Rail transport in Iceland

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Iceland does not have a public railway system. There have been three small railways, but none became part of the public transport network. The main reason for the lack of railways is due to the small population, competition with automobile traffic and the harsh environment. Proposals for railways in Iceland began in the early 1900s, with a proposed line to Selfoss but these were abandoned. In the 2000s there were new proposals for both a light railway system in the Capital Region and an airport rail link to Keflavík.

Reykjavík Harbour Railway[edit]

The track network[edit]

Map of Reykjavík Harbour Railway from 1902 by N. P. Kirk
Locomotive Pioner as preserved today.
Locomotive Minør as preserved today.

Probably the most well-known Icelandic rail project, the Reykjavík Harbour Railway, of 900 mm (2 ft 11 716 in) narrow gauge, operated from 1913 until 1928 for the construction of the harbour breakwaters. The railway operated from a quarry outside the city, Öskjuhlíð, from which it ran a short distance to a junction, passing loop, and sidings. This junction was located just south of a large field which became (and remains) the Reykjavík city airport. From here one line ran to the west, around the western edge of the city, before proceeding along the newly constructed western harbour pier to the island of Effersey. Here a headshunt allowed trains to reverse along a further line, built out onto the outer harbour wall, and extended as that wall itself grew longer. From the first junction a second line ran east around farms to a locomotive depot just outside the city and on to a further junction where a short branch line led into a secondary quarrying site (now in the heart of the capital's residential district) whilst the main line continued to a further junction on the edge of the docks. From here one line ran along the quayside (where one of the locomotives is today preserved on display) whilst the other ran out along the eastern harbour wall.[1]

The locomotives[edit]

The railway was operated by two steam locomotives built by the Jung engine company of Germany, both of which have been preserved. Built in the 1890s in Germany, they worked briefly in Denmark before being imported to Iceland in 1913 for the harbour railway project. Locomotive Pioner is now a static exhibit at the Icelandic Folk Museum at Arbær, Árbær Museum, whilst locomotive Minør, after many years of storage in a Nissen hut under piles of rubbish, is now an open-air static exhibit in Reykjavík.[2] A scale model of part of this railway, showing one of the locomotives at work, is displayed in the Reykjavík Maritime Museum. Minør was the first to be withdrawn, whilst Pioner (which had received a replacement boiler in 1910 to extend its life) continued to operate until the railway closed in 1928.

The rolling stock[edit]

The mainstay vehicle of this railway was the four-wheeled open wagon. A large number of these wagons operated, and they were built with fully opening sides for loading and unloading. It is not thought that any of these vehicles has survived.


Iceland's first railway accident was on the Reykjavik Harbour Railway. Records at the Árbær Museum show that both locomotives of the Reykjavík Harbour Railway were involved in accidents between the two world wars. Pioner was deliberately derailed by vandals who placed a chain across the track and weighted down its two sides with rocks. They later claimed that they were testing the locomotive's performance as it had already survived their previous experiments of placing coins and planks on the track. Minør was involved in a genuine accident when a section of track gave way beneath the engine. This was later found to have been caused by rotten wooden sleepers supporting this section of track.[3]

Kárahnjúkar Light Railway[edit]

A diesel-operated light railway built in the early years of the 21st century in connection with the construction of the Kárahnjúkar hydro-electric power project. The railway consists of three trains, travelling around the clock. Those three trains transport people, concrete, and other things to keep the drilling machines busy.[4] The train sets consisted of white coloured locomotive and wagons. The trainsets were built by Schoma Lokomotiven of Germany. Its lifespan was limited to the construction period of this project, and it has now closed. Much of the equipment used was leased from Italy and has returned there.

In 2004, the first collision of two trains occurred in Iceland. A people car ferrying workers ran into a cement car in a tunnel, lying under Valþjófstaðarfjall mountain. Three people were reported and treated for their injuries in the rail mishap.[5]

Korpúlfsstaðir Farm Railway[edit]

Korpúlfsstaðir was one of the first industrial farms in Iceland. Built in 1930 by Icelandic industrialist Thor Jensen, it was located on the outskirts of Reykjavík, on the Þingvellir road. The farm was equipped with a 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) narrow gauge railway network, allowing the transportation of goods and materials around the farm site. The rolling stock consisted chiefly of four-wheel skip wagons. There were no operational locomotives during either documented visit to this railway (in 1984 and 1993),[6] and trains were shunted by hand, by the farm's staff. It is not known whether the railway was originally equipped with locomotives. Korpúlfsstaðir Farm has now closed and the site has been developed as a golf course and an elementary school, incorporating most of the original farm buildings. There is no surviving part of this railway network.

Mainline Railways in the 1900s[edit]

First Proposals[edit]

In 1906 the first official proposals for railways in Iceland were made. The route would run from Reykjavík to Selfoss via Þingvallavatn. This route would allow extensions to Akranes/Borgarfjörður, Rangarvöllur. Surveys were made in the summer by the instigation of the Prime Minister, Hannes Hafstein. Over the next few year more surveys were made by engineer Jón Þorláksson in regard to snowfall and cost estimates, including a cost comparison between oil and coal powered systems.[7]

Proposals in the 1920s[edit]

In 1921, Alþingi decided to look at the possibility of railways again. Subsequently, in 1922-1923 a Danish engineer conducted surveys about a route from Reykjavík to Selfoss via Þrengsli. It was the shortest and cheapest solution. The route was envisioned to carry both passenger and freight which would have been cheaper than existing methods of transportation. In 1927 the city development plan of Reykjavík included a railway terminus just outside the Reykjavík city centre in Norðurmýri with multiple platforms. Automobile traffic was rising and there was a need for better roads. Comparisons were made between a road vs. rail system in Iceland, and it was eventually determined that roads would take priority. In 1931 plans for railways in Iceland were abandoned.[7]

Recently proposed railways[edit]

More recently there have been occasional proposals for a passenger railway from Reykjavík to Keflavík International Airport. Instead, a fast dual carriageway road (road 41) was built here in 2008. In 2008, 12 representatives from all parties in the Althing put forward a proposal to explore the construction of a railway from Reykjavík to Keflavík airport[8] and also a light rail system within the Capital Region.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The full track plans are preserved on a 1902 map, altered by hand in 1913. The original is owned by N. P. Kirk, but copies are housed in the Port of Reykjavík offices, and in the Árbær Museum.
  2. ^ See "The Locomotives in Reykjavík", published Arbæjarsafn 1982, in Icelandic and English, for fuller details of these engines.
  3. ^ Both incidents are recorded in the library archives of the Árbær folk museum, Reykjavík.
  4. ^ "Trains and trolls". Landsvirkjun. 10 December 2004. Archived from the original on January 30, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Three slightly injured in rail mishap in Adit 3". Landsvirkjun. 7 October 2004. [dead link]
  6. ^ A full report of the 1984 visit may be found about half way through THIS article on Narrow Gauge Heaven.
  7. ^ a b "Minjasafn Reykjavík" (PDF). http://minjasafnreykjavikur.is/. 1982.  External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ "Iceland studies airport link". Railway Gazette International. 1 July 2001. 
  9. ^ "Vilja láta skoða hagkvæmni lestarsamgangna". mbl.is. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 

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