22 Aug The Steepest Railway in the World: Flåm Railway
What has hairpin turns, 20 tunnels and a 5.5% gradient over 20.2 km? The Flambasna Railroad, or Flåm Railway as it is often called. Taking you from the mountain top town of Myrdal right down into the tiny town of Flåm this train journey is one of the steepest in the world where most of the route is at a 5.5% gradient as it descends 863 meters into the valley below.
Peering outside your window you will see mountains, valleys, waterfalls and beautiful sprawling landscapes. After reading that the Flåm Railway was the one of the steepest railroads in the world that run on a regular track, and that it was also voted one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world by numerous publications, we decided that we just had to venture out into the Norwegian countryside to see it for ourselves–even if we were only in the country for 3.5 days.
Traveling from Oslo to Flåm is a long ride–in total it takes around 5.5 hours each way. You first have to take a 4.5 hour train from Olso to Myrdal and then you switch to the Flåm Railway which takes you down into the valley in about an hour. If you so choose, you can also hike into Flåm, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about the path. It looked like a beautiful hike, but we were too exhausted at that point to hike down the mountain like we planned. I’m so glad we took the train round trip–although the hike looked amazing, it also looked pretty strenuous, so the comfort of the unique train ride was perfect.
Upon entering the train cabin of the Flåm Railway, you are greeted with a nostalgic feel–the walls are wood and the seats are a burnt orangish red color. Stepping into this train car feels a little like you are stepping back in time to the golden era of train travel.
The initial planning for the Flåm Railway started in 1871, and in 1908 the parliament in Norway gave it a spot in their countrywide railway plan. Construction officially started in 1924, and although completion was planned for 1940 the railway wasn’t officially open until 1941. Because of the steep gradient, the 20.2 km track had to be constructed with 20 tunnels right through the side of the mountain; 18 of these tunnels had to be carved by hand. Needless to say, this project was quite a tough engineering feat, and it took hundreds of workers to complete. One of the tunnels, the Vatnahalsen, is 880 meters long and actually makes a 180° turn inside of the mountain. The most interesting view along the track is near the longest tunnel, Nåli; here you can see where the track twists and turns through 4 different levels as well as the old winding road with over 20 hairpin turns.
At numerous points along the journey you are traveling through black tunnels, but during most of the trip you can stare out the window at jaw dropping scenes. Make sure to get off the train when it makes a photo stop at the Kjosfossen Waterfall–you are in for a little surprise. Suddenly, music starts playing from seemingly out of nowhere and a women emerges to dance near the waterfalls edge, which was a neat little addition to an already exciting train ride. Continuing further down the line at Berekvam station you can wave at the passing train at the only section of the railway where there are twin-tracks which enable the trains to pass by one another.
Before you know it, you have twisted and turned your way to the bottom of the Flåm valley and right to the innermost edge of the Sognefjord. The magnificent views are not gone yet, Flåm and the surrounding fjord will continue to deliver.
Many people choose to take this train ride along the “Norway in a nutshell tour”, but we suggest spending a day or two in the village of Flåm as this little town has much more to offer than you would expect at first sight.
Throughout its history, the Flåm Railway has had many ups and downs, but after the marketing and sales was transferred from Norway’s national train service to a private company, the line has improved dramatically, and it now carries over 630,000 passengers per year, and I can see why!
Do you like train travel? What’s the prettiest train ride you’ve been on?