Sweden 2006

Report by Adrian Allum.

Every three years, AJK members have an organised trip to Sweden. Our trip in 2005 didn’t happen for a number of reasons, but we decided that 2006 would be a better year to go, in view of the SJ-150 celebrations. We had only a week, and we went to the north; but with a few stops along the way. There were three members and a friend of the club on this tour.

We got off to a bad start of the tour at Arlanda. We had pre-booked the ScanRail pass, giving us five days of train travel within a greater number of days. We needed three days, and the extra two would be useful if we wanted to go out for the day (or two) whilst in the Stockholm area. So, off we went to SJ’s desk at Arlanda to get our tickets. The desk is closed on Saturday! Yes, on the one day of the week when tourists are flying into Arlanda, SJ’s desk is closed! So we tried to use the ticket dispenser, only to find that it cannot dispense the ScanRail pass! Our train to Gävle was getting nearer and nearer…! After a long telephone call to SJ, we were told to get on the train and explain the situation to the conductor; which we did. From here, the efficiency improved, the conductor phoned ‘somewhere in the system,’ quoting our booking number, and eventually we were led to our reserved seats, but not before we had spent many minutes cramped into the bistro car!

Upon arrival at Gävle, our self-inflicted comedy started. I had booked a hotel in the town, and thought I knew where it was. However, after an hour of trekking around Gävle, we found Hotel Aveny, nowhere near where I thought it was, nowhere that I had stayed before; but we were certainly not complaining; it was a very nice hotel, indeed. Having dropped off our baggage, we made our way to Järnvägsmueet, 45 minutes before they closed! We met a friend from New York there, and the five of us had a rather rushed look around the museum, and some time in the museum’s shop before it closed.

On the Sunday, we hired a car (pre-booked in the UK for £118 … for one day!), and made our way to the Jädraås Tallås Järnväg, a few kilometres to the west of Ockelbo. On the way to the railway, we had a very quintessentially Swedish event … we had to slow down (and almost stop,) due to a moose standing in the road! We approached it slowly, and it soon ran off into the trees. (Having seen the damage that a hit moose can do to a Volvo, I didn’t fancy our chances in an Audi A3!) It is a shame that there is no train or bus service to this area, as the JTJ is a lovely railway, in very nice surroundings, with a delightful selection of rolling stock. Our last ride at the railway was on an open platform directly behind the loco, a pure delight for steam enthusiasts, of course! In the evening, with the SJ ticket office open (on a Sunday, don’t forget), I went in and got our tickets. I also bought a Brio toy train there! Yes, I have a Brio train set … this is to entertain younger children when their families visit me, and therefore the FLMJ does not suffer any damage from young ‘fingers.’ The set that SJ is selling vaguely represents the new X40 double-deck stock, and half of the SEK 100:- goes to the “Red Cross.” So it was a good thing to purchase.

Monday was a day of travel, but this differed from our ‘revised’ plans. Our original plan was to take the train from Gävle to Borlänge, and then get a train from Borlänge to Mora. However, when booking the tickets, SJ could only offer us a train as far as Falun, and to change to a bus to Mora from there. So this became our ‘revised’ plan. Now that we were actually in Sweden, we could make more – and better – enquiries, and found out that SJ were only trying to be too helpful. There is a connection at Borlänge, and we reverted to our original plan; but the bus from Falun arrived 17 minutes earlier … as if something like that would bother a group of railway enthusiasts! Our ride from Borlänge was certainly interesting … due to the efforts of a little girl sitting nearby, who was amused by the lifting seats alongside the wide corridor adjacent to the toilet. Her playful laughter had a knock-on effect, and we all arrived at Mora high spirited! With her mother’s permission, I took a photo of her; so if she ends up on a stage, remember we shewed her to you first. Well…!

