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We joined the train driver and crew at work on the beautiful Flåm railway.
Text: Mikael Lunde
“This was my after-school activity. I’d sit here in the engine until my father got off work”, says Thor Are Mølster. We’re in the locomotive of the Flåm line climbing from the Aurlandsfjord and up to Myrdal, 867 meters above.
The railway is short, but it’s a crucial 20-kilometers – connecting the fjords to the main Bergen line crossing the mountains.
Photo: Kyrre Lien
Snow-capped peaks rise far above the tracks, spectacular waterfalls clinging to their sides. They feed the rapid river running down the valley. Near the tail end of summer, it is still lush and green. Some of the best of Norway’s magnificent fjord landscapes are on display.
Following in his father’s footsteps driving the train, after 34 years in charge Mølster still isn’t blind to the beauty of this vista.
“Especially on a clear day in spring, when there’s still a lot of snow on the mountaintops, I don’t think there’s any place in the world that is more beautiful,” he says. He is echoed by his conductor, Knut Erik Seierslund, inside the train. “I love it, I see something new every day. And I never tire of the view,” he says – not quite content, though, with merely looking at it. “I’ve been to almost every one of these peaks, on either side of the valley.”
The two active trains at the Flåm railway carry passengers, largely tourists with a return ticket, up and down the mountain from six in the morning till ten at night. They take about 500 people, and it’s mid-season, which means that most departures are fully booked.
Back when Mølster’s father worked at “Flåmsbana” – indeed, as late as in the 1990s – the situation was different. The train was carrying goods. Its construction was approved by the Norwegian government as early as 1908, when they built the Bergen line across the mountains from Oslo. “They wanted to connect that line with the Sognefjord,” Mølster explains. Yet this was a huge task, and construction didn’t actually begin until 1923.
There were no roads, and there was a need for mail, goods and construction equipment to reach the fjord – the longest and deepest in a country, reaching more than a hundred miles inland from the west coast.
Countless small hamlets, villages and towns dot its shores, and the Flåm railway was the key to connecting them to the rest of the country. Flåm station is located right next to the ferry dock.The mountains rising from the fjord are incredibly steep. Even though taking the easier route through the Flåm valley, the railway climbs up to one meter in altitude for every 18 meters of tracks. “That’s why this was such a momentous feat of engineering,” says the train driver. “It might not be as impressive today, but they obviously didn’t have modern equipment then, so most of the work had to be done by hand.”
The people of Sogn are known for being stubborn and resolute – a prerequisite when building something as impressive as “Flåmsbana”. There are 20 tunnels, with a total length of 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles) through the hills and mountains. That is almost a third of the entire length of the line, at 20 kilometers.
Though Flåm is a spectacular location, next to the world-famous Nærøyfjord and idyllic villages like Undredal (known for its delicious goat cheese), Mølster believes this place would only have been a shadow of what it is today without the railway. “‘Flåmsbana’ connects all life in these parts. Without it, the village would have withered away,” he says.
Far from disappearing, this tiny town now has one of the most active cruise ship ports in the country, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. A number of successful businesses have appeared as well – like the microbrewery Ægir (pronounced ahgir), making some of the best craft beers in the country. They also run their own, cozy and delicious restaurant just a stone’s throw away from the railway station. But the main attraction, of course, remains the scenery.
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