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Welcome to Malmbana - Iron Road Visions Page!

This page and those under it are being developed to Visions series Malmbana book. Many subjects on this page are already finished for you to read.

   


Created for 4rail.net by John McKey. Pictures by Ilkka Siissalo, Nick Slocombe, Gerard J. Putz, Hannu Peltola, David Gubler, and John McKey.

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Articles
  Malmbana in 3 minutes...
  Malmbana operators in 3 minutes...
  Malmbana ownership and administration...

  Two Huge Mining Companies - LKAB and N.Resources...
  Northland Resources' Mining Activities...

  What the Malmbana line looks like in 5 minutes...

Subjects in development

  Malmbana Timeline in 5 minutes...

  Rolling Stock Builders - Kiruna Wagon and Notviken Works...

  LKAB's Mining Activities...


MTAB IORE units 116 and 126 at Vassijaure tunnel, SwedenRunning with IOREs on Malmbana! Let's run through the whole ore railway with these monster locomotives...

MTAB Dm3s 1225 in Abisco, Sweden
Loved by personnel and railfans alike, the Dm3 were still in active duty before mid 2012 in Swedish and Norwegian north!

 
 



MTAB T46-2 in the Kiruna, Sweden
Heavy ore carrying operation need extra heavy switching for Europe: here a rebuilt and completely modernized hood of the 6 axle heavy switcher T46-2.



  Viaduct de Garabit, the huge Garabit railroad bridge in France by Gustave Eiffel, France
Snow sheds on the mountain sides were and still are used to keep the danger of avalanche away, or just to keep the steel wheels rolling throughout the year.
LKAB IOREs 103 and 112 in Kiruna, SwedenSwedish and Norwegian north heavy ore railroading with IORE (Iron ORE)!  
  - - - Discuss Page at trainorders.com - - -    

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  Malmbana in 3 minutes!
MTAB IOREs 104 coming out of the tunnel in the northern mountains, Sweden

MTAB IOREs number 127 and 128 at Sävast, Boden, Sweden

LKAB IOREs 113 and 103 going in the tunnel in the Norwegian mountains, Rombak, Norway
MTAB IOREs number 106 and 102 in the Norwegian mountains
MTAB IORE units 116 and 126 at Vassijaure tunnel, Sweden

Malmbana is a heavy 30 metric ton axle weight rail line in the Swedish and Norwegian north. The building from Luleå on the Swedish coast started in 1886 and was finished by 1903 with a connection to Narvik, Norway. In between these two cities around the road and the rail line lies (it still does) a huge wilderness and many extremely rich ore deposits, most famous of these being Malmberget in Gällivare and Kirunavaara and Luossavaara in Kiruna. The most common ore found here is rich magnetite, a form of raw iron.

Narvik on the Norwegian northern coast serves as a natural ice free harbor and the shipments to and from there have risen steadily. There is however one problem: a huge mountain range between the mines and the Narvik harbor. The Malmbana railway crosses this range climbing quite steeply back down to the sea level in Narvik. Some grades are over 3%.

The states of Norway and Sweden today own the line. On the Swedish side the shape seems to be a lot better than on the Norwegian side, where everything just seems to be kept in running order but few recent upgrades can be found. Double tracking some of the Swedish side has also been discussed lately.

The largest operators on Malmbana are the MTAB, a daughter of the Kiruna based mining company LKAB, who run the huge heavy ore trains, and Green Cargo with large commodities of various train including now the Northland Resources ore trains. CargoNet of Norway runs its daily intermodal trains between Narvik and places in Sweden and Norway. Also other freight traffic exists for various train operating companies.

Looking at the passenger side the most common type found here is the SJ operated loco hauled traffic for Swedish state connecting the communities on Malmbana. Frequent services also include sleeper trains. Operating and riding passenger services can take time here as in many cases the huge ore trains pass the passengers services put aside at stations.

The most famous special locomotive types found here are IOREs, most powerful locomotives in Europe (Russia included), and the Dm3s, the latter being mostly kept only in reserve now. MTAB T46-2 switchers are also one of the heavies switchers in Europe.


  Brand new IORE units 127 and 128 take a curve in Sävast, near Boden in Sweden. In the tow are 66 class "Uno" South African built ore carriers, which came to be the only ones due to their low quality and unsuitability to the winter conditions. Picture by John McKey.

   One of the most scenic and pictured spots on Norwegian Malmbana is Straumnes tunnel entrance with a cute little red shed in front of it. Here the IORE #104 enters from tunnel to the station area with older generation ore carriers in tow. Picture by Nick Slocombe.

   Up 500 meters / 1800 feet in the Norwegian mountains the ore train from Narvik finally appears in curve being an hour late. Next it enters another curve leading to the Rombak tunnel downwards to the Rombak station. The conditions here are quite freezing, with heavy wind and some snow fall, plus fading light. Picture by John McKey.

  MTAB IOREs 102 and 106 seem oblivious to the arctic conditions of the Katterat curve. The train is leading over 60 empties back from Narvik towards Kiruna here. Picture by David Gubler.

  MTAB IORE 116 appears out of the snow shed leading to a tunnel east of Vassijaure station. Here the snowy and icy conditions prevail almost around the year as can be seen of the mountains in the background. Picture by John McKey.

