The International Steam Pages

The Setesdalsbanen

James Waite reports on yet another expedition, all pictures were taken on 24th August 2008, except for the Stavanger tank, October 2008. Chris Yapp was here in August 2013.

Sad news (May 24th 2010) is that services will not be running in 2010, there are problems which have to be addressed and repairs made before trains can be restarted, hopefully in 2011. Earlier the line lost its safety certificate but later got it back. 

Back in the 1860’s the Norwegians adopted the 3ft 6in gauge for many of their railways which were not intended to have international connections via Sweden or were of purely local relevance. Over the following decades numerous lines were built, many of which were isolated or acted as feeders to the standard gauge system. At its greatest extent the country had some 1,055 km of 3ft 6in gauge lines. Some were distinctly main line in character, notably the route to Trondheim north from Hamar which became a major transhipment point.

In 1898 (in connection with the construction of the highly scenic line between Oslo and Bergen) the decision was taken to convert most of the 3ft 6in gauge routes to standard gauge which would also be used for all new construction. The Setesdalsbanen, which ran for 78km northwards from Kristiansand on the south coast, Norway’s fourth largest city, to Byglandsfjord, was the only line not to be converted. Opened in 1896 for many years it was isolated from the national network until the standard gauge railway from Oslo to Stavanger reached Grovane, 11km north of Kristiansand, in 1938. The route from there to Kristiansand was converted to mixed gauge as a temporary measure during the construction period and once the standard gauge was opened the line was cut back to Grovane where a new loco depot, workshops and transhipment facilities were built. 

Over the years the Setesdalsbanen had become home to rolling stock, mostly carriages and railcars, displaced from other lines which had been closed or converted to standard gauge After the closure in 1962 some of this was quickly bought by the Sulitjelmabanen, a privately owned line in the north of the country. Two Danish enthusiasts, supported by the Danish Loco Club, took the initiative in suggesting that a part of the line should be preserved. They found a sympathetic ear in the local NSB management and the district’s tourist authorities. A preservation society was set up and the 5km north from Grovane as far as Beihølen reopened in June 1964. Since 1996 the line has been extended northwards in stages and reached Røyknes station, 8km from Grovane, in 2004.

Four locos were purchased from Dubs of Glasgow for the opening in 1896. No’s. 1 and 2 were 2-6-2T’s intended for freight services (NSB class XXI) and no’s. 3 and 4 were 2-4-2T passenger locos (NSB class XXII). It’s fair to say that at first glance they are somewhat ungainly machines with a wheelbase which looks too long for the superstructure. In fact their design resulted from the line’s unusual combination of a very light maximum axle loading, only 6 tonnes, 100 meter radius curves and steep gradients. The locos successfully coped with these limitations and two further locos were built to the same designs by what was then the new firm of Thunes of Kristiania (now Oslo) in 1901, no. 5, a 2-6-2T (works no. 4) and no. 6, a 2-4-2T (works no. 7). A final 2-6-2T, no. 7, was built by Hamar Jernstøberi in 1912, works no. 77. It was similar to the earlier locos though the cylinders were larger. The line soon adopted the use of spark arresters which are so large that they require stays up from the smokebox to keep them in place – adding still further to the locos’ unusual appearance. 

Most of the passenger services were given over to petrol-engined railcars in the 1930’s. No’s 3 and 4, the two Dubs 2-4-2T’s became surplus to requirements and were scrapped. No. 7 was scrapped in the mid-sixties. No. 1 was also withdrawn before the closure but fortunately it was rescued for preservation. Today she lurks at the back of the loco shed at Grovane , out of use but restored to her original condition including a handsome copper capped chimney. The other three locos survived the closure and were acquired by the preservation society. Three other second-hand locos ran on the railway but they all disappeared well before the closure. Two of them, numbers 13 and 64, were 2-6-2T’s. To British eyes the third, no. 87, formerly no. 3 "Harald" of the Drammen-Randsfjord Railway built by Beyer Peacock in 1867, is the most interesting. It's one of the NSB class IV 2-4-0T’s which we think of them as being Isle of Man-type locos though the Norwegians will tell you that the first Isle of Man locos were built only in 1873 while the type had been running in their country several years since 1866. In fact the Beyer Peacock works drawings for the earliest IOM locos which are still kept at Douglas are headed “Norwegian Narrow Gauge Tank"! No. 87 ran only from 1922 to 1925 and was scrapped in 1927. A similar loco, NSB class V no. 1 "Hugin" from the Bergen-Voss Railway has been preserved at Stavanger station for many years though the NSB's real estate department now want to move it elsewhere and it may soon go to Hamar museum. A picture of this loco is now available.

