Friday, December 15

A Guide to Norway's Flam Railway

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The fabulous Flam Railway is one of Norway’s most popular tourist attractions and draws visitors from around the world. Many, but by no means all, are dedicated rail enthusiasts, interested in the technical aspects that make the Flam Railway so unique, but all visitors agree that the opportunity to see some of Norway’s most beautiful landscapes, that otherwise would be near impossible unless on foot, makes the railway so exciting.

Although the line is fairly short at just 20 kilometers, the array of breathtaking landscapes that can be seen by passengers seems excessive in comparison: fast flowing waterfalls, dramatic ravines through which icy cold rivers cut their unrelenting path, snow topped mountains. Picturesque farm cottages appear to defy gravity clinging to steep hillsides and hardy sheep brave all weathers, concentrating on grazing, oblivious to the trains passing by.

The railway, known as the Flamsbana in Norway, was opened in 1940 to provide a branch line off the Oslo to Bergen route. Construction had actually started in the 1920s but such were the obstacles to building the line that it took nearly twenty years. Those years were not easy; most of the tunnels were excavated manually and it is said that the amount of manpower used equates to one month’s work for every metre of the line.

The physical geography of the region explains the unusual route and features of the Flamsbana. There was – and still is – a serious risk of avalanches and rock falls so the lines takes a somewhat surprising zigzag route in order to avoid those locations where the risk is greatest. The line does not cross rivers by means of bridges rather the line goes under the rivers through underground tunnels. The Flamsbana uses a normal gauge but it is one of the steepest in the world to do so. There is a gradient of one in eighteen on four fifths of the line. While the views are thrilling, some would rightly say unforgettable, you also have to marvel at the engineering feats that made the railway possible.

The line runs between Flam, which is at sea level, to Myrdal, some 865 meters above it. There are nine stops between the two end stations and these have purpose built viewing platforms; the best to stop off at is Kjosfoss from where you can walk to the Kjosfosswaterfall (there is no access to this station other than by train).

Over half a million passengers use the railway every year. Seat reservations are not essential and tickets can be bought from the end stations or through NSB (Norges Stasbaner, the national rail company).  Up to date timetables and prices can be found on the Flamsbana website . There are discounts for group travel and for families and individuals in possession of Eurail or Inter-rail train passes.

Access to the Flamsbana is particularly easy for visitors staying in Bergen and the railway enables travelers to experience a taste of the dramatic but sometimes challenging Norwegian countryside without  demanding much physical exertion and in comfortable surroundings.

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