SSRT Rc6 number 1334 with SJ regional train at Vassijaure, Sweden MTAB Dm3 "Dennewitz" in the Norwegian mountains
  SJ operated regional train takes a curve leading out of the station in Vassijaure, Sweden. Picture by Gerry Putz.   One of the sights belonging to the past is the Dm3 operated arctic ore train on the Norwegian mountains. The Dm3s are now in reserve only and the ore cars in tow form a small minority of the MTAB / LKAB current fleet. Picture by David Gubler.

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  Malmbana Operators in 3 minutes
MTAB IOREs number 127 and 128 at Sävast, Boden, Sweden

MTAB Dm3s 1225 in Abisko, Sweden

Baneservice MZ number 1411 in Narvik, Norway

The heavy line of Malmbana is owned by the states of Sweden and Norway. Thus, European style, any operator can run on it, fulfilling certain qualifications. This has lead to interesting variations on the operators and rolling stock running on the 475 kilometer / 300 mile line.

Operators in Alphabetical order

Baneservice, a Norwegian maintenance company with some freight train operations too. Uses huge bright green class TMZ locomotives.

CargoNet, Norwegian NSB subsidiary which runs frequent intermodal trains on Malmbana. Uses TRAXXion on these trains despite their poor performance in the demanding arctic conditions. Each intermodal train has typically about 20 freight cars with containers and trailers. Land connection from Oslo to Narvik is easiest by these intermodal trains.

Green Cargo, owned by Swedish state this huge operator runs its green, red and blue locomotives serving its customers along Malmbana. Green Cargo also hauls the start up Northland Resources ore transports from Pitkäjärvi, next to Svappavaara, to Narvik in Norway. It is common to see Green Cargo Rc4 and Rc2 locomotives here, along with switchers of class Td, T44 and V4.

Infranord takes care of the track maintenance on southern parts of the Malmbana. The company has a lot of maintenance specific rolling stock, along with rotary snow plows to keep the winter away from the lines.

LKAB / MTAB / MTAS are responsible for loading, operating and unloading the huge ore trains on Malmbana. Typically each train on the northern section of Malmbana consists of 2 huge IORE locomotives and 68 heavy class Fammoorr050 ore cars. On the southern part the ore carriers are of various previous types.

Norrtåget is the newcomer here to share some of the load of passenger traffic alongside the SJ. Norrtåget runs here X62 EMUs capable of fast acceleration and deceleration, along with top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph). There have been some doubts on how the Alstom built trains can endure winters this far north, conditions radically different from its home turf.

Railcare has been one of the companies taking care of the maintenance of Malmbana. We are accustomed to see huge white Railcare locomotives, but for the moment these are for hire at CargoNet.

SJ runs the Malmbana end to end regular passenger services. These include regional and sleeper trains. Looking at the SJ trains here you notice they are nicely colorful compared to other areas. This is because SSRT owns here most of the rolling stock in use.

SSRT owns the rolling stock used by SJ on its passenger services here. Most of the rolling stock is painted to Veolia colors, company being the previous operator here. SSRT is Swedish state owned.

VR-Track in responsible for maintenance on parts of the Malmbana line. It currently uses Finnish built Tka7 locotrucks and old Swedish railbuses. Tka7 is a light multipurpose platform for various tasks. VR-Track is owned by the state of Finland and is the maintenance part of the VR-Yhtymä of Finland. In Finland VR Track has been losing party in competition but here it is doing quite well.


  Some history here, a triple Dm3 locomotives of MTAB were still seen hauling empties back from the Narvik in 2008 on the mountain plateau near the Swedish-Norwegian border line. Picture by Nick Slocombe.

   A pair of MTAB IOREs in a new lighter color scheme lead the South African built hoppers through a curve in Sävast on Malmbana in Sweden.

   Baneservice owns a few of the ex. DSB class MZ locomotives, now painted to Bane's bright green livery. MZ unit 1411 is seen here at the depot in Narvik between assignments in Sweden and Norway.

   CargoNet TRAXX class CE119 appears from a tunnel just west of Rombak station pulling the daily intermodal train from Oslo, Norway 1850 kilometers (1150 miles) away through the connecting Swedish rail network. Malmbana is the only rail connection between these two Norwegian cities.

   Infranord steel wheeled Scania built trucks line up in Boden for the summer. In the winter the trucks can be used for plowing the lines and sidings, and even turning around in place to change the running direction!

  Norrtåg class X62 is one of the newest additions to the variety on Malmbana. These Coradia Nordic EMUs of Alstom can run 180 km/h (112 mph) track allowing. The track conditions here don't allow anything near these speeds up here, but of course the light EMUs are able to accelerate and decelerate much faster than the locomotive pulled services. And feed back to networks the extra energy during the deceleration.

  Here the SJ operated regional train from Narvik has stopped to board passengers and Swedish crew at the Swedish Norwegian border line station Riksgränsen. The locomotive and coaches are owned by SSRT. Picture by Gerry Putz.

