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Heavy Ore Railroading in the Norwegian North
By John McKey, Pictures by John McKey, Hannu Peltola and Gerry Putz

Part 1: Running Ore Trains Through the Mountains
(English: Ore railway) is one of the Europe's heaviest rail lines. The 500 kilometer mainly one track line, with frequent sidings, sees a number of ore trains, intermodals, other freight and several passenger services sharing the tight capacity 365 days a year. Every year some additions to the line are installed to relieve the bottle necks, but the traffic also grows at the rate that these have showed only moderate results. The cost of double tracking the line on the mountain slopes of Norway, something that would really help, has so far been prohibitive. This means we will see the heavy ore transports slowing down for the foreseeable future once they enter the circuitous mountain paths on the Norwegian side.
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway
Above IORE units 116 and 126 pull an almost 70 car long ore train through the curve at Björnfjellet on the Malmbana. This point is over 500 meters from the sea level and winter weather can be occasionally found here even in summer. To survive the harsh conditions tunnel-snow shed track on mountain slope combinations are very common around this location. You might also be able to see some snow in this picture, since there is a blizzard at the end of May here!

LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the tunnel in Straumnes in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway
A Straumnes station 10 kilometers out of Narvik offers rail enthusiasts a great spotting place for the passing trains. Looks like the red shed at the end of the tunnel is indeed the most pictured shed in the whole Norway because of its location! The station has a short see through curvy tunnel at the northern end, the one that IOREs 116 and 126 are just driving out from. In the background you can see the area of the snow storm, but here near the sea it's all heavy rain and tough wind behind our backs. With some luck there can also be a train meeting here. Below the ore carrier continues down hill towards Narvik. Picture above by John McKey and below by Hannu Peltola.
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the tunnel in Straumnes in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway

More views in part 2



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  Part 2: Off Loading the Ore in Narvik

LKAB IORE number 125 and 126 in front of empties, Narvik, Norway
Narvik is a small city of 20'000 inhabitants on the northern coast of Norway. The city is located a little bit inland from the Atlantic coast with surrounding mountains providing some shelter from the rough weather by the northern sea. Still, it can be incredibly windy occasionally making even walking here hard. Within the mountains the sea forms a long fjord, a life line for the city. This fjord stretches tens of kilometers inland. This is the same fjord that was a scene of heavy fighting during the WW2 between the allied forces and then German invaded Norway. Several memorials by the main road side commemorate the happenings even today.

The reason for the German existence back 7 decades ago was still the same as for the city today: the extremely pure iron ore, and the sea open of ice all year round. While the Baltic sea which would otherwise be a direct route to many European markets freezes, here no ice breakers are needed. The inlet is also 27 meters (90ft) deep, so any ship should be able to enter without difficulty.

The ore from the Swedish mines is off loaded here to huge and frequent waiting ships. Somehow you get an idea that the main income to the people comes from the activities around the ore and other mining related commodity shipments. It is indeed a two way shipping: to form iron ore pellets ready for furnaces many minerals are needed. These are shipped in here, using the vacant capacity of the same cars that carry iron the other way.
LKAB Dm3 named Dennewitz, Narvik, Norway
Earlier the ore was hauled over and sometimes through the mountains by the Dm3 locomotives, one of which is seen above. The units "Dennewitz" is one of the last remaining retired Dm3 and when it was last used it seemed to appear everywhere before the cameras. Below the MTAS T44 diesel switcher locomotive handling ore cars. More on these powerful locos in the next section.
MTAS T44 number 5 switching in Narvik, Norway

Running with IOREs in the Swedish north was created for by John McKey. Pictures by Hannu Peltola and John McKey.

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Locomotives in Narvik...

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  Part 3: Locomotives of Narvik

Electric Road Locomotives

MTAB IORE (Iron ORE by Bombardier)
MTAB ore train headed by IOREs 122 and 108 rolling by Narvik station, Norway
The most common road locomotive here is for ore road hauling, but it is also well equipped for loading and unloading cycle of the ore cars. Here MTAB IOREs number 108 and 122 are just passing Narvik passenger station with a little bit less than 70 ore cars in tow. This train will again climb the mountains to reach Kiruna, Sweden and beyond when other mines have urgent loading needs too. Picture by Hannu Peltola.

