The Lappland Line

There isn’t really a line actually called the Lappland Railway, but in my unofficial capacity as marketing director of great circular European railway journeys, I’m renaming the Malmbanan as such. Literally translated, “The (Iron) Ore Line”  is as unappealing a title as the corresponding wiki page on the subject.  It is, never the less, one of the great railway journeys in the world, and one of only I think three passenger carrying lines north of the Arctic Circle.

Running from Narvik on the North Sea, to Luleå, 300 miles away on the Gulf of Bothnia, The Malmbanan isn’t the northernmost passenger carrying railway in the world, that honour belongs to  Murmansk.  But virtually the entire line travels through the pristine and environmentally protected wilderness of Lappland, which is a lot more than you can say about the line in Russia, much of which is an ecological disaster area.  Starting at over 200 km north of the Arctic Circle and heading east, it then heads south-east, exiting the land of the midnight sun as it makes for the Baltic. (the other Arctic line is the end of the Nordland, which we did yesterday. The Alaskan Railroad doesnt even enter the Arctic Circle. I believe the most northerly railway of any description is a short mining railway at a place called Kirkenes in northernmost Norway, near the Russian border).

It starts off by climbing up the Rombaken fjord, part of the great Ofotfjord that Narvik looks out over. It then passes through the Abisko national park as it skirts the southern edge of Lake Torneträsk, which being only the 7th largest lake in Sweden is still over 20 times bigger than Lake Windermere. The lake forms the northern border of the Lapponian Area, which in itself is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site (I hope you are keeping count of all these). To the south of the lake, acting as a gateway to the Lapponian Area, lies the U-shaped valley Lapporten (which I think means home of the Lapp’s, though the very term Lapp is considered non PC these days, this article should really be called “The Sámiland Line”, but I didn’t rate that as SEO enough)

Photo by Marcus Nyberg

It then heads south to Kiruna, which is where all this iron ore comes from, and is also where you’d get off if you wanted to do that Ice Hotel (and you were here in winter obviously). There has been so much earth taken from under Kiruna, which is the largest underground iron ore mine in the world, that they are having to move the town east a few miles for fear of it disappearing into the ground.

Next stop is Gällivare, which is where you’d get off for the beautiful Inlandsbanan (Inland Line), another railway which if we were doing this a little bit slower would be a pre-requisite method of travelling back south through Sweden. The Inlandsbanan is also sometimes referred to as The Lappland Railway, and has a far more developed tourist business.  But the Iron Ore, or Kiruna Line as it is also called, is perhaps a more worthy recipient of that title. There’s still far more of the Sámi’s accepted homelands to the north and east of our route, including their capital city Rovaniemi in Finland,  and most of the Swedish province of Lappland, than there is to the south.

We will be staying on the train alas, through till Boden, now a good 100km south of the Arctic Circle, and just short of the sea itself. From here we catch the connecting sleeper train to take us over 400 miles to the south and Stockholm.


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