By Andrew Matheson
All around the world disused railways are being repurposed as cycleways, walking tracks or bridle paths. When out on a bike I’m particularly fond of tracks following old railway alignments, because you can be confident you’ll never come around a corner and be confronted by an intimidating hill.
In Sweden they have an unusual use for one old railway line — running trains on it. In the early part of the 20th century a rail line was built up the centre of the country to connect remote communities and open up Sweden’s remote northern regions. It also had strategic value in case of invasion. The Inlandsbanan was born. But like many railways it was never profitable, and struggled as road transport took away custom. The line eventually closed in the 1990s.
It would make an awesome cycleway, though somewhat beyond my abilities, so I’m glad that all the local councils banded together to save the track. A company now runs passenger trains along it during the summer. A trip on the Inlandsbanan is the core of the tour I’m on now — Sweden’s interior and Lapland by train.
These are no ordinary trains, but classic railcars that trundle along at no more than 80 km per hour. It’s a gentle pace, and we slow down to look at points of interest and make plenty of stops. With no dining car on board we halt at small villages for lunch or dinner, the friendly train staff having taken our orders and phoned them ahead to a local café or restaurant. We make emergency stops to avoid hitting moose or reindeer, and make scheduled stops for points of interest. In a few days we will reach the Arctic Circle marker, and I know we’ll be stopping there for photos.
You can travel the length of the Inlandsbanan, from Kristinehamn in the south to Gällivare in Lapland, in two days. But why rush? We’re taking a week, stopping off at small towns and exploring parts of the country that few people, even Swedes, get to. Maybe more disused railways in other countries should sport trains once more.