The International Steam Pages
To Småland for (a little) Narrow Gauge
Keith Chambers has submitted a number of tales along the theme "To ****** for a Little Steam." - click the Tales link above to find them. Here he writes about explorations in Sweden.
I make an annual trip connected with my work to the province of Småland in Sweden. My journey to Sweden is usually by train throughout starting from London. I either catch a Eurostar to Brussels or on some occasions use the time honoured route via Dover and the ferry to Calais, travelling to Brussels via Lille from there. From Brussels I make my way to Cologne and then catch a sleeper to Copenhagen before I make the final leg of my journey into Sweden. I particularly enjoy the return journey on the sleeper in June as the train winds its way across Denmark, often along, sometimes over and under, but never far from the sea. And as darkness begins to fall the train crosses into Germany and across the spectacular old bridge over the Kiel Canal. (All this while sampling good German beer in one of the friendly DB bistro cars.)
But back to Sweden. In 2010 long summer evenings gave me plenty of time to explore a part of Småland and some possible narrow gauge sites. Surprisingly in three afternoons I came across five different narrow gauges. I was based in Växjö and paid what has now become a regular visit for me to the former locomotive sheds and workshops of the Växjö-Hultsfred-Vastervik Järnväg, 'järnväg' of course being Swedish for 'railway'. This railway was built to 891mm gauge or three Swedish feet. Since closure of the system by Swedish Railways (SJ) in 1984 the workshops and locomotive sheds at Växjö have seen various uses, firstly when the line was reopened on a volunteer basis in the late 1980s, then as a hands-on science museum and latterly as part of a school. The use of the buildings as a museum allowed some internal features of the workshops to be retained such as overhead cranes in the workshops and sections of track, plus the turntable outside a part roundhouse. When the museum closed through cuts in funding, most of these features were kept and so are still in situ. The whole site is open so that it is relatively easy to explore the external parts of the site. There is still a little of the railway's SJ rolling stock on site including a 4wDH no.Z4p 402 (a standard SJ narrow gauge class) and some goods wagons which stand on sections of track in the shed and works yard that were never lifted. There is also an 0-8-0 steam locomotive of 750mm gauge which is Polish Px29 class number 1702. When the line originally closed there were attempts to re-open the railway privately and this loco was possibly bought with a view to re-gauging at that time. (The northern end of the system has survived as a volunteer run line between Vastervik and Hultsfred.) The present standard gauge SJ line through Växjö passes the shed site and on the opposite side of that line is a former standard gauge part-roundhouse now partly in use as a garage but also retaining a turntable and some track. However it has been a mystery to me why there appears to be another and third former part-roundhouse on that same side but adjacent to the present SJ station. My investigations during my visit in 2010 gave me a probable answer.
After re-acquainting myself with the site at Växjö I flicked through my copy of the LCGB booklet 'Preserved Locomotives in Sweden' for possible places to visit close by. A look at a map showed that Kosta, a small town associated with glass making, was within an hour's drive so it became my second destination for the afternoon. The site listed was Kosta Glasbruk, the glassworks, and on arrival it did not take long to find the loco I had been looking for, O&K 0-4-0T no.5 ''Femman'' works number 7274 built in 1916. This 600mm loco (possibly re-gauged from 700mm) was attached to some rolling stock outside a small museum of the now defunct Kosta-Lessebo Järnväg. This 600mm gauge railway was built principally to serve the glassworks at Kosta and was opened in stages from 1888.There was also a passenger service. It finally closed in 1948. This steam locomotive has no connection with the railway having been purchased from industrial service with Guldmedshytte AB. The attached rolling stock items are reconstructions of KLJ items and are said to incorporate some original parts. There was a tourist operation here at some time and a short line runs from the museum to the site of the original passenger station. At the latter is a small workshop which also contains some rolling stock. This was locked but another loco, a 4wPM no.6 'Ekeberga', was visible inside. Comparing this building with old photographs suggests that it was originally a KLJ goods shed. Returning to the museum there were displays about the KLJ and some recent photographs of what seemed to be attempts to restore part of the track bed including the restoration of a small bridge over a stream. Some original items from the KLJ do survive elsewhere however on the preserved Östra Södermanlands Järnväg, the most remarkable being 0-4-4-0T Mallet no.2 built by the Swedish builder Munk in 1891, their works number 27. Additionally there is the tender from another KLJ steam loco and two passenger coaches which see regular use.