As a preserved railway the line grew steadily in popularity in its early years but it suffered a setback in 1969 when redevelopment at Grovane station led to the NSB terminating the arrangement for its use by the narrow gauge trains. For the next 26 years services operated from a temporary station alongside the running yard immediately north of the junction. The railway finally regained access to Grovane station in 1995 after building a new bridge across a river to the north of the station. This is still an awkward area as the narrow gauge tracks are on the opposite side of the main line from the station building and a huge, unsightly fence prevents access to the old main line platforms. The station closed to main line traffic many years ago. The first few hundred meters of line are mixed gauge and this continues into the yard. The handsome wooden station building was gutted by fire a few years ago but has now been restored to pristine condition. Its interior is particularly attractive.

The Sulitjelma line closed in 1972, the last common-carrier narrow gauge line in Norway. Three of the carriages and several freight wagons which they had acquired on the closure of the Setesdalsbanen ten years earlier then returned to Grovane – a welcome development in view of the increasing numbers of passengers. It would be wrong, though, to describe this stock as original to the line as most of it had its origins on other 3ft 6in gauge lines and had only arrived at Grovane after their original lines were converted to standard gauge. A diesel railcar which had been built new for the Sulitjelma line in 1957 as a narrow gauge version of the NSB class 86 dmu's also moved to Grovane. 

After passing the depot and running through the outskirts of Grovane the line enters a gorge through which it runs as far as Beihølen. Here it passes a dam which forms part of a hydro-electric scheme and it runs alongside the reservoir for the remainder of the run to Røyknes. It’s a most attractive ride.

The line has the use of the 1938 loco shed and works. The building was very run-down at the time of the closure but is now in good shape. Much heavy engineering machinery has been acquired over the years and the works are now capable of handling heavy overhauls. In the early 1990’s a carriage shed was built in a similar style which is large enough to hold all the railway’s coaching stock. Numerous freight wagons and vans are stored outside including a standard gauge transporter wagon and the railway runs occasional demonstration freight trains. In addition to the four steam locos the line has two ex-SJ Z4p four wheeled diesel shunters, one of the 1930’s railcars and a more recent railcar built for the Sulitjelma line. There’s also a very small 4-coupled standard gauge diesel shunter and a larger ex-NSB six coupled machine.

Beyond the preserved railway many of the old station buildings survive further up the valley. The imposing station building at Kristiansand is also still very much in use as the principal building at the main line station there.

The railway runs on Sundays from mid-June until late August. There are also evening trains from Tuesdays to Fridays in July. The railway’s website is at and includes a useful page under “Neste kjøringer” where there’s a calendar showing all scheduled and extra trains. As with most volunteer-run lines we were made very welcome and were given a tour of the works and a detailed explanation of the machinery and equipment there. No. 2, one of the original Dubs locos, was approaching the end of a heavy overhaul which has going on now for several years. 

The nearest main line station to the railway now is Vennesla, about 3km south of Grovane. Kristiansand has main line trains from Oslo and Stavanger and ferries from northern Denmark. There’s also an airport though there are no direct flights there from the UK. It’s an attractive town, established in the late 1600’s with many 18th and 19th century wooden buildings. 

No. 1 at the back of Grovane shed

No. 2 in the works at Grovane

No. 6 in Grovane yard

No. 5 in Grovane yard

The booking hall at Grovane station

No’s 5 and 6 at Grovane depot

No. 5 near Grovane

No. 5 passing the reservoir at Beihølen

No. 5 approaching Grovane station

James Waite visited Stavanger in October 2008. This is similar to the Beyer Peacock 'Isle of Man' design but was actually built by Motala of Sweden in 1881, at the time Norway was incorporated into Sweden not becoming fully independent until 1905.

Rob Dickinson