   Green Cargo of Sweden hauls heavy steel slab trains from Luleå to Borlänge in the mid Sweden. For this kind of trains usage of double TRAXX locomotives is now history but triple Rc/Rd locomotives are just as impressive seen at the point of the consist. Here the train is arriving from Luleå to Boden, where the running direction is reversed and the train continues on to Norrlandsbana. Picture by Hannu Peltola.

  VR Track is responsible for the maintenance between Kiruna and Riksgränsen. Here a VR standard class Tka7 MOW truck ("motortralla" in Swedish) is seen stationed at Abisko Östra, a short dash from either end of the line. Picture by Hannu Peltola.

CargoNet class 119 with intermodal at Rombak near Narvik, Norway
Infranord MOW trucks on rails in Boden, Sweden
Norrtåget X62 number 62001 in Luleå, Sweden
SSRT Rc6 number 1333 at Riksgränsen, Sweden
Green Cargo Re Traxx locomotives 1424 and 1427 are hauling a steel slab train near Boden, Sweden VR-Track Tka7 number 175 at Abisco, northern Sweden
Railcare T68 in Kiruna, Sweden
  Although sometimes leased out, the two huge Vossloh Euro 4000 type locomotives of Railcare can sometimes be seen here handling MOW trains. The ownership of the Railcare's traffic to Captrain might affect the business figures, maybe even making the Railcare a major player in freight operations. Picture by Gerry Putz.

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  Malmbana Ownership and Administration

Panorama of Kiruna mines, Sweden

Torneträsk station and Malmbana line, Kiruna, Sweden

Malmbana ownership is divided the European way: the states (Sweden and Norway) in the area of the Malmbana line own portions of it. This guarantees open access for all operators instead of aerial monopolies to certain companies. Sweden owns the line from Luleå to Riksgränsen plus Kiruna - Svappavaara branch line. Norway owns the line from Riksgränsen to Narvik and Narvik harbor. Noteworthy is that the Norwegian section is isolated from the rest of the network of the country due to mountainous landscape. The fact that Sweden is part of the European Union and Norway is not plays little effect here, the rules of operation being still pretty much the same.

The government agency responsible for the Swedish part of Malmbana is called Trafikverket, Swedish Transport Administration in English. They own all the Swedish state owned railroads (types which are not controlled by this public body exist too). Trafikverket also takes care of long term development planning of the railroad lines. It also organizes and finances the maintenance of the lines taken care of larger or smaller companies locally. Most of the money for operations comes through taxation, but operators in Sweden must also pay access charges per kilometer for running trains.

In Norway the ownership of line, stations and other railroad resources are concentrated to Jernbaneverket, Norwegian National Rail Administration in English, which also takes care of organizing the traffic and maintenance. No access charges are paid in Norway, but this has not lead to any rush of open access operators here as conditions can be quite harsh especially in winter time.


  The city of Kiruna through its operator LKAB has the largest underground mines in the world. Its main level is now operated in the 1540 meters depth from the top of the original Kirunavaara mountain. What is left of the rich iron ore mountain is seen in the picture left of the mining tower next to the open pit mined almost 100 years ago. Although LKAB is 100% Swedish government owned, in Sweden, Finland and Norway any private company can also run mines and produce minerals.

  Torneträsk station is a typical early era station you can find along the Malmbana line. It is a massive brick building which once housed transformer to adapt the power from the high voltage lines to suit the needs of the Malmbana traffic. The scale of operations shows even here: it is doubtful that anywhere else the state of Sweden would have built anything this massive and expensive. The steady flow of the currency from the world as long as the iron was shipped secured the importance of this specific line.

  A view to the Abisko Östra (Abisko Eastern) station under heavy repairs. During 2011 - 2013 the station area was completely rebuilt, road and passenger underpasses added plus passenger platforms length added to accommodate long overnight ski resort trains arriving from Stockholm, Malmö and Göteborg. In spite of this the huge ore trains can roll unhindered in the background on the southernmost tracks.

  One of the railfan dogs among the people you find on this site, this time watching away form the track since there is no train on track here. This dog was owned by Sanna and Ilkka. Picture by Ilkka Siissalo.

  Because of the harsh weather villages have only grown around Abisko Östra. The red wooden houses look quite idyllic in the summer and in the winter alike. Picture by Ilkka Siissalo.


  One of the few private parts around Malmbana is the Narvik LKAB yard where the ore cars are emptied. For the future you might see an underground loop track here (there is room), but for now emptying requires a lot of switching work, both expensive and time consuming.

Abisko Östra, Sweden

Railroad dog at Torneträsk, Sweden, obviously enjoying railroading around it!

 

Village street view, Abisko Östra, Sweden

Panorama of Narvik, Norway

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  What the Line Looks Like in 5 minutes

This section takes a five minutes look on the largest stations and features on Malmbana. There is a more complete Malmbana stations and scenery page for you if you wish take a closer look on line with hundreds of its features.

   
Norrtåget X62 number 62001 in Luleå, Sweden

Malmbana building was started from Luleå, on the Bothnia gulf, and progressed north towards Gällivare. Luleå is still the southern end of the around 500 kilometer arctic line. A city of 46'000 inhabitants it is also an active capital for the Norrbotten and Malmbana area. Important to Malmbana are the many harbor facilities found here to ship the ore and steel products. Since needs of the huge scale mining are also many, these are filled here with leagues of rail cars carrying substances to the LKAB mines in Gällivare, Kiruna and Svappavaara.