LKAB Dm3 named Dennewitz, Narvik, Norway
With a lot of luck you might still be able to see one of the remaining Dm3 veteran power units MTAB earlier used for transportation. While around 10 are stored and from the looks used as spare parts, two of the units have recently been sitting next to the MTAB locomotive depot in Kiruna, probably just waiting for the need to arrive for the jackshafts roll once again around and around on the sides of the triple loco, a fascinating sight for anyone, not the least to a railfan!

Green Cargo TRAXX Locomotives

Green Cargo Re Traxx locomotive number 1436 at Luleå, Sweden
Green Cargo - Pure performance! From the beginning of 2013 Green Cargo TRAXX locomotives might be running the Northland Resources Ore trains between Pitkäjärvi (Translated from Finnish to English: Long Lake) just north of Svappavaara. The ore transports will be building up gradually with full scale (for current) production expected by the end on 2014. These TRAXX-motives are built especially for cold climate with features like the icicle ramming devices (for the tunnels and snow sheds) available on them. The wheel slip system is also one of a kind - borrowed from the much older Rd2, which has a well working one even for arctic conditions. Picture from Luleå, Sweden by John McKey.

Green Cargo Rd2 Locomotives
This part will be added in the next updates.

The Green Cargo has refurbished tens of its Rc2 fleet to class Rd2. These locos can be considered almost new, though missing some of the fineties of more modern cousins and being somewhat underpowered for today. But, since there are number of units around, why not put three units in front a heavy steel train? After all modularization is one of the key issues, that have lead to the success of railroading.

Green Cargo Rc4 Locomotives
Green Cargo Rc4 numbers 1297 and 1288 in Kiruna, Sweden
The Green Cargo of Sweden seems to have a practically unlimited number of Rc4 locomotives for its use, so you see these even on the Norwegian side regularly, occasionally even in Narvik. Built decades ago these locomotives are kept in good condition (if not mint) and thus are providing the Green Cargo formidable locomotive arsenal. Every time the locomotives route ends on the southern end of Malmbana in Luleå, they are carefully checked and if necessary serviced. Picture of Rc4 at Kiruna station by John McKey.

SSRT Rc6 LocomotivesSSRT Rc6 number 1331 with a regional train in Narvik, Norway

Diesel Switchers

MTAS Motala-11 with ore cars, Narvik, Norway
Picture above: One of the most unusual switchers is the most likely unique Motala-11 used by MTAS in Narvik for busy times switching. Here the unit is seen moving ore cars from the unloading area to harbor a little bit south. No electricity is built to the harbor tracks (probably because of the overhead loading machinery) so the diesels still have some work to do. Picture by John McKey.

Below: the ore cars have been filled with one of the minerals needed to form ore pellets and the MTAS T44 unit 5 is taking the cars back to electrified depot area at the Narvik harbor. From there the T44 is towed along with the cars by a double IORE units as easily as a feather would be moved by a human being! Picture by John McKey.

MTAS T44 number 5 switching in Narvik, Norway



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  Part 4: Developing Narvik

Northland Resources construction site at Fagernes in Narvik, Norway
Narvik is a busy place and it is also a place under constant development. The latest bigger construction site for the moment is the Northland Resources trans loading terminal at Fagernes within the Narvik's harbor a little south of the town center itself. Above the cranes prepare the docks in the summer of 2012 for the ore carrier ships to anchor here at the first quarter of the year 2013. The Green Cargo will be hauling the NR owned ore cars from Pitkäjärvi just next to Svappavaara across the mountain here. The average distance is quite a bit longer than that of LKAB hauling their ore. The distance will not be the problem, but the capacity of the Malmbana will be once the ore shipments gradually build up for both miners, LKAB and Northland Resources.

Narvik ore docks and ship, Norway
Above the trans loading facility of the LKAB. There are numerous other silos for the ore pellets under ground so this is truly a sizable operation. A new train unloading facility was taken into use in 2011- 2012.

More in the next updates.




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© Railroad Reference 2004 - 2012   -   Created 20.6.2012 John McKey, Hannu Peltola, Updated 23.9.2012