Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

It isn’t just mums that go to Iceland

Posted in Customer service, Europe, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 2 May 2012

I’ve spoken on occasion about a friend of mine, the one I tried helping with a trip to Manchester. Well, she is a regular visitor to Iceland (though not, to the best of my knowledge, Iceland. Of course, I could be wrong), and, as I say to everyone, I ask her to keep an eye out and take pictures of anything that might be in the least rail related that can then be added to my “With Grateful Thanks…” folder on Flickr. As it is, there is very little in terms of railway history or infrastructure in Iceland, with only three small industrial railways having existed, the most notable apparently being the Reykjavik Harbour Railway. The two 900mm gauge steam locomotives are both preserved, with one at the Árbæjarsafn museum, and the other on display in Reykjavik Harbour. However, there has never been any kind of passenger railway in Iceland, owing to the fact that Iceland has difficult terrain to build a railway on, as well as having an extremely small overall population, 2/3 of which is concentrated in one small part of the country (Greater Reykjavik). That being said however, there are proposals (rather than concrete plans) in the offing to change this situation.

Although Reykjavik is the capital and largest city, as with all significant urban areas its major international airport is located some distance from the city itself. Keflavik International Airport is located near the town of Keflavik, around 50km from the capital. The only ground transport connection is by road (obviously), with Flybus operating regular services between Keflavik and BSI Bus Terminal. However, the idea of a rail link between the airport and the centre of Reykjavik have been around for a while, seemingly first floated in 2001. Although that initial proposal was superseded by an upgrade to Route 41, the idea of a rail link has not gone away; in 2008, twelve members of Alþingi submitted a proposal for a rail network for the entire Greater Reykjavik area, with the Keflavik link one part, and a new light rail network the other. The idea of this is to get cars off the congested road route by allowing people to come into the centre of Reykjavik on “commuter” type trains, before changing for the airport train. The idea has struck a chord with Reykjavik City Council – in 2008 they proposed part funding a feasibility study into the airport link, while in 2012 the council suggested that it be included in the general land use planning for the metropolitan region (essentially making sure local authorities ensure that land is kept free for any potential railway).

Obviously I’m all for trains. And obviously there is very little point in constructing a massive nationwide railway network in Iceland when 60% of the country’s population live in 1% of its area. But that’s precisely why it could well be a good idea to build a railway. Iceland is well connected in terms of airports, with a significant amount of domestic travel done by flying. The problem is that, while Keflavik is the main international hub, all domestic flights to and from the capital are from Reykjavik Airport in the city. Giving these people, as well as all those heading to the capital, direct access from one airport to another, without getting stuck in the increasing road traffic, is phenomenally important, as any good airport operator will tell you.

“Iceland studies airport link”
“Reykjavík City Wants Feasibility Study on Trains”
“Train to Keflavík Airport Back on Planning Table”

Futuristic Railway of Iceland? by Katharina Hauptmann
Icelandtrain – A Project by Etienne de France

Whether it looks like this or not, a passenger railway service in Iceland seems to be slowly moving closer to reality

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