Norway’s Dovre Line

By Jay Brunhouse
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by Jay Brunhouse

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by Jay Brunhouse

On its morning departure, your Norwegian State Railways (NSB) Class 73 tilting train to Trondheim first passes through Oslo’s growing suburbs and the tunnel emerging into Oslo’s 1998 Gardermoen Airport. You continue through rich farmlands and then up the western shore of Lake Mjøsa. It is Norway’s largest and is deeper than the North Sea.

On the lake, you see the one-funnel, side-wheel steamship P.S. Skibladner (say “Shebladner”), the world’s oldest paddle steamer still in regular service, built in 1854 in Sweden. You pass red-and-brown wooden summer cottages and wildflowers dancing like yellow fire — dandelions, buttercups, mustard and, for monounsaturated oil, rapeseed (canola).

Class 73

During late 1999, NSB began to put into service on the Dovre Line the first of 16 gray-and-dark-blue Class 73 130-mph tilting trains. Now, three departures daily purr smoothly from Oslo to Trondheim in 6¾ hours.

Ålesund, completely rebuilt in Art Nouveau style, has been voted Norway’s most beautiful city. Photos: Brunhouse

The 4-carriage trains are equipped with undercarriages adapted from the Swedish X2000 tilting train but with steerable axles. The tilting technology enables them to achieve faster speeds on the longest stretches south of Trondheim.

Class 73 trains, which surely must be the ugliest trains in Europe and appear like racing earthworms, have interiors designed for long-distance travel, with 56 passengers in the Komfort Class carriage. Komfort is the equivalent of first class. It is available for a supplement of NOK9O ($14) or without charge to holders of first-class railpasses.

Within each Komfort Class carriage is a small lounge furnished with a few freestanding armchairs that can be moved to face the scenery. The power connection and comfortable fixed seats with a table make it easy for business travelers to use their laptop computers. If you want to listen to music, bring your own or buy a set of headphones at the café.

Up to 151 passengers ride in each second-class carriage. The trains also provide facilities for the handicapped and a special compartment for young children, who use a play area with parents’ seats alongside. The NSB MENY Kafé (café) located in the center of the train serves snacks, light or full meals and accompanying drinks.

Breathe deeply

Your train’s first stop on Lake Mjøsa is in the important hub of Hamar, at the lake’s widest point and 417 feet above sea level. Inhale deeply here. The air is fresh and pure, reputedly the most healthful in Scandinavia.

The 1896 NSB Museum in Hamar includes standard- and narrow-gauge locomotives and rolling stock. Visit the outdoor museum park with tracks, signals and engine sheds. A narrow-gauge steam train operates during the summer.

At your second stop on Lake Mjøsa, the vacation center of Lillehammer, you see the improvements the Norwegian government invested ($370 million) for the 1994 Winter Olympic Games. Past Lillehammer, you enter Gudbrandsdal, the “Valley of Valleys” (dal means “valley”). Farmers here still maintain the old building styles. You pass lined-up farmhouses climbing the mountainsides like soldiers.

Three comfortable NSB Class 73 trains run daily between Oslo and Trondheim, stopping in Dombås to allow passengers to change for the exciting descent to Åndalsnes.

At Dombås, many passengers change to the adjacent platform for the exciting descent to Åndalsnes, one of the loveliest settings on the coast of Norway. I praised this line in my June 2009 column. Since 2000 it has been served by Class 93 DMUs (Diesel Multiple Units), and announcements of the major sights are made during the descent. During the summer, the DMUs run at reduced speeds at the most spectacular sites, and photo stops please those with a photographic bent.

Åndalsnes, on the Romsdal Fjord below Trollveggen, the highest vertical mountain wall in Europe, is a center for Xtreme activities, camping, hiking and skiing. Behind the train station two buses wait, one for Ålesund and one for Molde.

Ålesund has been voted Norway’s most beautiful city. In 1904 the entire fishing village burned. Norwegians from all over pitched in and rebuilt the city in just three years… in Art Nouveau, the architectural style of the time. The result is a jewel box of Art Nouveau. Ålesund’s fascinating Jugenstil Sentevet (Art Nouveau Center; www.jugendstil.no) showcases the delightful phoenix.

End of the line

Trains from Dombås continue two hours 38 minutes to Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest municipality, with a population of 170,000. About 25 minutes north of Dombås you pass the highest point of the line, about 3,360 feet, and see the snowcapped highest mountain in Norway (7,500 feet) to the west.

Trondheim, under its former name of Nidaros, was Norway’s first capital. There is much for you to see here, including numerous colorful wharf houses and Nidaros Cathedral, where Norway’s kings are crowned. The cathedral is the largest medieval building in Scandinavia.

Since Trondheim’s Sentral Station was redeveloped with a stunning 1999 annex, there has been a large increase in suburban traffic, attracting many away from their autos. The InterRail Center in the train station is open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. during July and August.

When you wish to go to Hell simply to pose for a photograph below the ochre Hell train station’s famous “Hell” signboard, you can reach Hell by the TronderBanen network of rapid-transit trains.

From Trondheim, adventurers may continue via the Nordland Line north to Bodø, where they may transfer to Hurtigurten coastal steamers north above the Arctic Circle to Narvik to see the Midnight Sun or to board the Polar Express train to Stockholm.

In Oslo I stayed at Hotell Norlandia Karl Johan (phone +47-23 16 17 00, www.norlandia.no), with rates from NOK1,360 (near $214). It is centrally located on Karl Johans Gate, Oslo’s main street. On May 17, 2009, on Karl Johans Gate I was fortunate to enjoy the buoyancy and good humor of Norway’s annual national holiday, Constitution Day.

I thank Innovation Norway-Tourism (New York, NY; 212/885-9751, www.visitnorway.com/us) for providing hotel, train and coastal steamer arrangements as well as SAS flights to and from Germany.