North of Luleå the line runs through the last farming fields, more southern type woods and some river valleys with farm settlements. This part is easy to run single track on the relatively flat grounds. This part offers some easy picture taking opportunities, besides for the lighting which always seems to be a bit challenging up here.





   
   
MTAB IORE units 104 and 120 are hauling an ore train past Boden, Sweden

Boden is the next major station and a junction of 4 lines converging here. Trains from Luleå towards Stockholm on Swedish national main line have to change direction here so this is a very busy place with all the locos running from one train end to another. Plus all the trains just passing the station. To relieve some of the congestion there is a pass by track from northern direction towards Luleå on the Eastern side of the rail yard, and many freights and ore trains use this instead.

The Boden station building is one of a kind: the gorgeous Viking architecture is seen in all the details of the quite large wooden building, now sold to new private owners. A fitting platform shed is located between the passenger tracks too.

Boden station also has a sizable maintenance depot housing mainly Infranord vehicles of a couple dozen types. One of these is even a rotary snow plow, though the old Beilhack looks like it has not seen use for a while being at the end of the storage track, slowly gathering rust.

Boden station house, Sweden Infranord maintenance vehicles in Boden, Sweden
   
SSRT Rc6 number 1335 with a regional at Gällivare, Sweden SSRT Rc6 number 1335 with a regional at Gällivare, Sweden
Gällivare station in Northern Sweden

Most likely we could pick the Gällivare as the next major station you are likely to see travelling from Boden. This is also the first major mining site. From Gällivare there are 4 lines radiating from the yard, 2 for the Malmbana south and north, one for the Koskullskulle LKAB pelletizing facility nearby and one for Inlandsbana (which is a lightly railed line just like it sounds: inlands). Inlandsbana is another north-south 'main line'.

Looking around at Gällivare reveals another great looking station building, lots of MOW equipment, one Green Cargo light switcher and regular SJ and Norrlandtrafik operated passenger services. With some luck you also might see one of the ore or freight trains passing the station.

   
LKAB IORE 123 waiting for loads in Svappavaara mine, Sweden LKAB IORE 123 waiting for loads in Svappavaara mine, Sweden
MTAB TMZ number 1413 in Svappavaara, Sweden

After Gällivare the road and railroad diverge the road taking more easterly course. If you are thinking about seeing what is by the railroad, beware of driving the slow gravel roads, what takes one or two hours on the main road might take you a day on the mostly gravel back roads!

Once you've driven the main road north for about an hour, you see Svappavaara and Pitkäjärvi ore transloading points on your left side. Unfortunate, the landscape here does not support train watching very well, fences, bushes, thick woods, ponds, but not a real hill for watching all at once.

Svappavaara is also a home for the Tmz number 1413 MTAB has been using here for years for switching the huge ore trains. It has been here since 2011 when the T46 number 3 caught engine fire. This unit has now been rebuilt to T46-2 number 3, which makes it totally different looking modern state of the art loco.

Even here you are bound to see many interesting numbers of IORE double locomotives.

 
MTAB T46 number 3 in the Kiruna, Sweden MTAB T46-2 unit 3 in Kiruna, Sweden
   
Station Hotel in Kiruna, Sweden Statue of Trallarna next to Kiruna station, Sweden
VR Track office, Kiruna, Sweden

Kiruna, the main mining site, and one that has the largest underground mine of the world, is the next station. The rail line was built 115 years ago to haul the Kiruna iron to world. This same phenomenon is still taking place here, only it has multiplied in size during all these years. The LKAB has always been striving to bigger and more effective mining output, so the impressive results show even on the railroading side.

The city of Kiruna is being relocated, along with the old railroad area, because of the approaching cave in area. This means some of the pictures here might already belong to the "lost world", but the temporary railway station can be seen on the left.

Along with the maintenance shelters for several smaller companies Kiruna old rail yard also houses the LKAB loco works which now houses all the services needed for operations of the huge IORE electric locomotives.

   
   

LKAB IORE units 108 and 122  running an ore train from Kiruna towards north, Sweden

MTAB IORE units 108 and 122 at Torneträsk station, Kiruna, Sweden
Torneträsk station and Malmbana line, Kiruna, Sweden

Next bigger station that you can't miss is Torneträsk. This station is located right by the road, though you have to climb about 100 meters up the mountain side on the gravel road. Since the station is on the mountain side it offers pretty good views to the track - with the large Torneträsk Lake and mountains in the background. The double S curves and the steep grade (opposing the general climbing trend) make this station railfans paradise! And quite nice spot for observing the nature around. Torneträsk is also blessed with one of the formidable brick stations that once housed the power conversion transformers.

Around 20 IORE pulled ore trains pass this station every day outside the track maintenance breaks. You can also see more than 10 passenger services and intermodal trains to and from Narvik here. With some luck the late evening maintenance of the way runs can be observed here too.

 

   
   

Abisko Östra, Sweden

Abisko Östra station on Malmbana, Sweden
Abisko Östra roundhouse, Sweden

Abisko Östra is the largest station by activity on the northern section of Malmbana. Abisko is also the only bigger village between Kiruna, Sweden and Narvik, Norway.

