Baby on board – train travel with an infant (guest blog post)

My friend and former colleague Clara has kindly agreed to write a guest blog post about one of her recent train trips and her new year’s resolution. Here’s what she had to say.

Hi! My name is Clara and I am a former colleague of Ray’s. I also share Ray’s concern about environmental issues, and his interest in sustainable travel. Last year I became a mother for the first time, something that has made me think even more about this.  Part of my new year’s resolution this year was to reduce my flying to a minimum, and to always choose more environmentally friendly options whenever possible.

I have recently moved to Tromsø in Troms county (northern Norway). For those of you who read Ray’s latest blog post, you know that people living in Troms fly considerably more than the average person in Norway (domestically), and the average person in Norway flies a lot! Part of the reason is of course that Tromsø is located in the northernmost part of Norway, without any train connections. Travelling by ground transport to Oslo (about 1200 km as the crow flies), takes around 24 hours, involving at least two long-distance buses and a night train. A flight, on the other hand, will get you there in just under 2 hours (plus a bit of extra time to, in and from airports).

The southern beaches of Tromsø in May.

About two months ago, I went to Sweden where my partner was participating in Vasaloppet, which is a cross country ski race between Sälen and Mora in the region Dalarna (middle of Sweden). The trip was planned for almost a year, and we had originally planned to fly to Oslo and rent a car there to drive to Sälen, a distance of around 230 km. However, I decided that I had to put my foot down, and I finally managed to convince my partner that we should take the train instead.

But as I mentioned, there are no trains in Troms. The closest train station is in Narvik, 250 km to the south. From Narvik, it is possible to take the Arctic Circle train to Kiruna and continue through Sweden all the way down to Malmö in the south. The closest train station connecting to the remainder of the Norwegian railway network is in Fauske, 500 km south. A possible continuation of the train line to Tromsø has been discussed for a long time, and has recently received renewed attention in the latest Norwegian National Transport Plan, which was just released.

The train trip between Narvik and Kiruna, across the Swedish border, is probably one of the most beautiful train rides in the world (ok, maybe I am a little biased). Riding the train that clings to the mountain side of Ofotfjorden up from Narvik is really a fantastic experience. It is even more fantastic when you consider the fact that it was built by hand over 100 years ago to transport iron ore down from the mines in Kiruna to the permanently ice-free harbor in Narvik. Today, the railway still predominantly used for iron ore transport, with 22 trains a day that can be up to 750 m long and weigh up to 8600 tonnes! The large amount of freight on this line makes it the by far the most profitable stretch of rail track in Norway.

Narvik-Kiruna bgfotologue
The train from Narvik over the Swedish border. Photo credit: bgfotologue

I have taken this train ride from Narvik to my hometown Stockholm a number of times before, but now there was an added challenge: a six month old baby. But as it turns out, this was actually not much of a problem.

As there is no train station in Tromsø, we started the trip by taking the bus from Tromsø to Narvik, a trip of around 4 and a half hours. Fortunately, our daughter slept most of the time, with a quick food break in the middle. There are integrated seats for larger babies in two of the chairs of the bus, a very clever idea! But since our daughter was only 6 months old at the time, we had to bring our own baby seat.

When arriving in Narvik, we had to walk 200m or so from the bus stop to the train station (one wonders why the bus does not stop at the train station.) One trouble with taking the train and the bus is that there is not always a good connection in the arrival and departure times. In addition, the train doesn’t wait if the bus is late and vice versa. But this time the bus was on time, and everything worked smoothly.

clara 2
Waiting for the train in Narvik

We had booked a sleeper compartment on the train (which runs twice daily), where three people can sleep comfortably in bunks that fold into the wall. Linen and towels are provided, and there is even a shower in the car. Our daughter got to sleep in the carrycot of her pram, which we put on the floor. This turned out to be a comfortable solution for all. The biggest problem with the train trip was probably how to get all the luggage on board. The storage space is a bit limited, but we managed to fit everything, including the pram and our skis.  A nice thing about travelling with children is that people are often very helpful and understanding when you take a lot of time and storage space.

It is not easy to travel light with a baby and skis

I think that the train ride passed quite quickly. Our daughter enjoyed standing in the window and watching the view, as well as the other passengers. She slept well at night; I think that the movement of the train helped rock her to sleep.  The benefit of a train is that you can move around freely. You can sit for a while in the restaurant car, read a book in your compartment, or just enjoy the sight of the landscape pass outside the window.

We arrived in Uppsala early the following morning 17 hours after leaving Narvik and after having breakfast at the train station, we picked up our rental car. It was parked at the train station, but we had to pick up the key at a nearby hotel. The final car ride to Sälen, around 340 km, took another six hours or so. I actually think this was the most uncomfortable part of the trip, since our daughter was not particularly happy about being stuck in the baby seat for such a long time.

All in all, I think the trip went incredibly well. Travelling slow with a baby can indeed be a very nice experience. Perhaps people are scared off by the idea of a 20-hour train journey, but as you sleep away a significant part, it actually passes quite quickly. And the part that you are awake is incredibly beautiful (the departure from Narvik was at 3:15pm and one arrives in Uppsala at 8:30am the next day). After a nice week of skiing in Sälen we took the same trip back, and it worked fine this time as well (but I must admit that I could have done without the final four and a half hour bus ride).

clara 3
Comfortable sleeping options for everyone in the sleeper compartment

Finally, a question that stays with me after this trip, and indeed every time I have tried to avoid flying, is why it should be so much more complicated and expensive to make sustainable travel choices? The return trip for us three to Oslo could have cost as little as 3000 NOK (~$350), while the bus and train trip ended up costing close to 7000 NOK (~$820). Booking a series of flights is easy, and in case of delay airlines will generally sort out alternative transport on the next available flight. There are also rental car companies located at most airports, and well-organized transfer options. In contrast, the bus and train trip had to be booked through different websites, and there was no direct communication between them. In addition, the bus did not stop directly at the train station.

There is work to be done here by our politicians, businesses and app developers! Sustainable travel should be the less expensive and easier choice.

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