The following afternoon I headed south from Växjö to the lakeside village of Torne. On previous visits I had noticed what looked like a railway platform here alongside what I suspected might be a former track bed now turned into a cycle path. On arriving at Torne I photographed the platform and then discovered what apparently had been the station building complete with its original name board some distance away. Seemingly the platform had been for goods, possibly timber and local farm produce. At Hulevik, the next village south, it did not take long for me to find a small plaque commemorating the railway that had once ran there. It had been the 1067mm gauge Karlshamn-Vislanda Järnväg which unsurprisingly later became part of the SJ system. This gauge, interestingly, is three and a half British feet. There was also a semaphore signal preserved here as well as a very short section of track upon which was plinthed a small pedal-powered platelayer's trolley. Again the station building survived as a private dwelling complete with original name board. I then travelled further south and found the next village with a station, namely Ulvö. Both the station building and the goods depot survive here in an excellent state of preservation. Having since researched this line's history further I have realised that it was part of an extensive system of 1067mm gauge lines in the area, originally independent but latterly all part of SJ. This particular line ran to the west of the large lake called Åsnen while to the east ran another line which at its northern end terminated at Växjö. This was the Växjo-Tingsryds Järnväg and the two were connected by a third railway which ran to the south of the lake. This also provides an explanation for the third part-roundhouse that survives at Växjö. It was presumably for the 1067mm gauge locos of the VTJ.
I had noticed that a place called Strömsnäsbruk had a couple of mentions in the LCGB booklet, one of them being narrow gauge, so the following afternoon I headed south-west from Växjö intending to stop en-route at Älmhult and Delary which were also mentioned. My stop at Älmhult was to photograph a preserved standard gauge 2-4-0T no.1, another Munk product, work’s number 25 of 1890. I always pass this old locomotive on my train journey from London but have never really had the chance to get a close look at it. It was built for the local Sölvesborg-Olofström-Älmhults Järnväg. After stopping for lunch I drove to Delary. Delary is tiny and getting out of the car there on a beautiful hot sunny day I was greeted by birdsong from all directions, (including that of a thrush nightingale for anybody who might be interested). The plinthed narrow gauge locomotive here would be hard to miss as it is right alongside the main road through the village. It is also a very interesting locomotive from a rather curious railway as I was about to discover. The Delary-Strömsnäs Järnväg was constructed to the unusual gauge of 643mm and the locomotive was 0-8-0T no.1 "Edward Engeström". The railway was built to connect the paper mills at Delary with the standard gauge Skåne-Smålands Järnväg at Strömsnäsbruk. This locomotive was built by the works that the railway served, being Delary 2/1884, and it certainly has a very home made look about it. Photographing the loco was made difficult by the combination of a low and substantial shelter over it and the bright summer sun overhead. There were a few traces of the works nearby which had previously been an ironworks before being converted to a paper mill in the 1870s and this may explain the works’ ability to produce home made rolling stock. I then drove some miles further and arrived in Strömsnäsbruk. It took some time to find the former Skåne-Smålands Järnväg passenger station. This railway became part of the SJ in 1940 and I can only assume that DSJ passenger trains ran into a platform here as well. Whatever the case, plinthed here was another former DSJ 0-8-0T no.3 "August Schmitz" which is Delary 4/1916. Despite being built so much later this loco appeared to be of an identical design to DSJ no.1 and I had similar problems when trying to photograph it. I then took a walk to the standard gauge (former SSJ) roundhouse to have a look at the preserved locos which I knew were kept there. There was still one last narrow gauge surprise here. One road of the roundhouse had a disconnected track running into it of a narrow gauge. I was not able to measure this accurately but it is presumably the remnants of a track for the DSJ locomotives that would have once worked to Strömsnäsbruk. The DSJ finally ceased operating in 1961. Among the standard gauge SJ diesels present was an original SSJ steam locomotive in working order, SJ E2 class 2-8-0 no. 955.
Småland is a fascinating area of Sweden historically in terms of narrow gauge railways. They were used widely and were of a number of gauges. As well as many remnants of closed lines there are some preserved narrow gauge lines and numerous preserved locomotives and items of rolling stock to be found as is the case across most of Sweden.
There are some excellent links to pictures and videos of narrow gauge steam working around Växjö in the years before closure on this Swedish site; http://www.jarnvagshistoria.se/index1.htm.
And plenty more very good information on this site;