Norway’s Flåm Railway, which runs from Myrdal station on the main Oslo-Bergen railway line down to the village of Flåm at the head of the Aurlandsfjorden, is both an engineering marvel and one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world.
Surrounded by snowy mountain peaks even in May, Myrdal station is located at an altitude of 2,840 feet (866 meters). While this isn’t high by the standards of many railway lines, the fact that the Flåm Railway – or Flåmsbana (pronounced Flawms-bana) in Norwegian – drops 2,840 feet (866) meters in less than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and it is a regular railroad rather than a rack-and-pinion railway makes it a very special railway indeed.
Its employees boast that the Flåm Railway has the steepest gradient of any regular railway line in the world. The line, which follows the side of the Flåmsdalen, or Flåm Valley, has a gradient of higher than 1 in 18 over nearly 80 per cent of its length. This means that the line has to turn a lot to drop height quickly: one of its curves involves a 180-degree turn inside a tunnel, and from one point you can see the line at four different levels further up the mountain.
It also means that the electric locomotives which pull each train have to have five separate braking systems so that the trains don’t run away downhill when descending, or slip while ascending. Each Flåm Railway train has six carriages and there is an electric locomotive at each end of the train. The locomotives running on the line today were built in the 1980s and pull (and push) carriages. The carriages were built in the 1960s but were subsequently reconfigured to carry more passengers.
One great feature of the railway cars is that the upper parts of some of the windows open, so you can take photos and videos of the incredible scenery and the amazing railway journey down or up the valley without any reflection from window glass.
This is a boon for anyone taking the one-hour train journey who has an interest in shooting photography or video, because the Flåm Railway provides amazing views of eight large waterfalls, huge mountains towering over the Flåmsdalen (Flåm Valley), small villages in the valley and various sets of river rapids.
In at least one place you can also see where the river plunges into a tunnel, carved out because it was easier to have the river pass through a tunnel than build a bridge over it for the railway.
From the Flåm Railway one also gets an excellent view of the Rallarvegen, or Navvies Road, which winds steeply and with many hairpin bends up the Flåmsdalen. The road, which runs 82 kilometers (51 miles) between Flåm and Haugastol via Finse, was built to transport equipment and material during construction of the Bergen Railway.
Today the Rallarvegen is Norway’s most spectacular and popular biking and hiking route and its switchback route up the Flåmsdalen can be seen from various points on railway. At one place you can see about a dozen hairpin bends on the Rallarvegen as the road winds through the steep valley.
Easily the most spectacular of the Flåm Railway’s eight (or, on occasion, 10) stops is the summertime stop at the awe-inspiring Kjosfossen waterfall. This huge torrent drops 93 meters (324 feet) from the Rienungavatnet lake (dammed to provide hydro-electric power; all of Norway’s electricity comes from hydro-electric power from power stations on its many mountain rivers).
Kjosfossen plunges down right beside the railway platform – built specially to let passengers on the railway enjoy the view; the only access to the platform is from the train – before plunging into a tunnel in the mountain. Kjosfossen is at its most spectacular in May and June, when the huge amount of snow on the surrounding peaks is melting fast.