The International Steam Pages
More Narrow Gauge Steam in Sweden
James Waite reports on two railways in the south-west of the country:
Skara is a sizeable town which lies about 90 miles northeast of Gothenburg. For many years it was an important centre on the Västergötland-Göteborgs Järnvägar (“VGJ”), an 891mm gauge system which connected the district with Gothenburg, and the location of its repair shops and one of its main loco depots.
The first railway through Skara opened in 1870 and the branch of which the preserved Skara-Lundsbrunns Järnvägar is a part opened in 1887. A direct main line to Gothenburg opened in 1900. The preserved Anten-Gräfsnäs railway (below) runs over a small part of the 1900 route. At their greatest extent the VGJ and its associated railways had a route network of over 400kms.
The VGJ was nationalised in 1948. In the 1960’s some of the lines were converted to standard gauge and others closed, including part of the main line at the Gothenburg end for conversion to a light railway. The last passenger trains on the remainder of the main line ran in August 1970. Further closures for freight followed. By 1987 the entire system had closed.
The Skara-Lundsbrunns Järnvägar has its origins in a decision by the local authority in 1965 to preserve one of the VGJ’s old engines as a reminder of the important role railways had played in the life of the town. They looked around for volunteer support and when this was forthcoming purchased VGJ 2-8-0 29 which arrived in the town in 1967. By 1971 the volunteers had restored the loco to working order and it saw occasional use on special trains in the district until freight trains on the last surviving line through Skara ceased in 1984. In the same year the Skara - Lundsbrunn line along with the roundhouse, repair shops and a small portion of the extensive station at Skara were acquired for use by the preservation society.
The railway runs mostly north-south through pleasant, though mostly flat, countryside. Unfortunately the locos face north which hampers photography. Probably the most photogenic is a river bridge immediately south of Lundsbrunn station. The line runs on Sundays through the usual short Scandinavian running season, with one train at midday and one in mid-afternoon. The line also runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays in July and early August with the first train leaving Skara at 4.00pm and the second at 6.00pm – when the light suits photography of the northbound trains much better.
VGJ 29 remains in use along with VGJ 2-6-0T 4 which arrived at the line in 1994. There’s also an 802mm gauge 2-8-2T, 7 “Knut Falk” of the Hällefors-Fredriksbergs Järnväg, Helsingborgs 59/1920 which forms the centrepiece of a small museum housed in part of the old roundhouse. It’s a large and somewhat ungainly machine. There’s a fourth steam loco, Fletcher Jennings 119/1873, one of only nine FJ/Lowca engines known to survive and the only one outside the UK and Mauritius. It’s one of a pair built as 0-6-0ST’s built for the Ulricehamn Wartofta Järnväg. After a varied career, during which it lost its saddletank in favour of side tanks, it ended up on the Falköping-Uddagårdens Järnväg and ran until 1954 when the line was bought by the state and rebuilt to standard gauge. Happily its old owners before the nationalisation took it to their hearts and kept it under cover until it arrived at Skara in 1982. It’s been a collection of parts spread around the old VGJ repair shops for many years now, receiving periodic attention when there have been no more pressing projects. The boiler has been refurbished and the main work still outstanding is the manufacture and fitting of new tyres. The old VGJ repair shops are a real delight which just oozes period character, as does the whole roundhouse/repair shop area. They provide an extensive and well-equipped facility for what is really quite a small concern.
Inside the repair shops. VGJ 29 in the background. The wheels in the foreground may look familiar to volunteers at Tywyn. They come from the preserved FJ loco.
VGJ 4 outside the roundhouse at Skara. The repair shops occupy the building to the left.
VGJ 4 midway along the line with a northbound train.
VGJ 4 crosses the river at Lundsbrunn with a train for Skara.
The society which now runs the Anten-Gräfsnäs Järnväg also dates back to 1965. The railway lies roughly midway between Gothenburg and Skara on the old main line and the society was well placed to take over the operation of the line in 1971 following the 1970 closure. The route is attractive and runs along the shore of Lake Anten for most of the route although it’s hemmed in by trees for most of the way. There’s a museum at Anten station as well as a recently-built depot and workshop. Altogether the line has eleven steam locos although only no. 24, a handsome 4-6-0 from the VGJ (Nohab 982/1911) was serviceable when I visited in July 2007. A second loco, Ruda-Oskarshamn Järnväg 3 was being overhauled but wasn’t expected back in service until next year. Several of the other locos are displayed in the museum. Others are stored off-site. Again this is a north-south run but there are turntables at each end of the line and there are some good photo opportunities for southbound trains.
ROJ 3 under repair at Anten.
VGJ 24 waiting to leave Anten.
VGJ 24 approaches the level crossing at Arelid with a southbound train.