After lunch at Mora, we boarded a Y1 railbus for the first part of our journey up the Inlandsbanan to Östersund. Both driver Christer and conductor/guide Eva were very informative about the route, and were, we felt, a credit to their organisation. They weren’t just providing a train journey, they were providing an “experience.” For example, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere (well, actually, at the Inlandsbanan’s highest point, but not for that reason,) and we all got off. We were taken just over 100 meters from the train to look at a Bear den, which had been built into an old ant hill. Thankfully, the bear was not at home, but one did cross the track infront of the train a little further up! We slowed down to look at some decorated stones, not very unlike the sort you get at British sea-side resorts! We stopped at Sveg for dinner, having placed our food order with Eva who then telephoned ahead so that the food would be ready for our arrival. We also passed the southbound train there. There is an interesting bridge here, where the road and railway come together (looking a bit like a tramway) to cross the river. Although the crossing lights work automatically, the driver has to operate the barriers manually; an obvious safety precaution. We joined the main line at Brunflo, and this was the fastest part of our journey, the last few kilometres to Östersund; where we stayed at Hotel Älgen; nice, but we only had the one night there, and didn’t really get to appreciate it! (A lesson for next time!)

We departed Östersund soon after 7am, and headed further north up the Inlandsbanan. This 14-hour journey was in a pair of Y1 railbuses, though all passengers were in the front unit. Brunch, lunch and dinner were ordered in the same way as before. When we stopped at Hoting, the driver also got out and entertained us with music from his fiddle … I recognised most of the (Swedish) tunes that he played! Our lunch stop at Vilhelmina also featured entertainment from the local one-man-band, “Eneröd,” and one of our party bought an autographed CD from him. We passed the southbound train at Sorsele, where the crews swapped over also. At Arvidsjaur, the train changed direction, and we all transferred to the other Y1 unit, but leaving our baggage where it was. It was shortly after this station that a sad incident occurred. We had slowed down many times for reindeer on the track, but on one occasion, one got so close that it got hit by the train, and killed instantly. (When they are not killed, the driver must stop the train to put the animal out of its misery!) Obviously, everyone was upset, but especially a young Swiss girl who had witnessed a similar thing (when the train had to stop) a couple of days previously! (However, it is amazing how well an Ice-Cream cures emotional ills in children!) After stopping at the Arctic Circle for photographs, we continued north past a water sprite, among other things! The Arctic Circle is apparently moving at the rate of 14 meters a year, but we were not told in which direction! Eventually, we reached Gällivare and alighted at a platform that made us unashamed of the platforms that we presently have at Lövhöjden upon the FLMJ! Our B&B was at Gällivare Värdshus, which was the only one that I could find on the internet, but is the only one not listed in the local guides. The rooms were nice, and they kindly agreed to allow us to leave our baggage there in the morning to be collected later in the evening.

Y1 trains passing at Sorsele on the Inlandsbanan. [Video: A. Allum]
Reindeer; a frequent sight along the northern section of the Inlandsbanan. [Video: A. Allum]

We had only one plan for Wednesday; to go into the Iron Ore Mine at Malmberget. The Iron Ore Railway is a fascinating one, and it (and the mine, of course) contributes much to the Swedish economy. So when the continuation of the mining at Kiruna nearby has reached the stage where the town has to be evacuated and rebuilt somewhere else, nobody is really complaining! Our tour started from the Tourist Office adjacent to Gällivare station, with a short bus ride to the LKAB facility at Malmberget. We were shewn a video (in English) about the history of Ore mining in the region, and then given a talk and safety brief, before changing into protective clothing (which included being tagged), and boarding a special bus that would take us 1km down into the mine … yes, to a depth of 1km! I cannot do justice to the tour to describe it here, but I would urge anyone visiting the region to go on this tour. The SEK 220:- per person is well worth it (but no under-12s allowed). We spent the afternoon playing Crazy Golf before making our way to the hotel to collect our baggage and to the station to await the Sleeper from Narvik that would take us to Stockholm. Our train arrived with a loco in the new “Connex” livery at the front. But this was changed at Luleå, and I didn’t get the chance to get a photo of it! On this journey, we did manage to see the “Metro” liveried locomotive and two T66 locomotives (same design as the British class 66).

