The Ore Railroad Luleå – Gällivare – Kiruna – Narvik
As early as the mid 18th century, iron ore was being dug in the area around the north Swedish cities of Gällivare and Kiruna and was extremely sought after all over the world because of its high iron content. Starting in 1860, the companies involved in mining the ore were looking for new ways to ensure efficient transport of their ore to the harbors of Luleå in Sweden and Narvik in Norway. Indeed, the railroad seemed "the" suitable means of transport, but initially large investments had to be made. All the same, in 1888 the 202 kilometer / 126 mile long route Gällivare – Luleå was placed into operation. Several of the firms involved in the construction of the railroad had gone bankrupt in the meantime and so the government stepped in. On October 24, 1890, the state-owned Luossavaara Kirunavaara Aktiebolag (LKAB) was established which took the finished and the still to be constructed ore railroad under its wing. The route was extended from Gällivare to Kiruna by 1899. Due to the long transport route to Luleå and the icing up of the harbor in the winter, this was not a satisfactory solution for the long term. On September 26, 1902 the gap was closed with "fireworks and artillery shells" and there were extensive celebrations. Through impassable, almost hostile territory the route now ran 269 kilometers / 168 miles from Gällivare to Narvik. The section from Riksgränsen on the back of the Caledonian mountain chain to Narvik on the Ofot Fjord was a special challenge: Here an elevation difference of 520 meters / 1,706 feet along steep mountainsides had to be overcome with a section of rail line 40 kilometers / 25 miles in length.
The first ore train from Gällivare to Narvik ran on November 13, 1902. From November 24, 1902 on the Norwegian and Swedish State Railways finally began regular service with three ore trains per day. The official opening by the Swedish King Oscar II took place on July 14, 1903. Today this ore line combines several superlatives: It runs from Luleå in Sweden on the Gulf of Bothnia in a northwesterly direction to the iron ore mine areas of Gällivare and Kiruna above the Arctic Circle and further to the Norwegian harbor of Narvik. It is the most northerly route linked to the rest of the European rail network. In addition, the station at Narvik at 68°26' latitude north is the most northerly rail terminal that can be reached in Western Europe for passenger service.
As early as 1911 the increasing transport demands required electrification of the Swedish section of the line. Ten years later the Norwegian State Railways also followed suit and from 1922 on electric locomotives were hauling the 1,900 ton heavy ore trains continuously. World War II caused a great deal of destruction with the heavy battles around Narvik. Yet, after the end of the war reconstruction commenced immediately. With the rebuilding of loading facilities, new ore transport cars, and more powerful locomotives came the great period of the class Dm 3 side rod electric locomotives from the end of the Sixties on. These were three close-coupled locomotives electrically linked to one another. Each of the three parts had four coupled driving axles. With a total output of 7,200 kilowatts / 9, 655 horsepower, and a total length of 35.25 meters / 115 feet 8 inches they were able to move 5,400 ton heavy ore trains.
In 1996, LKAB took over handling the ore traffic including transport. In addition to placing new ore cars into service, it also initially purchased from Adtranz nine twelve-axle double locomotives (IORE) that took over operations in succession starting at the end of 2000. The IORE units beat the Dm3 units in use by far with a performance of 10,800 kilowatts / 14,483 horsepower, a total weight of 360 tons, and a length of 45.8 meters / 150 feet 3 inches. Ore trains with an impressive 7,800 ton hauling capacity are pulled today with these new locomotives. Another eight IORE double locomotives have been ordered in the meantime, the last of them to be delivered starting in May of 2013. This means the final departure for the former kings of the ore line, the three-part class Dm3 side rod electric locomotives.