The History of The Flåm Railway

The History of The Flåm Railway
The History of The Flåm Railway
2023-04-24 05:18:00

The History of The Flåm Railway

The Flåm Railway is an integral part of the community and history of the village of Flåm in western Norway. If you have had a look at our about page, you may have noticed that we are actually based in Flåm!

This is why the Flåm Railway is extra important to us here at Memories from Norway, and you’ll notice that we have lots of Flåm Railway products available, including model trains.

In fact, we are actually the exclusive retailer of Flåm Railway merchandise, something we are very proud of.

Therefore, we wanted to share this article, covering the history of the Flåm Railway. If you are planning a trip to Norway, and especially if you are visiting Flåm, we think this will be helpful knowledge for you to have!

A Brief History of the Flåm Railway

Firstly, we’d like to point out that the history of Flåm goes way back, before the Flåm Railway was even thought of. In fact, there are written records of farms in the area dating back to the 1300s.

For centuries, agriculture was the main focus for the villagers, and Flåm was mainly closed off to the rest of the world.

That was until 1871, when an initiative to establish a railway between Oslo and Bergen was proposed. A few decades later, in 1908, the Norwegian Parliament decided that a connecting line from Myrdal (one of the mountain stations along the Oslo Bergen line) down to the fjords was to be built.

The Oslo Bergen line (also known as Bergensbana) opened in 1909.

However, it wasn’t until 1923 that funds were granted, as years had been spent considering different technical solutions to building a railway in the steep terrain. The building of the railway started that same year.

The aim of the railway was mainly to connect the fjord villages and the Sognefjord to the Oslo Bergen line and, in turn, the rest of the country. Tourism was not a foresight at the time of building.

Building the Flåm Railway

The actual building of the Flåm Railway started in 1923 with the longer tunnels, but rail laying started in the autumn of 1936. They didn’t finish until 1947, over 20 years later.

The terrain made building the Flåm Railway difficult, and across the 20,2-kilometer distance, there are 20 tunnels in total (covering a length of 5,7 kilometers).

18 out of the 20 tunnels were drilled by hand, and the longest tunnel itself took almost 11 years to build. This is one of the reasons the railway took so long to be completed.

Fun fact: the workforce at the beginning was 120 men, but eventually rose to 280 from necessity. In addition to the permanent employees, there were 400-500 temporary employees during the summer seasons.

A major engineering feat

In addition to being a beautiful train ride that you won’t forget, the Flåm Railway is considered an engineering marvel.

The height difference of 865,5 meters makes so that 80% of the track has an incline of 55 ‰, making it one of the steepest railways in the world (and the second steepest in Europe).

In addition to this, one of the tunnels is quite unique, as it runs in an eight-figure loop across several levels – in order to make the steep climb. This is why, when traveling on the Flåm Railway, you’ll at one point be able to see the same view both sides of the train when entering and exiting the tunnel.

The opening of the Flåm Railway

In 1940 the Flåm Railway opened for steam operation, and by 1944 the railway was fully electrified. When taking the train, you’ll be able to see an old power plant next to the tracks at the Kjosfossen waterfall stop. This was the power plant that provided the Flåm Railway with electricity.

In 1944, the three locomotives that started running on the Flåm Railway were El 9 types, and in the Flåm Railway Museum, you can see one of them (the last one) on display. The El 9 locomotive was built especially for the Flåm Railway, including four braking systems to cope with the steep descent.

In the early 80s, a new locomotive took over – of the El 11 types. In 1998, the El 17 locomotive came onto the field, and as of 2019 and up until today, there are five El 18 locomotives in operation on the Flåm Railway.

If you are a train fan, we have model trains of both the El 9 and El 11 locomotive – check them all out here.

Read next: The Flåm Railway and other model trains we love

The Flåm Railway today

In the 1980s, the Flåm Railway was considered a threatened side rail in Norway, and seasonal closure was imminent due to low traffic and lack of upgrades.

However, local forces worked hard for the railway’s future as a year-round mode of transportation, and eventually traffic increased and the necessary maintenance was completed.

In 1998, Flåm Utvikling took over the operational aspects of the railway, improving the audio guiding and marketing of the railway, and eventually turning it into the attraction it is today.

The Flåm Railway is one of Norway’s most visited tourist attractions, and this has greatly affected the local community. The Flåm cruise pier was completed in 1999, and several hotels and establishments have opened in the years that followed.

If you are planning a trip with the Flåm railway, you can learn more and book your tickets in advance here.

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