Railways in Iceland

By Peter Bowyer

Tuesday 24 July

We knew that one locomotive was in the folk museum and understood that the other was in store.

We drove into the harbour area that we had seen from the SS Uganda in 1982. It is almost square shaped. The western side is artificial and the railway was used to fill the gap between the island of Effersey and the mainland. A mole forms the northern side: with a gap in it to let ships through. The railway was used for both parts of this. Two lines were built from the quarry, through the town and to the western and eastern mole respectively.

The landward sides of the square are surrounded with wooden buildings; those to the south are boatyards while those to the west are for fish curing. We asked about a bit for the other locomotive without any success, (though I visited a number of mahogany-coloured warehouses that I would not have seen in otherwise) until one builder put us on the right track by insisting that we ask at the harbour offices. He was quite right of course for the line was built under their auspices, the only trouble was that the building is in the SE corner and doesn’t look conspicuous. Interesting it is certainly is when you get there. Four storeys I think, in red brick, to an oblong layout with a hollow centre. The staircases from floor to floor are exposed and inside the central court. At least the one office I asked in had a high table and clerks perched round it on high stools. Some rebuilding is currently going on and by the time you read this they will probably have standard office lifts and computers and something out of the 17th century will have faded away. We were very lucky for the second person I asked turned out to be the engineer’s assistant and both he and his superior knew a great deal about the railway and wanted to share the information

I was conducted into a dust-sheeted office and shown a model of one of the locomotives working out on the Western Wall. When I had photographed this with a Russian ship in the background we all went to the canteen and looked at the many reprints of (c1920) photographs of the line in action. While most of the shots were at the discharge end there were a few shots of the quarries and of the main lines.There was also one of the steam crane which came later for handling traffic in the harbour. Then we were taken to the store at Artunshofdi where the manager had said the locomotive was. Mixed up with road making equipment is a double row of Nissen huts. We could not find the locomotive there and were sent out to further store in a farm just outside the city. This farm (Korpstadir, on the Þingvellir road) was built as the city expanded in the 1920’s at the time when a main-line railway was projected to Selfoss. It did not materialise. The farm is brick-built in a Danish style. It is equipped with a 600-mm railway to move material about; we found a few skips but no locomotives. As we were chasing the harbour locomotives and it was pouring with rain we did not pay it as much attention as it perhaps deserved. The upper storey of the main barn was filled with old cars designed for exhibition at some unspecified future date. Anyway the locomotive was not: found and a telephone call to the offices determined where it was in the Nissen huts.

Returning to Artunshofdi we found that the missing locomotive was behind the artificial back wall of one hut that we had already searched. It could be considered as in the one behind. This one was locked! Arrangements were made to return after lunch

We then repaired to the folk-museum located in Arbær (Museum Arbærjarshafn, Hoffabakki) The museum is based on a collection of houses and a church brought from all over Iceland. A little out of place is a special exhibition centre with the locomotive in the centre, again with a number of photographs (including one of the steam cranes “Nimonerg”. At the back are a pile of track-panels and points from Hudson of Leeds (a gauge of 597.5 mm was measured) and a steamroller (Isg. Rogol: Aveling and Porter Limited, Rochester, Kent, England No 7752 Letters Patent). The steam locomotive is “PIONÉR”, carrying plates Jung 1591 of 1910 plates. The maker’s plates have smaller digits than usual. It appears that the locomotive was Jung 130 of 1892 and acquired these plates with a replacement boiler. Both locomotives seem to have had the same history, being supplied to R.Dolberg of Rostock, Germany before going to N.C.Monberg (Momberg in some lists) of København, arriving in Iceland in 1913. They were supplied as 900-mm gauge locomotives. We tried to check that this one still was. The track gauge measured as 910 and 880 mm, with 880 mm inside the locomotive flanges, which is a bit small for the Swedish 3-foot gauge 891 mm, so 900 mm seems correct still.

The museum offers a book about the railway (published Árbæjarsafn in 1982) and we bought copies of this before going down to the store at 14.00. On arrival we found the offending building open and two lads working on a motorbike for an event at the weekend. The locomotive was buried under a heap of road signs, carnival equipment and just plain junk. There was no chance of getting at the left-hand side or the back. The front was almost touching a wooden platform. After an hour or so we had cleared the right hand side sufficiently to photograph it using a wide angled lens. All the cameras were used. Then we scrambled up to get unusual shots from the platform at the front, finally we packed the majority of the road signs back, finishing at the “knocking-off” time of 16.00. The locomotive details are “MINØR” Jung 129 of 1912. She acquired replacement boiler 1592 of 1910. The Jung work’s list quotes these two boilers as going to N.C.Momberg.

Wednesday 25 July

In poor weather then we went to the top of the hill dominating the town and on which stand the old hot water tanks, On the side of this are the quarries that fed stone to the railway. From there we could intermittently see the city, its churches and harbour. With the aid of the plan the route of the two lines could be fairly accurately followed, but no traces of rail were seen.

A little way out to the west, along route 41 at Straumsvij is found Iceland’s first aluminium smelter (Islenzka Aelfelagid HE). There is a harbour connected to the plant, this had three large electric rail-mounted cranes, presumably to bring ore in.