Narrow Gauge and Industrial Railways of Scandinavia
A Visitor's Guide to Nordic (Scandinavian) Narrow Gauge Railways
by Philip Pacey Last revised 6th July 2012
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This Visitors' Guide began life as a listing of passenger-carrying narrow gauge railways, open to visitors, in an issue of Skandiapilen. Revised and enlarged editions were produced as booklets, the most recent being published by the Scandinavian Railways Society. No more paper editions will be produced; instead, this Web edition will be kept up-to-date as often and as thoroughly as possible. Please send any corrections or updates to me,
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A first section provides introductory notes on the history of narrow gauge railways in the Nordic countries. These are followed by directories of passenger-carrying narrow gauge railways in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland which can be visited today. You can go straight to these Country-Pages by clicking on the links below:

Danish narrow Gauge Railways  Norwegian narrow Gauge Railways  Swedish Narrow Gauge Railways  Finnish Narrow Gauge Railways

While the Country-Pages are intended to be comprehensive so far as operational passenger-carrying narrow gauge railways are concerned, they may not be; equally, though I have tried to make them as accurate as possible, some inaccuracies are probably inevitable and much of the information provided is subject to alteration. Intending visitors should take note that most railways only operate on certain days during a short (in some cases very short) season; that timetables can vary from year to year; that even when a railway is open, it may not be operating trains along the whole length of the line; and that the fact that a railway is operating trains is not in itself a guarantee that trains will be steam-hauled. It is therefore a good idea to contact the railways concerned in advance of a visit if at all possible.
I am grateful to everyone who has supplied me with information.

The illustrations are taken from a facsimile reprint of a catalogue, Kosta-Jernvägssystemet , published by Hmmels Jernvägsbyra of Stockholm in approximately 1890. It features a Kosta-Jernvägs 'Mallet' locomotive, an example of which was in time gone by no. 2 on the Munkedals AB railway. I purchased my copy of the facsimile reprint from the booking office and shop of the present-day Munkedals Jernväg.

Narrow gauge railways in the Nordic countries

For several decades, narrow gauge railways - which are relatively cheap to build while being more adaptable to difficult terrain - played an important role in Scandinavia, penetrating areas of countryside beyond the reach of costly standard gauge main lines, linking communities with each other and with the main line network, and serving agriculture, forestry and industry - not least the extraction industries of mining and quarrying - and in a few instances, military installations. Many lines were established which carried passengers as well as freight; in addition, both relatively permanent and essentially temporary lines were utilised on private, industrial sites, and on agricultural land: some of these are likely to have passed unrecorded in their time and to have disappeared without trace. In each country the history of narrow gauge railways followed a similar pattern: development in the latter decades of the 19th century and the early decades of this century; decline, not least in the face of competition from road transport; the conversion of some lines to standard gauge and the closure of others; the survival of a few narrow gauge lines, some of which were taken over by nationalised state railway companies after the Second World War; and, in a very few cases, the preservation of part if not all of the line as a working museum.

In Norway, where construction of a first railway of 1435mm (standard) gauge began in 1851, a battle of the gauges took place: champions of 1,067mm (3'6"), led by Carl Pihl, argued that this narrower gauge was better suited to Norwegian geography. Lines in both gauges were built until the 1890s; after much debate, Storting's (the Norwegian parliament's) final decision in 1898 that Bergensbanen was to be standard gauge represented victory for the latter. Many miles of narrow gauge track were converted to standard gauge, leaving, by the 1940s, only 71 miles (of a total once nearly 10 times greater) of narrow gauge lines. These included both 1,067mm and 750mm gauges, the latter being regarded not merely as secondary but as tertiary in importance - hence the name Tertitten by which Urskog-Hølandsbanen came to be known.

Not surprisingly, given its mountainous terrain, a number of funicular railways can also be found in Norway, three of which, built to narrow gauges, carry passengers today.

