The International Steam Pages
The Hultsfred- Västervik Järnväg, 2015
James Waite writes
Västervik is a port town on the east coast of Sweden, about 220km south of Stockholm. The Hultsfred- Västervik Järnväg, known locally as the HWJ, is one of many Swedish railways with a gauge of 891mm or 3 Swedish feet. It's 68km long and opened throughout in 1879. Back in the early years of the 20th century it formed part of a network of 891mm gauge lines which ran throughout the provinces of Östergötland and Småland between the eastern shore of Lake Vattern and the coast. There was a similar network in Västergötland, to the west of the lake. When the two systems were at their greatest extent one could travel between Gothenburg, on the west coast, right across to Vastervik and other port towns on the east coast on the 891mm gauge with only the ferry across the lake to interrupt the journey.
The HWJ shared its first few km out from Västervik as far as Jenny with the Västervik - Åtvidaberg - Bersbo Järnväg (WABJ) which came in from the north and which opened the previous year. At Hultsfred the line connected with the Växjö - Åseda -Hultsfreds Järnväg (VAHJ) which continued southwards for another 117km to Växjö where it connected not only with the standard gauge main line but also with a network of 3ft 6ins (1067mm) gauge lines which served the south of Sweden. Växjö must have been one of the world’s few stations to be served by trains of three different gauges.
The HVJ and WABJ, along with a third line to the north, merged in 1924 to form the Norsholm- Västervik-Hultsfred Järnväg (NVHJ). The combined system was nationalised in 1949 and from then on formed a part of the Statens Järnvägar (SJ), Sweden’s state railway. The line into Västervik from the north was converted to standard gauge in 1964 and today forms a part of the country’s main line system. The Västervik to Jenny stretch became mixed gauge.
For many years narrow gauge trains ran through from Västervik to Växjö over the old VAHJ which had been involved in various mergers of its own until it was nationalised in 1941. They were worked by a standard type of railcar built by the SJ in considerable numbers in the 1950’s to replace steam on those lines which it considered still had a future. Passenger services ended in 1984. The 187km long journey must have ranked as one of Europe’s longer narrow gauge rides. Apart from an electrified suburban railway in Stockholm it was by then the country’s last narrow gauge line in commercial service.
The whole railway was bought for preservation but various difficulties arose and eventually a considerable length at the Växjö end was abandoned completely. Today the Västervik-Hultsfred line is a well-established heritage railway. Trains run daily over the whole route between early July and mid-August and on some days in June and September. These are worked by the line’s 1950’s railbuses. Steam trains run over the 24km between Västervik and Ankarsrum during four weekends in July and August. The railway’s website is at http://www.hwj.nu and there are links each year to the current timetable.
When my wife and I visited in July 2015 the locomotive in use was 2-6-0 no 3147 using its SJ numbering (Nohab 848/1907). It was built as the NVHJ’s no 22. It’s the only surviving locomotive from the old railway and probably spent its entire life working out of Västervik until withdrawn in 1963. It was rebuilt by the SJ with a superheated boiler and a winter-friendly cab in the 1950's so it's right that it is preserved as a SJ locomotive. The railway has a second locomotive in stock, 2-6-2T no 3037 (KVAB 1/1919), built for the Kalmar-Torsås Järnväg down in the south but it was undergoing repair.
The railway is also home to SJ 2-8-0 no 3042 (Falun 504/1943), one of seven 2-8-0's built for their 891mm gauge lines between 1943 and 1950, and 2-8-0T no 3050 (Motala 664/1920) which originated on the railway serving Öland, an island out in the Baltic south of Västervik and now on loan from Sweden’s national railway museum. Both need heavy overhaul and there’s no prospect of them being restored to working order in the near future. The locomotives and some of the railway’s historic coaches are kept in a magnificent 9-bay roundhouse, the largest on any of the country’s preserved 891mm gauge railways.
This is a magnificent and scenic railway. It’s a long way from any of the country’s airports with flights from the UK but is well worth the long journey required to visit it. We stayed at Tofvehults, a guesthouse out in the countryside in a quiet and peaceful spot near Västrum, about 24km from Västervik (http://www.tofvehult.se). It turned out to be truly delightful place which is run by Lena Göransson, a Swedish lady who used to be an international model. She now writes cookery books and seems to be well known amongst the Swedes. It provided just the right combination of comfort and informality - and the food was out of this world!