Abisko Östra has a sizable rail yard and facilities for both freight and passenger services. The eastern end also houses MOW equipment base and well maintained stables for rail equipment.

If visiting Malmbana, this is the only place where you can eat out and do some basic shopping so be sure to do that here.


Village street view, Abisko Östra, Sweden A view from Torneträsk station in northern Sweden
   
Abisko tourist station, Sweden At the end of Abisko Östra on its Western side there is another small station: Abisko Turist. This serves mainly the nearby large hotel complexes, but you can also use it as a stop when you come from or go for a walk or skiing in the hills.
   
  For this Malmbana in 5 minutes section we can't very well include all stations as the 500 kilometers line and its sidings mean a multitude of all kinds of material. However, if you are interested, there is a special page for this purpose on 4rail.net too: the complete guide to Malmbana stations and line side!
   
MTAB IORE units 116 and 126 at Vassijaure tunnel, Sweden

Vassijaure with its snow sheds is located high in the middle of the mountains and thus has lots of snow even when it has already melted away from other places on Malmbana. Entering the station from east there is a short tunnel with a snow shed right by the road so even if you are in a hurry you might wish to stop here and take your camera ready. At least if you can also sit in the car. But be warned: the IORE pulled ore trains seldom make any sound before you actually see them!

From this curve you can spot trains on curve with mountain scenery in the background the other way and the long curve with a massive Vassijaure station the other way.

SSRT Rc6 number 1334 with SJ regional train at Vassijaure, Sweden SSRT Rc6 number 1334 with SJ regional train at Vassijaure, Sweden
   
Snowshed at Riksgränsen, Sweden Snowshed at Riksgränsen, Sweden
SSRT Rc6 number 1333 at Riksgränsen, Sweden

Riksgränsen, meaning literally Swedish border, is an interesting station inside a snow shed at the Swedish Norwegian border. This location once housed a magnificent multitrack station made out of glass and wood and lots of time for craftsmanship. Unfortunately not even a place where this station could be found is visible any more.

So even though this station looks unusual, a lot has been missed. However, if you are here, why not take a stroll and take a look inside the snow shed. Though it looks a lot like wood, it is just an illusion and most of the structures are in fact concrete.





   
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway Björnfjell is the last curve where the road and rail line run parallel, rails turning south here. However this might be a pretty good spot to stop for picture taking because of the angle to the ancient looking snow shed and interesting rolling stock running through it. Not many wooden snow sheds exist any more these days.
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the snow shed in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway
   
MTAB IOREs number 106 and 102 in the Norwegian mountains  
MTAB Dm3 "Dennewitz" in the Norwegian mountains After Björnfjell the Malmbana line and the road diverge and taking pictures in Katterat will mean either several kilometers of mountain hiking or riding a train there. Both have their good and bad points, the nature here being quite unique you are bound to miss a lot of it by taking a train. But hiking there can also be quite demanding.

   IORE units 102 and 106 are here seen pulling a string of empties back from Narvik in a pretty typical winter weather. Picture by David Gubler.

A few years ago you could see even this happening in the heights of Katterat: A Dm3 number 1218- is leading the ore transport out of the tunnel in the with snow flying! Picture by David Gubler.
   
CargoNet class 119 with intermodal at Rombak near Narvik, Norway CargoNet class 119 with intermodal at Rombak near Narvik, Norway
CargoNet class 119 with intermodal at Rombak near Narvik, Norway Rombak station has no public road to it. Meaning that you either have to take a train there or climb 500 meters / 1700 feet up the mountain slope. This is the upward motion, NOT the distance from the side of the fjord where you can park the car. The gravel road starting there has a barrier and a small shed located not far behind so you recognize the right crossing. The shed was most likely for snow mobiles and crawlers which make much sense in this terrain should something happen to railway or electric lines.

  In these pictures the CargoNet class CE119 TRAXX 2 locomotive with an intermodal is stopping on the downhill sloping station of Rombak on the hillside sloping towards Narvik. The MTAB double IORE locos pulled service will pass in just a couple of minutes.
Pictures by Hannu Peltola and John McKey.
   
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the tunnel in Straumnes in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway Vossloh end buffer, Straumnes, Norway
LKAB IOREs 116 and 126 coming out of the tunnel in Straumnes in Norwegian mountains, east of Narvik, Norway

Straumnes is a village on the steep mountainside with a wonderful views to the mountains and the fjord right below it. This is also the last station before Narvik nearby.

For many railfans this location is well known for its short tunnel with a little red guards hut next to the entrance, nicely contrasting when you take a picture of the huge ore trains here. If it is not raining you can also enjoy spectacular views from here.

Straumnes station is accessible by a small service road from the main road.

   
MTAB IOREs 103 and 113 in Narvik, Norway LKAB IORE number 125 and 126 in front of empties, Narvik, Norway
Narvik station, Norway


Finally, the last station on this line is Narvik with its extensive harbor transloading facilities. The city has these for both LKAB and Northland Resources. Ships stopping here are either carrying iron pellets or iron powder in their cargo bays or bringing in raw materials needed in the mines. On the LKAN side the electric locos can handle unloading themselves and diesel switchers are only needed for filling the ore carriers with other substances at the nearby Narvik harbor (it is located just down the hill). On Northland's side diesels handle all switching.

