Railroads in Norðurland
Norðurland has a vast railroad network which is highly forwarded by the government and widely accepted by the norlensk citizens. It consists of three tiers with a different focus of service. All parts of the railroad network are owned by the state or it's sub-entities. Three gauges are mainly used; however, some divergent special gauges can be found in local transport networks. Since the foundation of the Second Republic in 1984, the network experiences a large increase of offered relations and service frequency and quality after a long phase of stagnation and decay.
First tier: Norlensk þjóðjárnbrautagreiði (Þjóðjárn)
ÞJ operates the National rail network of Norðurland. It offers the full range of services from national and international cross-country connections to suburban rail services. However, the suburban services are coordinated in association with the local transport authorities.
Historically, ÞJ emerged from two seperate networks, when Bjarneland and Sigurðland were united in the First Republic in 1903. For a long time, interconnecting services between both parts could only be established via train ferries until the Hleðesund (the strait between both parts) finally was bridged with a permanent connection in 2005.
Since 1990, the old three-class system was abolished (except for night trains); all trains now offer a single category-specific standard. There are still distinct features in different train categories like compartments in longer-diestance trains which suburban services doesn't offer. However, the price only depends on travel distance and the train category. For long distance categories, ÞJ offers early bird discounts.
Also in 1990, the first parts of a still incomplete, completely new high speed train network were opened. Together with the new relations, very luxurious, but normal-priced high speed trains were introduced. The government currently enforces the development of the high speed network to make long-distance journeys by train as comfortable as possible.
Currently, ÞJ offers the following train categories (with the officially used tokens):
- H - Háhraðalest: high speed, high quality services
- HL - Hraðlest: high quality services
- N - Næturlest: night trains
- B - Bílllest: car trains - high speed connections
- BN - Bíllnæturlest: car sleeper trains - slower overnight connections
- L - Lest: interurban services
- F - Farþegalest: local, suburban services (called CR - CityRail in Markvað)
International trains get a leading A before the token, which stands for alþjóða - international.
The largest part of the network uses an extraordinary broad gauge of 1892 mm (6 feet) due to historic reasons. When the first ore and coal freight trains were built from the mountains in Eldfjallafylki down to the coast and the more southern cities, the engineers thought it would be a good improvement of stability (and also more economic) to use a gauge as broad as that. The tracks had to sustain heavy snowfall and frost and were built on permafrost and marshy soil. When the first republic was founded, the government decided to take this gauge as the national standard.
In the border regions, the tracks from the nearest rail hub to the border are mostly built in the neighbor country's gauge (mainly 1425 mm). This break-of-gauge is a huge disadvantage in the railroad-friendly politics of Norðurland, as passengers have to change trains and goods have to be transshipped or wagons and locomotives have to be bogie-exchanged. To offer high-quality international train services, the key routes of the new high speed rail network are planned as dual-gauge tracks.
Second tier: Norlensk sveitajárnbrautagreiði
NSJG (the Norlensk rural railway service), often simply called SJ (referred to the ÞJ), operates a network of local and suburban train services which aren't part of the national rail network. The SJ network itself is very heterogeneous, with routes which resemble heavy rail routes as well as lines which have the character of a suburban tramway service. This is due to the network's origin and its nature as a connecting piece between the heavy national railroad and local transportation networks.
The SJ underwent several huge changes of importance during its history. In the last third of the 19th century, it started as a local interconnection between some cities in Sólinfylki with the focus on improving mobility in the surrounding rural areas. During the years, it also became an important agricultural and industrial freight service. More and more rural rail services were opened throughout the country. During the military regime, the services were nationalized and united under the aegis of newly founded government enterprise NSJG to offer a more reliable, consistent service. There where problems, though. The most evident was the divergent gauges of 1425 and 1000 mm. Some tracks were regauged, but overall, the NSJG didn't even had enough funds to maintain the network in an appropriate scale.
After the Great Popular Uprising in 1984, the network and rolling stock were in a desolate condition. However, the new government didn't let the NSJG collapse. Due to the anti-automotive politics, it was decided to take tremendous efforts (and money) into the modernization of the network. For that purpose, many lines were closed for several years for restauration and cost concerns; only the main and most profitable branches were kept open with the pest-preserved rolling stock. Step by step, lines and stock were renewed and narrow gauge tracks were regauged to 1425 mm, if needed (and if possible). Also, especially in hilly areas, whole lines were completely rebuilt. This was done because the modern rolling stock is more powerful and because of that, tracks can be built with less detours and closer to areas of settlement. At the beginning of the refurbishment, the government proposed to keep at least 90 percent of the offered relations. This rate was mostly fulfilled and also new relations were opened.
Because of the taken measures, the NSJG network changed from antiquated, unprofitable and mostly heavy-rail-orientated into a very modern and effective flagship transportation system during the last 20 years.
The offered train services are categorized it style of the ÞJ. There are three categories:
- L - Lest: interurban services
- F - Farþegalest: local, (accelerated) suburban services
- H - Hægfaralest: local, suburban services
In rural areas, only the top two categories are used. The third category is mostly used for interurban, tramway-like services. Mostly, it is bundled with a F-service with the same route which only serves the most important stations while the H-service stops everywhere. The term Hægfara means to move in slow motion.
Third tier: Local public transport systems
This tier is subject to the local municipal authorities and can include more or less of the following means of transport (including non-rail services):
- J - Jarðlest: underground networks (called Metro in Markvað)
- SL - Sveitarlest: suburban streetcar or light rail service which is not part of the NSJG
- S - Sporvagn: urban streetcar or light rail service
- RS - Rastrætó - urban Trolleybus service (Rafstrengistrætó)
- R - Rúta: interurban bus service
- ST - Strætó: urban bus service
The (by far) most largest PT network is operated by the city of Markvað. Also, the most line kilometers of the norlensk PT can be found in the surrounding district of Sólinfylki, which is also the most densely inhabited area of the country. In Sigurðland, the largest network can be found in Frjálshöfn. During the last years, the number of PT networks and line kilometers did increase constantly. While most money which was spended in the PT sector during the last 30 years flew into the much-needed improvement of existing networks in agglomerations, since ca. 10 years more and more money flows into more rural areas, which leads to more and more completely new high quality PT services in former underserved areas of Norðurland.
- There are no strict limits between the tiers. Especially between the second and the third tier, the transition is fluent as more and more municipal authorities offer their own interurban services. It also depends on the general network density, which is by far bigger in Bjarneland than in Sigurðland.
- In vernacular, the slower regional train services are often denoted as "category U" which stands for úlfaldalest - camel train.