The Rjukan Railway
Along with the waterway between Notodden and Skien, the Rjukan Railway created a connected line of transportation. The Rjukan Railway received licencing in July 1907 and construction began the following year.
During the 80 years of Hydro’s production of fertilizer the railway was the artery of the transportation-vein in north-eastern Telemark. The trains and the railway ferries were a part of the area’s heartbeat. Millions of tons of cargo went back and forth, nitrate products out and limestone in, and for many years there were also passengers riding Hydro’s trains and ferries. Travelers, cargo, items, materials, finished products and commodities – everything was transported on the railway.
When the king decleared the railway opened on the 9th of August 1909 it was not only a milestone for the history of Telemark, but also for Norway. This was a huge step into the industrial age.
The motorised railway-ferry Storegut was named from Aasmund Olavsson Vinje’s poem about the strongman Olav Edland. Storegut was put to sea on the 25th of May 1956, and hundreds of people were present to see the giant, worth 6,5 million NOK (approximately £ 740,000 or $ 1,135,000), launched onto Lake Tinnsjø.
The ferry is 287 feet long and at at 1,119 metric tons it is Scandinavia’s largest inland vessel. It was built by Glommen Mechanical Workshop and can hold 19-21 cargo wagons and 400 passengers. The ferry has three diesel engines, each at 750 horse power, and two electrical engines for the bow thrusters. Storegut could reach 15 knots, allwoing it to comeplete the route from Mæl to Tinnoset in one hour and twenty minutes.
The interior displays how the class diversity was disappearing from Norwegian society. Originally there were three lounges – one large, one smaller for the ladies and a lounge for mothers (non-smokers). The ferry is today protected by the Directorate of Cultural Heritage and normally situated at Mæl.
The steam driven railway ferry S/F Ammonia also called “Queen on Lake Tinnsjø” – was the main ferry from 1929 until 1956, but continued in service as a back-up until Hydro shut down the railway in July 1991.
Ammonia was put to sea on the 18th of June 1929. She is 230 feet long and 929 metric tons, approved for 150 passengers and can carry 630 metric tons of cargo, which equeals 16-17 cargo wagons. She has two steam engines, each at 400 horse power, and she could probably reach up to 14 knots.
Behind the wheelhouse is a passenger lounge, an office, dining lounge and a smoking lounge where the privileged could enjoy the journey in sunken leather chairs surrounded by a noble wooden panel and glass honed by hand. Beneath the wagon deck there is little luxury, but benches of oak. Further in the back there are two lounges for the ladies. Ammonia is protected by the Directorate of Cultural Heritage and is docked by Mæl.
In the time before the First World War the transportation between the factories at Rjukan increased. To compensate this raise a new ferry had to be built.
The steam engine ferry was named Hydro and was launched into the lake on the lake in 1915. It could carry 11-12 cargo wagons, was 174 feet long, had a capacity of 300 metric tons, and had room for 120 passengers.
During the Second World War it was important for the Allied forces to destroy the heavy-water production at Vemork. A total of four operations were launched against the production and the sinking of the ferry on the 20th of February 1944 was the fourth. After the third operation – the bombing – the Nazis decided to move the heavy-water production to Germany. Both the production equipment and the current stock of heavy water were to be moved.
With aid from informers the resistance group learned about the Nazi’s plans. It was decided that the ferry that was going to transport the heavy-water across the lake had to be sunk. Three mean snuck aboard Hydro, under the leadership of Knut Haukelid, to plant the explosive charges. During the afternoon of the 20th February 1944 the charges exploded. 18 were killed.
On February 10th 1993 Hydro was discovered 430 meters (1,410 ft.) beneath the surface of the lake, where it still lies to this day.
Rjukanfos was put to sea in October 1909 and was the railway’s first steam ferry installed with railway tracks.
Rjukanfos was registered for 120 passengers and had simple passenger facilities. It was almost 143 feet long and weighed 338 metric tons. She had room for 8-9 cargo wagons and could carry 240 metric tons of cargo. Rjukanfos could reach approximately 9 knots top speed.
When S/F Hydro sank 1944, implications for the traffic management on the lake were severe. Something had to be done. Instead of building a new ferry, the company decided to extend Rjukanfos. After rebuilding it in 1946 the name was changed from “Rjukanfos” to “Rjukanfoss”
The rebuilt ferry was 225 feet long, could hold 15-16 cargo wagons and was registered for 250 passengers. In addition it received new and more powerful steam-engines. The work took twice as long compared to what was first anticipated, and the costs were significantly higher. The workshop that was given the mission has supposedly acknowledged that it would have been cheaper to just build a new ferry.
The “new” larger ferry was unfortunately very unstable. Cargo made the stern sink deeper into the lake than the deck in front and the ferry became tilted across the water surface. Without cargo the ferry would drift lightly in the breeze. But Rjukanfoss remained the main ferry on Lake Tinnsjø until 1956, along with Ammonia.
S/F Rjukanfoss was scrapped in 1969.