Scandinavia Railways Society

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The Rjukanbanen

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DF Hydro at Mael in 1925. Photo Anders Wilse


The Rjukanbanen was at first called the Vestfjorddal Line, which was a 16-km line running through Vestfjorddal between Mæl and Rjukan Telemark. The railway's main purpose was to transport chemicals from Norsk Hydro's plant at Rjukan to the port at Skien in addition to passenger transport. At Mæl the wagons were shipped 30 kms on the Tnnsjo Railway Ferry to Tinnoset where they connected to the Tinnoset Line.
The Rjukan Line and the Ferries were operated by Norsk Transport a subsidiary of Norsk Hydro.

Construction.
Construction of the line started in 1907 and completed in 1911 when it became the second Norwegian railway to be electrified after the Thameshavan Line and the first to be connected to the main railway network.

After electrification the Rjukan line experienced heavy freight growth and had fifteen electric locomotives in use. During World War II it became the centre of a famous successful Norwegian Sabotage that became a film called The Heroes of Telemark that tells of the sabotage of the Heavy Water plant.

After the 1960s, production declined, and the railway was closed in 1991. It was kept as a heritage railway. The Rjukan Line was built with a maximum gradient of 1.5%. In addition to the line to the plant, a branch line went to the hydroelectric power station at Vemork completed in 1908 it was only used by technicians and to the power station. The branch had a gradient of 5.7%.

The Rjukan line was initially operated by steam locomotives, however the cost ofthe steam power was large especially when it serviced a hydroelectric power station so it was soon decided to electrify the line and in 1910 a contract with Allgemeine Elektricitats Grsellschaft [AEG] of Berlin to provide the OHE and five electric locomotives.

The first electric locomotive was in operation on 1911. But because only some of the locomotives were delivered, steam locomotives had to help with the service till 1922 when the final electric locomotive was delivered.

Passenger coaches connected to the freight trains in effect mixed trains that operated ten times a day in each direction to correspond with the Ferry provided passenger transport to Mæl.

At Tinnoset trains would operate to Skien, and connection at Hjuksabo allowed for connections to Oslo Vestbane station. In 1928 Norsk Transport and NSB agreed to operate a weekly night train service from Rjukan to Oslo.

This service lasted until 1933. During the 1930s NSB and Norsk Hydro initiated an attempt to attract tourists to Rjukan, with through discounted direct trains from Oslo, Drammen and Skien. These were interrupted by the German invasion in WWII but were reintroduced after the end of the war and remained until 1969

The Locomotives used on the Rjukanbanan
NumberTypeBuilderBuilt ServiceFate
1SteamSachsische Maschinenfabrik1907 1907-08Sold Scrapped 1935
2SteamHenschel & Son1907 1907-08Sold Scrapped 1965
3SteamA Borsig1908 1997/18Sold to NSB Scrapped 1957
4 OdinSteamOrenstein&Koppel1908 1908-48Scrapped 1964
344&336SteamBaldwin Loco Works1917 1918-65Scrapped 1969
1,2,3&6,7,8ElectricAEG/Skabo1911-18 1911-65NSB EL 7 Fate Unknown
4&5ElectricAEG/Skabo1912 1912-56Fate Unknown
9&10ElectrcSecheron/Jung1958 1958-91Fate Unknown
14&15ElectricPer Kure/Thune1922 1966-91NSB El 1Fate Unknown
20,21&23DieselHenschel Warke1961 1961-91Sold Unknown

German Occupation
During the German occupation of Norway in 1940-45 the area of the Rjukan Line was the scene of a massive struggle in between the Norwegian Resistance movement and German troops. In February 1940, before the occupation, the entire Vestfjorddalen area round the docks was closed for foreigners.

On 4 May 1940 German troops reached Rjukan, a month after the invasion of Norway had started. The ferries were camouflaged and by January 1941 lack of coal resulted in the steamships being fired by wood. One of the by-products at Rjukan was the production of heavy water a key component in the production of nuclear weapons, necessary for the Germany.

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Original Film Poster

The first attempt from the resistance was Operation Grouse in October 1942, but failed and stopped by the Germans; as a consequence all passenger transport after 7 April 1942 to Rjukan was only permitted for soldiers, police, workers at the plant and schoolchildren. The ammonia tank wagons were filled with heavy water and stored under cover in a tunnel with heavy guarding. ammonia wagons were stored indoors in a tunnel was heavily guarded.

On the 16 November 1943 the American Air Force bombed the plant but failed to destroy the hydrogen plant but were successful in destroying the secondary targets which were the station of Rjukan, the marshaling yard and track to Vemork. The attack caused great damage to the railway with locomotives No.7 and 8, eight cargo wagons and seven passenger wagons suffering damage. The Germans decided to cancel production of heavy water at Rjukan, and moved the remains of the potassium hydroxide plant, which produced the heavy water, was to be transported to Germany.

The Norwegian resistance became aware of this plan, and considered blowing up the train at various places, but instead chose to target the ferry SF Hydro. The night before the shipment was due the saboteurs entered the Hydro and placed a bomb in the hull, timed so the ferry would blow at the deepest point of the lake, but at the same time close to land to help save the civilians on board. The attack was successful; the ship sank to 430 meters (1,410 ft) depth with 47 people on board, including eight German soldiers, a crew of seven and the cargo of heavy water. 29 people survived.

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RbJ El 1 2007 shunting the DF Ammonia in1947/49. Photo Anders Wilse



In the ten years after the end of the war Norsk Hydro saw a growth in demand for its products as production increased eightfold. The increased requirement for transport put a heavy burden on the two steamships, and in 1953 Norsk Transport ordered the diesel powered MF Storegut, which entered service in early 1957, and the two older ferries were kept for reserve duties. At the same time a number of upgrades were made to the line and two locomotives 9 and 10 were acquired in 1958. This was followed by the purchase of three diesel locomotives number 20, 21 and 22 from Henschel. In 1966 two NSB El 1 locomotives were acquired and the voltage of the OHL was increased from 10kv to 15kv.

In 1950s the MF Storegut made five round trips a day, while the trains made nine round trips from Rjukan to Mæl. Rjukan station handled 100 wagons, with 800 tons of potassium nitrate and 400 tons ammonia; by 1962 723,482 tons were transported on the Rjukan Line. From the mid 1970s Norsk Hydro plants had been making a loss and with the opening of a new road route 37 along Lake Tinn in 1988 Norsk Hydro started to decommission the ammonia and potassium nitrate plants along with Rjukan Line. The last train ran on 4 July 1991, four days after the plants closed. Without production at the plants there was no need for the railway. The final working hauled several wagons down to the coast for scrapping. With the closing of the Rjukan Line also terminated operations on the Tinnoset Line, where passenger traffic had remained until 1991.

Rjukanbanen Locomotives

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Df Ammonia with RjB no 9 shunting at Mael. Photo Finn Halling

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RbJ El 1 2015 at Rjukan depot in 1997. Photo Finn Halling
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RjB 21 DH 500 Henschel at Rjukan in 1981. Photo Ove Tovas
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RjB 10 at Rjukan station with coaches CF 686 & C4. Photo Olaf Bjerknes


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