In Sweden railways were proposed as early as 1829, yet until the mid 1850s it was thought that inland waterways, comprising lakes and canals, would suffice for the nation's transport needs. In 1854 the Riksdag finally approved a plan which gave shape to the development of the rail network over the ensuing 80 years: main lines were to be funded by the state, with local lines being privately funded with some government support, usually in the form of loans. Many of the local lines were narrow gauge, so that narrow gauge railways eventually comprised some 25% of the whole network. The private lines were almost all built by limited liability companies, in which municipalities and county councils were significant stockholders. Other than standard gauge, the most frequently adopted gauges were 891mm (3'0") and 1,067mm gauges; other gauges included 600mm. Some 100 public narrow gauge railways are known to have existed; some of these merged with each other; some survived to be taken into state ownership - and to see steam replaced with diesel locomotives and railcars - with the formation of the SJ. In the 1950s there remained some 1,750 miles of 891mm railway, together with some 330 miles of 1,067mm railway in southern Sweden. Roslagsbanan continues to provide an efficient, electrified commuter service on 891mm gauge track running into Stockholm from Kärsta, Österskär and Näsbypark. These facts and figures take no account of private, and sometimes transient, industrial and forestry railways, which, utilising 500, 600, 750 or 891mm gauge track have been employed all over Sweden. Many of them are recorded in a series of handbooks produced by SJK Småbaneavdelning.

In Denmark, its smaller, less demanding territory well served by the standard gauge network, there was relatively little passenger carrying narrow gauge. A total of some 350 miles of 1000mm gauge lines were built by ten private companies, of which no less than three operated on the island of Bornholm; all the rest were in Jylland, most being built in North Slesvig while this was part of Germany; some were subsequently converted to standard gauge. However, additional private and in some cases very temporary lines served industry and especially agriculture: networks of portable tracks were laid to facilitate the extraction and spreading of marl, and the extraction of peat; some 660 km (in 1941) of mainly 700mm railways facilitated the carrying of sugar beet from the fields to the refineries. The famous 791mm gauge Faxe railway was built to carry stone from quarry to quayside, but from 1879 shared part of its trackbed with the OSJS standard gauge railway, and this stretch of mixed gauge line witnessed the unusual practice of narrow gauge locomotives hauling standard gauge passenger coaches.

In Finland, too, narrow gauge railways were less used than in Sweden and Norway, partly because the many lakes and rivers provided a natural network of transport by boat. Standard gauge in Finland was of course the Russian broad (1524mm or 5ft) gauge. Some 13 narrow gauge railways were also built, using 785mm, 750mm and 600mm gauges, to fill gaps in the transport network. As elsewhere, some closed in the face of competition from the roads; others were converted to standard (broad) gauge.

An overview of Nordic (as opposed to merely Scandinavian) narrow gauge would not be complete without mention of a handful of railways far away from the Scandinavian mainlands. These include the 900mm and 914mm (3 imperial feet) gauge railways built to serve coal mines on Norwegian-owned Spitzbergen, and a 1000mm gauge railway on Bear Island. A 850mm gauge railway with two steam locomotives (which survive to this day) was utilised in Iceland between 1913 and 1933 in the construction of the modern Reyjavik harbour by a Danish company. Also in Iceland, 600mm track was used on piers at several locations to unload fishing boats; a wagon and a length of track can be seen at the museum at Ísafjordur. In Greenland, a Danish overseas territory, 600, 750, 785 and 914mm railway equipment has been used in cryolite and other mining operations.

Nordic narrow gauge railways today

The foregoing notes are offered as introductory, background information to the list which follows, of narrow gauge railways which exist today. Many of these comprise preserved sections of historic railways, while some others are new railways (and in a few cases, privately-owned 'hobby' railways) on which historic rolling stock is demonstrated; in both cases, visitors can take a ride - a ride into the past but also into the present and future of narrow gauge railways which today have taken on the function of tourist attractions. A notable exception is Roslagsbanan, a busy suburban service carrying commuters into and out of Stockholm, while present day industrial use of narrow gauge railway equipment is outside the scope of these pages. I have included one or two sites where the ride on offer comprises self-propelled bicycle trolleys only. Although I have also noted one or two sites where significant remnants of narrow gauge railways are preserved but as static exhibits only, no attempt has been made to provide comprehensive lists of non-operational sites. Urban trams and miniature railways are not included.

Danish narrow Gauge Railways  Norwegian narrow Gauge Railways  Swedish Narrow Gauge Railways  Finnish Narrow Gauge Railways 

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