Sweden 2020 – the ‘last visit’!

2020 was a year many people would wish to forget. It was the first year of the great Pandemic that seemed to threaten human existence, and indeed there were many fatalities. But 2020 will also be remembered here as the year of the last ‘visit’ to Sweden. Quarantine rules were thankfully lifted before the trip, because the trip had already been booked; there was a need to get away.

For the model railways (in plural because many of our friends benefited from this visit), there were quite a few surprises and delights. The long awaited model of the Y1 railbus appeared (only the original orange version without air conditioning units, and DC analogue). NMJ had first hinted at this model quite a few years ago, but for many of us, the longing goes back to when Lima first advertised it. For the FLMJ, two units were purchased. These were Y1 1308 and YF1 1331. The YF1 was a Y1 with some of the seating area removed and replaced by a luggage area complete with extra doors. NMJ has said that they will produce the more modern SJ liveries, and some of the private operator liveries as well, and certainly the Inlandsbanan livery is already advertised by them.

Whilst the Y1 is the unit that replaced the popular Y6 family of railbuses, the Y6 replaced the Yd, and this was another purchase; not the new model advertised by NMJ, but a ready-built kit from Perlmodell, complete with UF2 trailer. Here, another interest comes full circle; when modelling the SJ was first thought about, Perlmodell was the only name known about, but until now we had never bought any of their products. The model happened to be seen in a shop that actually specialises in the Märklin brand, but is always worth a visit because of the other models that do turn up from time to time.

But, another Y6 (or rather, Y7) also found its way to being purchased. A friend had complained that attempts to purchase one were being thwarted by the general British banking incompetence, but was unaware of this trip. A nicely timed rant! So, the unit was purchased, paid for, reimbursed, and found its way to the UK.

Two other friends (there could have been many more) were lucky to be able to purchase a former UGJ X10 unit each, and with different numbers, 3116 and 3120. Neither of these are the same as the FLMJ’s two (3148 & 3149) but with the new FLMJ in Sweden and these models going to the UK, it is unlikely that they will be seen together, anyway. These units had been used by SJ (seriously) on a model railway that appeared at the train day (Tågetsdag) annually for several years, and were very worn out. They had been renovated by a modeller (and enthusiast), and now offered for sale. The FLMJ didn’t need any more, but two or more friends were identified who would give them new homes. Like the FLMJ’s, these have Tenshodo spuds, which are virtually dead, but Byggsvenskt makes a very good rolling chassis with motor for the X10, and that was recommended to us, so the FLMJ’s might get overhauled at the same time!

On the 1:1 scale railways, many locos and carriages were seen on standby at Hagalund and Tomteboda respectively during the Corona limitation of train services. The pendel trains and the T-bana trains seemed to be providing a near-normal service – actually better than normal. And the buses were closed at the front so that the driver could isolate. It was interesting to notice a large number of VDL buses; these are the most numerous in Iceland, which was visited in 2016, despite the lack of any railways! But that’s another story. A brand new MAN bus on route 528 broke down; nothing wrong with the engine, but the doors wouldn’t stay shut; preventing the bus from moving (a safety feature). Back to trains, and a curious timetable deviation from 17th to 28th August saw the SL X60 units diverted between Älvsjö and Solna, to run via Central-Station instead of the route via Årstaberg, Stockholm Södra, Stockholm City and Odenplan. The northbound train took the route over the new flying crossover at Årstaberg, so that was the one chosen to ride on!

Another deviation from trains is the often overlooked Pendelbåt – Stockholm has rather a lot of water, and whilst the short shuttle between Slussen and Djurgården was already known about and travelled on, this time, we investigated the longer ride from Ropsten to Nybroplan; all included in the price of the SL Travelcard. The trip to Ropsten was an important one because it was a chance to look at the progress with the new bridge that is to replace the current one carrying the Lidingöbanan. Anyone familiar with the layout here would be intrigued to know that the bridge seems to align very well with the T-bana red line which terminates here, but it will carry the trams. One can’t help thinking that the bridge could be used to make this route an extension of the red line, but it is not to be. (Maybe the curve at the far end of the bridge is a bit tight for a C20.)

Another boat was experienced, but for a much shorter cruise, from Riddarholmen to Kungsholmen (adjacent to the Town Hall). The so called ‘wasp-waist’ railway bridges south of Central Station have been replaced in sections during the last three summers, and whilst this work has been completed, the walkway/cycleway alongside is still missing. So Trafikverket provides a ferry across this short space of water; no tickets or fares required. These bridges have been built off-site and brought in by barges and fitted in with only 1mm tolerance for error. They had the track already fitted, complete with point machines, and represent quite an engineering achievement. Another bridge, built off-site, has been fitted in at Slussen, but the less said about that mess, the better!

The T-bana Red route is still served by a few of the older Cx (as they’re now known locally) stock; a design dating back to the early 1950s (albeit slightly more modern concoctions of those pioneers). Everything else is of course, the C20 stock. And we do mean everything; the new C30 units which have only recently started to be delivered are out of service following a few too many battery fires with them! But, getting back out into the open – via the correct exit at T-Centralen (aka Stockholm City) – now gives you an interchange with the tram line 7 to Djurgården, home of Skansen, and many museums, including the Nordiska, Wasa, Viking, and Abba, to name a few. It is this line that also operates heritage trams at certain times of the year, including the coffee tram – not quite a Pullman, but a Fika experience on the move!

During this visit, the FLMJ’s Director General applied for citizenship, and in December, moved permanently to Sweden. Settling in will take a long time, and we expect that a new FLMJ or other model railway will not be started for a few years yet. But by being closer to the ‘Swedish scene’ any new layout will have every opportunity to be more scenically authentic than before, and indeed, this will be the start of a new chapter.

By contrast, the first ever visit to Sweden, in 1990, was not a particularly ‘railway’ event. SJ train travel was indeed the main means of getting from Stockholm to Kalmar and back, and from Stockholm to Dalarna and back. (There was no railway or station at Arlanda, then!) A number of photos were taken, but the T-bana was not experienced, nor the many extra SL routes; and upon reflection it was a shame that the Roslagsbanan was not experienced before modification. But the ‘bug’ for the Swedish railways did bite; a cab-ride in a Y1 railbus from Rättvik to Mora ensured that. And the first three models were purchased, of which, one, our Roco A7, is still in service. (The other two were 1:100 scale length Märklin models, and were eventually sold for that reason.)