Narvik also has a sizable passenger station which has plenty of room for the passengers waiting for the frequent regional or long distance trains. All the sidings are here quite short, probably being several decades old and city closing in on most sides.




Narvik station, Norway MTAS T44 number 5 switching in Narvik, Norway
   
   
Panorama of Narvik, Norway

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  Malmbana Timeline
  1736 


First maps of the "two prospective mountains for mining" in northern Sweden were drawn by Norwegian surveyor Anders Hacksell in 1736. These mountains were at the time considered unreachable for industrial production of iron ore because of the remote location and extremely harsh climate. Hacksell named the hills "Fredriks berg" (Engl: Fredrik's mountain), today Kiirunavaara, and "Berget Ulrika Eleonora" (Mountain for Ulrika Eleonoora), today Luossavaara.

Some ore was however mined in summers in the 1800s and transported in winters with sleds pulled by reindeer and horses. Cost of this kind of activity was high and the quality of the ore with some sulphur in it left lot to be desired.


A Parliamentary committee proposes a mixed channel and railway from Gulf of Bothnia to Gällivare (Jällivaara) in 1826, half way to Kiruna. Both Gällivare Malmberget and the two Kiruna iron ore hills, Luossavaara and Kiirunavaara, were well known for their value but still considered remote.

The transportation could not be handled on sleds during the long northern winters, and during the summers the going on paths would have been even more demanding. Often rocky waterways with lots of rapids here could not be used for ore transportation either without first building them heavily.

Since the transportation costs were calculated quite high, this suggestion for the track building lead nowhere.

CargoNet class 119 with intermodal at Rombak near Narvik, Norway
  1826 
A view from Torneträsk station in northern Sweden

  1847 


First concession for railway track building from was granted for a track building from Luleå to Gällivare mines. Although the track building was quite extensively done in Sweden even then, it can be guessed that there were not enough resources for the time to allocate them in this remote corner of the country.

Also it was doubtful if Sweden, which had lost Finland to Russia in war in 1809, could defend these kind of mines effectively, if another invasion occurred. As we will see later, these thoughts were not without base as iron can be seen as a strategic metal and rich iron ore deposits are rare.

Village street view, Abisko Östra, Sweden
  1877-78  Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and his cousin Percy Carlyle Thomas carried out the first successful tests on removing the sulphur from the iron ore. This was done in a basic-lined Bessemer converter in 1877-78 in Britain. Limestone was used to remove the sulphur. It was found out that this new process produced much more slag than the previous, but it also turned out that slag could be sold as a fertilizer to the fields. This new method to aid iron making was patented in 1879.

Invention also lead to the Kiruna area rich but slightly sulphurous iron ore becoming overnight extremely valuable.

Sidney Gilchrist Thomas

Kelham island Bessemer converter in Sheffield, U.K.

  1882   
Wilderness of the Torneträsk lake, Kiruna, Sweden

The second concession was granted to an English company The Northern of Europe Railway Co Ltd, which changed its name to The Swedish and Norwegian Railway Co Ltd. in 1885....

To be continued in the next updates.

  1883   
Torneträsk station and Malmbana line, Kiruna, Sweden Track building between Luleå and Gällivare started in 1883 and was finished in 1889.
1889   
   

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  Two Huge Mining Companies - LKAB and Northland Resources

Luossavaara mining area, Kiruna, Sweden

Luossavaara-Kirunavaara Aktiebolaget, LKAB for short, has been operating the mines since the beginning of the Malmbana. As the name suggest, the original mines were in Kiruna center on the two hills at the side of the town: Kirunavaara and Luossavaara. Already in the beginning LKAB also developed the Malmberget mine in Gällivare, where the Malmbana track was first completed. All these mines have produced substantial quantities of high content iron ore. Out of the three the Kirunavaara mine is today in use, mining spanning all the way to Luossavaara and under parts of the Kiruna center too, though you cannot see this above the ground. Mines in Gällivare have also been reopened.

The other huge mining company, or a start up on its fourth year in mining operations, is the Northland Resources. The company only started shipments of iron powder to its customers in April 2013 and is now in a process of building up volumes through early perfecting phase of processes. To drive the debts level down (a real challenge to all new mining companies), both the volume will have to go up and the effectivity of logistics will have to be improved. Northland Resources has progressed well on both fronts. And it has been able to sell all of its raw iron powder to customers.

Much of the activity here is happening only because of the rich ore deposits from which the mines are producing. And as we've seen there still is a lot of room for expansion: from just 5 years ago the output of the mines combined will double to around 45 to 50 million metric tons of ore per year when the next 5 years have passed! Look for a real boom in the North in the coming years.

  Luossavaara is located right at the outskirts of Kiruna center. In the beginning some iron was mined on the surface mine too, so it shows a wide scar where the iron vein was and still is located. After the surface the mining expanded to the depths where it still is actively going on. On the side of the hill there is still today a railway tunnel leading to some old mining chute. Now this siding is used for occasionally storing of railroad maintenance equipment. This location is also where all the housing must be removed, because the cave in from the Kirunavaara is running towards this area maybe a hundred meters / 300 feet each year. The progress is uneven, so it is hard to say when the craters will reach this area. But it is only a matter of time. Picture by Ilkka Siissalo.


