Futuristic Railway of Iceland? (KH)


katharinahauptmann02_dlLast week the Reykjavík Grapevine published an article about a possible train connection between the capital and Keflavík International Airport.

I was excited learning this although I'd heard about this proposal years ago.

Connecting the capital and the airport makes perfect sense and it is the first choice for a possible railway in Iceland as the existing main road linking the two destinations is becoming increasingly congested, and a fast transit to and from Keflavík is essential.

Iceland's railway history is brief:

The first railway in Iceland, the Reykjavík Harbor Railway, was built to transport materials to construct a quay and breakwaters at the capital’s harbor.

One section of the tracks ran from Öskjuhlíð—back then a quarry outside the city, now a popular spot for tourists as the landmark building Perlan is placed on top of the hill—the other one led to Skólavörðuholt—once another quarrying site, now a residential area at the foot of Reykjavík's mighty Hallgrímskirkja church.

The Reykjavík Harbor Railway was operated by two steam locomotives purchased from Denmark which were in daily use between 1913 and 1917 and were operated until 1928.

Needless to say, the tracks have since been removed and the Reykjavík Harbor Railway has been decommissioned.

However, both locomotives, Pionér (“Pioneer”) and Minør (“Miner”), are on public display. Pionér is exhibited at the Reykjavík City Árbær open-air museum, whereas Minør can be seen down at the Reykjavík harbor.



Iceland's second railway dates back to the 1930s and was based at the farm Korpúlfsstaðir.

This industrial farm was located on the outskirts of Reykjavík and was equipped with a small 600mm gauge railway network to transport goods and materials around the site.

The trains were shunted by hand and were supposedly never operated by locomotives.

Today, the Korpúlfsstaðir farm area is the site of a golf course and elementary school. None of the tracks were preserved.

The third and last railway built in Iceland was located in the eastern highlands at the Kárahnjúkar hydropower plant.

It was a diesel-powered light railway transporting workers, equipment and supplies and caused Iceland's first train collision in 2004. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt.

The Kárahnjúkar railway is not in use anymore.

That's about all there is to Iceland's railway history.

Already in 2001 there was serious talk about establishing a railway for transit between Reykjavík and the airport in Keflavík.

Back then, public power and water utility company Orkuveita Reykjavíkur (“Reykjavík Energy”) commissioned a feasibility study.

The plan was to link the capital and the airport with approximately 50 kilometers of tracks and to make use of local geothermal and hydroelectric resources.

I'm not sure why this plan was dismissed; if it had been carried through we would already have a train.

In 2008 another proposal for a railway system was made.

The preliminary feasibility study looked promising, but then the financial crisis hit and all further plans regarding the railway system were put on hold for an undecided period of time.

However, now it seems as if there is a future for Icelandic railways.

Train transit to and from the airport will change a lot for Icelanders and I cannot say often enough how excited I am about this.

I'm already imagining myself on the train to the airport.

Of course it will take a long time until this vision can become reality. There is a long way from plans to a railway system ready for operation.

On this note, I would like to point out the wonderful and interesting art project “Icelandtrain” by Etienne de France, a French artist residing in Iceland.

The “Icelandtrain” project mixes reality and fiction concerning Iceland's railway situation.

At its core is the imaginary company “Icelandtrain”.

The artist plays with the idea of what an Icelandic railway company, including a uniform collection and tickets would look like, as outlined on the project’s website.

As you can see, Icelandic railways are on the minds of many people.

I keep my fingers crossed for a bright future for Icelandic railways.

Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.