A new IORE locomotive brings a train of empty Iron Ore wagons through Gällivare, having delivered its load of several thousand tons at Luleå! [Video: A. Allum]

With an arrival time at Stockholm of 12:02, we were not in any hurry to get up in the morning, but the train announcements started up again soon after 7am, so we did get up somewhat reluctantly. Breakfast was in a former NSB restaurant car, and I must say that the catering standards on the sleeper train have improved considerably since my solo trip in 1994. Also, it was nice to record that the toilets didn’t run out of water this time, so maybe Connex have got something right; somewhere that SJ failed? (Modelling a Connex sleeper train upon the FLMJ is out of the question as the appropriate coaches are not available ready-to-run or as ‘affordable’ kits!) At Centralstation, we met a former AJK member, who spent most of the remaining time with us, though he had his own apartment to go to, but we rented one from Stockholm Guesthouses, as we had done in 2002. This time, as there were four of us, the one in Spånga was not suitable, so we went to one at Gröndal, near Liljeholmen and a good local public transport network. After dropping our bags, we set off to find MJ-Hobby Experten, Stockholm’s premier model railway shop. This shop has diversified into other modelling subjects, but the new premises is so big, that the railway side is back to the proportions that we have enjoyed previously. Unfortunately, it took us over two hours to find the shop. It is on an industrial area near Telefonplan, and now that we have found it, it is quite easy to find! The address is Västbergavägen 24, 12630 Hägersten; and when leaving Telefonplan station at the western/southern end (whichever way you look at it), cross the road and turn left. Keep walking on over the large roundabout under the motorway, over the smaller junctions, but continuing in the same general direction. After about 10-15 minutes, the shop is on your right, set back a little. (You will pass a Neoplan bus garage on your right shortly before getting there!) It looks small and dingy on the outside, but do go in; its interior defies its exterior!

I won’t tell you how much I managed to spend here, but one of my goals for this trip was to purchase a Jeco ready-to-run Y6 railbus. I have kits for these, but I don’t have the time or, it ought to be said, the skill. And so it was, that I came away with one of these beautiful models, along with two NSB coaches (to complete that set), a lorry, a bus, three Volvo Duette cars and a Saab 96 (not the EKO model). One of our group also bought a second-hand Heljan Y2, but this is the rebuilt (model) version, not the tacky original version that the FLMJ had until only just over a year ago.

Our only ‘full’ day at Stockholm started with a visit to Skansen. Although this was a railway club on a railway tour, it is nice to do something else, and I think it is fair to say that we all enjoyed this ‘diversion.’ Later in the day, we went souvenir-shopping, and concluded our holiday with an evening meal at the top (almost) of Kaknästornet, despite the rain. Then, on the Saturday, we made our way to Arlanda (via the Arlanda Express, who very kindly sold us a cheaper ticket than the one asked for) and home to the UK; where the public transport was at its usual standard, so we phoned for someone to come out and collect us!

This was a most enjoyable trip (though a nightmare to organise), and it was a pleasure for me to do some of the things that I have been intending to do for a long time; such as the mine at Malmberget and the Inlandsbanan especially. I was mortified by the number of people that we met who knew of the FLMJ’s website, and those who wanted to know about it. There has been much humour at the number of CDs that I have been known to buy in Sweden; I think 30 was the record! This year, I bought just one … and 13 DVDs (6 as a boxed set)! The films based on Astrid Lindgren’s stories may be for children, but being in Swedish with an easy-to-follow dialogue, they’re great for someone who is trying to learn the Swedish language – and culture also! I must record my thanks to my companions for being such good company, and tolerating me getting us lost twice (the hotel at Gävle and MJ-Hobby Experten at Stockholm); to the friends that we met at Gävle and Stockholm; to the young lady/ladies at Sollentuna who helped us via mobile phone and internet to find the shop near Telefonplan; and I will also thank a neighbour of mine not only for looking after my mail whilst I was away, but for helping me sort out the mess caused by my fridge-freezer breaking down whilst I was away! Oh yes, it’s life as usual for another ±51 weeks!