOK (£12.72 at current prices) if purchased online (which satisfies the reservation part too).
Myrdal sees loco-hauled trains on the Oslo to Bergen main line – also El18s – on the expresses that run between the two cities.
The top of the hill at Myrdal (JW)
As part of a family holiday
On this site I am increasingly trying to highlight ways of incorporating loco haulage into otherwise non-railway holidays – i.e. “bashing by stealth”: the family are enjoying themselves whilst you are surreptitiously (or not so surreptitiously!) getting the haulage book out! The Flåmsbana makes this easy as it is actually part of a circular tourist itinerary aimed at enjoying the scenery of the Norwegian fjords – “Norway in a Nutshell” – which takes in the railway, a fjord cruise (including up the Nærøyfjord – a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and a scenic bus journey, based on either Oslo, Bergen or both. I can attest that I travelled this itinerary with my fiancee in April 2018, and despite her certainly not sharing my interest in trains, she had a great day out too!
There are two “Norway in a Nutshell” itineraries centred on Bergen which allow you to complete this round trip in a day either clockwise or anticlockwise; both of which involve travel on class 69 EMUs on the main line, rather than loco-hauled trains, however.
I can personally recommend Bergen for a family holiday with some transport interest, and this will form part of an article on this site in the not too distant future.