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The history of the Flam Railway

An hour train journey over 20 kilometres, through 20 tunnels, over 4 water tunnels and 863.5meters difference in elevation. That’s the world famous Flåm Railway from Flåm to Myrdal.

This classic railway trip follows the most beautiful route between Flåm and Myrdal. Sit back and relax while you watch an untouched landscape, magnificent scenery, gurgling waterfalls and panoramic view of the Flåmsdalen valley.

From farmers and fisher men to a popular tourist destination

People have lived along the fjord ever since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago. The rich fishing and hunting grounds and protection from the open sea made it a good place to live. It has historically been easier to reach Flåm and the fjord settlements by boat, rather than over the mountains.

The Flåm Valley is a typical west Norwegian fjord valley created during millions of years of weathering. Hiking trails criss-cross the valley in addition to one which covers the length of the valley. With the better part of a day, you could cover the 20km by foot, choosing to either hike up or down between Flåm and Myrdal, taking the train in the reverse direction.

 

The best of two worlds – fjords and mountains

The stunning trip on the Flåm Railway from Flåm deep in the Aurlandsfjord up to the high mountains at Myrdal Station is a unique train journey: the rise of 866 metres in 20 kilometres represents a gradient of 1 in 18. The Flåm Railway is one of the steepest standard-gauge railways in the world, and runs through a number of tunnels to wind its way up the mountain. The journey up the valley sides takes about 60 minutes. The train runs slowly and stops at the most spectacular sights.

A journey through marvel engineering skills

A journey through marvel engineering skills

An idea comes true 

The very first plans to build the Flåm Railway were submitted in 1871. A proposal was made to build a branch line to the Bergen-Oslo-Stockholm railway. Several alternative routes were investigated as well as assessment of different railway technologies: tram, cableway, rack-and-pinion railway or adhesion railway. In 1908 the Norwegian Parliament decided on Myrdal-Flåm in the national railway plan, with an estimate of 22,000 passengers per annum. In 1924 the construction began, a major year for the Flåm Railway.  20 tunnels were planned, 18 which had to be carved out by hand. Every metre of tunnel cost one of the navvies a month of labour. The tunnels totalled 5692 metres and the work force varied between 120 and 220 labourers, depending on the strength of the Norwegian economy.

In order to assure a transport route to the fjord, work was begun on the Flåm Railway. When the Bergen Railway was under construction, a transport road was built up the valley from Flåm to Myrdal, called the Navvies road (Rallarvegen). During the summer months, there was a steady stream of tourists from Myrdal down the valley to the fjord below. These travellers were transported by horse and carriage. On some days, there might be as many as 30–40 carriages on this road at the same time. At the foot of the steep bends of Myrdalssvingene there was a sign imploring: “Be gentle to your horse and walk up the hill.” Most travellers followed this advice, but many tourists were encumbered by a physique that made it impossibly strenuous for them to ascend to the top, through all of the 21 hairpin bends.

German invasion

In 1940 the construction was planned as completed. Electric locomotives were delivered and a power plant build at Kjosfossen falls. In 1942 one hoped to open the Flåm Railway for traffic. When Norway was invaded in April 1940, 5 km of railway track still needed to be put in place. The German authorities demanded that construction continued, and as early at August 1940 trains were put into operation.

Freight trains were equipped with steam-powered locomotives with up to eight axles and manual brakes on every train car. The descent took 65 minutes, the ascent 80 min. Midway, at Berekvam station, there was a tower station.

“Flåmsbana” is named

 Passenger traffic was allowed in 1941 after extra sets of engine-powered brakes were installed on three of the locomotives. The Ministry of Transportation decided to call the new railway line “Flåmsbana”.

The war was still active, and the Flåm Railway also had to deal with challenges this led to. Flåmsbana was electrified by the Germans, who completed their new power station at Kjosfossen falls. In 1944 the transformers who was required to operate the electric locomotives were sabotaged with explosives by a Norwegian Resistance group from Oslo. Electrification had to be delayed.

Passenger growth and new technology

In 1947 the El 9 electric locomotives arrived, and the first aluminium passenger cars were put into service. On the Flåm Railway, the age of steam-powered trains finally came to end. In the following years a severe passenger growth increased. In 1953 around 115 000 passengers travelled with Flåmsbana each year. The press rarely ran positive articles about the railway however, focusing instead mainly on whether Flåmsbana should be shut down. Gradually, however, improvements are made. Speakers were installed in all the cars and a new platform was built at Kjosfossen.

New locomotives were changed twice in the period from 1982-1998. The latest major investment in new trains was six El 17 locomotives and 12 passenger cars wth old-style interiors, the trains you will experience today. A new information system with LCD screens and computerised loudspeaker guiding system was installed in all carriages, providing the customers with useful information about the journey. In the later years, the Flåm Railway has experienced a tremendous passenger growth, and the largest privately owned railway line in Norway has been part of a massive history.