   One of the last times when Lake Luossa could mirror the huge Kirunavaara mining area of LKAB. Perspective here is quite deceiving, the mining structures on the mostly man made hills are absolute huge! Now the part of the lake on the left in a picture has been filled because of the approaching cave in. Picture by John McKey.


  A view to the pelletizing plants in Koskullskulle, Gällivare behind the original mines in Malmberget are seen on the left in the picture. Mines are now 10 kilometers south from here, but large scale refining operations are still going on here. On the city side of the Malmberget the roofs of the oldest mines have collapsed too, just a few meters away from the modern housing area! Picture by John McKey.

Mining area in Kirunavaara seen across the lake Luossa, Kiruna, Sweden

Gällivare Malmberget area, Sweden

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  LKAB's Mining Activities

LKAB flag flying in Kiruna, Sweden

Luossavaara-Kirunavaara Aktiebolaget, LKAB for short, has been operating the mines since the beginning of the Malmbana. As the name suggest, the original mines were in Kiruna center on the two hills at the side of the town: Kirunavaara and Luossavaara. Already in the beginning LKAB also developed the Malmberget mine in Gällivare, where the Malmbana track was first completed. All these mines have produced substantial quantities of high content iron ore. Out of the three the Kirunavaara mine is today in use, mining spanning all the way to Luossavaara and under parts of the Kiruna center too, though you cannot see this above the ground. Mines in Gällivare have also been reopened.


Parts for the company

  • LKAB Malmtrafik AB
  • LKAB Malmtrafik AS
  • LKAB Mekaniska AB
  • LKAB Fastigheter AB
  • LKAB Berg & Betong AB
  • LKAB Wassara AB
  • LKAB Kimit AB

  Pellets Fines Total    
2012 23,8 2,4 26,2    
2011 22,9 3,2 26,1    
2010 22,1 3,2 25,3    
2009 14,7 3,0 17,7    
           
  Pellets Fines Total    
2012 22,0 4,3 26,3    
2011 20,9 4,8 25,7    
2010 20,8 5,2 26,0    
2009 14,3 4,4 18,7    
           

 

The mining is progressing steadily as the figures show. LKAB also has a very ambitious expansion program in effect, the target is to raise production by 50% in the next coming years.






Kiruna mining area, Sweden
Kiruna mines tower on Kirunavaara, Sweden
MTAB IORE with LKAB new logo
MTAB IORE with LKAB older logo
 
 

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  Northland Resources' Mining Activities


Northland Resources is an ambitious startup to mine the minerals in the Swedish and Finnish north. The company is mostly privately owned and shares are sold and bought in Norwegian and German stock exchanges.

With ambitious plans the mining industry is always a perilous business to get started. Northland Resources has two sites that it started to develop the Swedish Kaunisvaara (Finnish for beautiful hill, as the original language here once was Finnish with many people still speaking it) being the foremost future mine. After 4 years of preparations this site is now in production phase so the heavily debted company is starting to receive income and get its nose above the water line. However, the future of Northland Resources, knowing the rich iron deposits in the north, looks quite bright. Next few years will see a gradual ramp up of the production with ever more efficient processes being taken into use at the same time.



Parts for the company

  • for the moment the company is operated as one entity. We expect this to be changed once the tonnages ramp up in the coming years.
  • First year of operations in Sweden and Finland: 2003
  • First year of mine building: 2009
  • First year of producing iron ore concentrate: 2012
  • First shipment of concentrate to Narvik: 2013
 

 

Green Cargo Rc4 numbers 1297 and 1288 in Kiruna, Sweden
Green Cargo Eanos open hopper, Sweden
 
 

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  Rolling Stock Builders - Kiruna Wagon and Notviken Works

LKAB class Fammoorr 050 at Torneräsk station, Sweden

Two major rolling stock works serve Malmbana needs in addition to LKAB's own service facilities: Kiruna Wagon and Notviken work.

As we know in the harsh northern climate not all solutions are equal. For this purpose Kiruna wagon started manufacturing high tech ore cars that survive well the hardships of the arctic conditions that surround them much of the year. So far 1100 class Fammoorr 050 state of art ore cars have left the facilities. This is just one type built for LKAB, other operators have their needs and it is also likely that LKAB with ever expanding production will need even more cars to satisfy the needs of the iron hungry world.

The class Fammoorr 050 have endured the climate well and the first cars have already clocked several hundred thousand kilometers of continuous use.

If you look at the cars carefully you notice that there are always two cars coupled together with a draw bar. The end sides of this unit have an SA3 type heavy duty coupler in addition to double brake lines.

For an interesting detail: as the special steel mixture used for the cars does not rust, there is no need to paint them, as they will in any case be covered in use with the iron grime. A few hundred unpainted cars exist, so look carefully and you might well spot them in the train. Or even seen from a distance you might see the 1000th car, which is painted bright yellow to commemorate the important event of its rollout!

LKAB Fammoorr050 ore carrier number 4961, Luleå, Sweden

 


   

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  Heavy Ore Railroading in the Swedish and Norwegian North
MTAB IOREs 104 coming out of the tunnel in the northern mountains, Sweden
Northern Sweden is a scene of heaviest freight railroading in the whole Europe. While this may not seem much by the American standards, is still challenges the designers who plan the technology for the operations. Most of the freights are iron and other ore / pellet transportations, working 24 / 7 around the year. In summer the conditions are close to optimal (except for the mosquitos and other flying bugs) and there is light literally around the clock, even at night. But when you operate in the winter, you end up with the opposites: it is always dark with temperatures falling as low as -40 degrees centigrade and the wind howling along the sides of the mountains. While the snow sheds and fences try to keep most of the snow away, there is still plenty for the locomotives to push through and rotaries to plow away. Picture above by Nick Slocombe, below by John McKey.

  More on Malmbana Theme Pages...

LKAB IORE number 124 in Torneträsk, Sweden
Most of the locomotion today is provided by heavy IORE electric locomotives built by Bombardier and operated by LKAB's (Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara Aktiebolaget) subsidiary MTAB (Malmtransport Aktiebolaget). The type IORE comes from "Iron ORE". The locomotives run in pairs, semi permanently coupled together between the overhauls. While the pairs originally were with the following numbers, now it looks like the ones that were finished first from service are coupled together. There is nothing wrong with this approach and this even makes the operation more interesting to trainspotters! Pictures by John McKey.
MTAB IORE 125 and 126 meet another train in Kiruna, Sweden
LKAB IORE 109 Nose, Kiruna, Sweden

The IORE are custom built for the purpose, although similar locomotives can also be found in China. One of the features is rugged body shell with sometimes even 5 cm (nearly 2") thick nose, bogies and several other sections. This is needed for the heavy train operations and it also provides extra protection in case of an accident (which fortunately has not happened). Special measures are needed to transmit the pulling power from bogies to the body and forward to the SA3 type couplers. Below a picture of a quill drive and the SA3 coupler. Pictures by John McKey.

  More on IORE Locomotives Theme Page...

  More on Running with IOREs Visions Article...

LKAB IORE closer study in Sweden
LKAB IORE closer study in Sweden

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  Heavy Dm3 Pulling Ore Cars in the Swedish and Norwegian North
MTAB Dm3s 1216 in Abisco, Sweden
Before the arrival of the heavy IORE locomotives the ore trains were hauled exclusively by the sympathetic Dm3 locos. They are still around and working well in daily traffic, as the world seems to be incredibly hungry in the need of magnetite iron. While the Dm3 can only pull half as many ore cars across the mountains as the larger IORE locos, they still provide heavier force to take the ore cars across the mountains than most today's heavy electric locomotives.

Above and blow the Dm3 are pulling a string of older hoppers in mountains of Abisko. The upper trains is loaded, while the train below is returning from Narvik with a string of empties.

  More on Malmbana Theme Pages...

MTAB Dm3s 1225 in Abisco, Sweden
 
MTAB Dm3s at Depot in Kiruna, Sweden
Happy gathering of the Dm3 at Kiruna locoworks. Ilkka and Sanna were lucky enough to be in place at the summer of 2009, when the northern part (north of Kiruna) of the Malmbana was closed for upgrades to 30 ton axle weight. While this is everyday weight in U.S., for Europe this makes an unusually heavy line.

Pictures by Ilkka Siissalo.
MTAB Dm3s 1217, 1238 and 1218 in Kiruna, Sweden


MTAB Dm3s 1228-1243-12xx, Luleå, Sweden
The heavy wheels just keep rolling. In the pictures some of the Dm3 units Sigfrid and Dennewitz are in Luleå, where the ore is either processed into heavy slabs of steel or offloaded to ore carrier ships. Dennewitz above will take the hoppers back to mines around the Gällivare while Sigfrid is waiting in reserve next to Green Cargo loco works.

  More on Dm3 Locomotives Theme Page...

Pictures by John McKey.

MTAB Dm3s 1206-1235-1209 Sigfrid, Luleå, Sweden

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  Snow sheds in the Sweden's North
Snowshed at Riksgränsen, Sweden

Sorry to spoil the illusion, this in actually NOT a snow shed of heavy timbers, although the color would suggest that. It is a modern heavy concrete and steel structure with wood only in the station platform in the front. The heavy iron ore loaded trains use this man made tunnel on their way from Kiruna area mines to Narvik in Norway. There are also a number of passenger as well as intermodal freight trains rolling through it every day and night. This shed is located at Riksgränsen, right at the borders line which can be seen in the distance where the curve is. Pictures by John McKey.

Looking west, the snow shed opens on the other side to create a station on the mountains.

  Some Heavy Railroading on Malmbana Theme Pages...

Snowshed at Riksgränsen, Sweden

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You might also be interested in these subjects
MTAB IORE units 108 and 122 at Torneträsk station, Kiruna, Sweden

   Running with IORE on Malmbana Visions Page...

   Norwegian Ore transport Operations on MB...

MTAS Motala-11 with ore cars, Narvik, Norway



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