Deep out in the forests of northern Sweden, remains can be found of what was one the world’s longest aerial ropeway. A monumental construction project that was started during WWII, where the newly opened copper mine at Kristineberg was to be connected with the main ore processing facility and railroad at Boliden. After a record building time of just over a year, the 96 km (60 miles) ropeway was opened in April 1943.
When traveling around in this deserted part of northern Sweden, it is stunning to imagine how this engineering undertaking could have been completed successfully. Apart from the obvious war-time shortages of everything, including labor, there were practically no roads and the terrain is very difficult. In wintertime, temperatures fell to -45 degrees C (-50 degrees F) and just a few hours of daylight could be expected.
The business nerves of both the buyer and the supplier must have been made of stainless steel. Given all unknowns, the wartime conditions and the hefty fines, one could wonder how anyone dared to take the challenge. At the time when the contract was signed, the ground conditions had still not been probed due to the winter frost. Just assessing the overall undertaking and making a proper judgment - wartime, no roads, 100 km, dense forests, -45 degrees C, virtually no daylight, frozen ground, at least a meter of snow... Amazing...
A part of it relates to the fact that just two years earlier, another monumental cableway installation was completed here in Sweden that then was the world’s longest of its type. The 42 km (26 miles) limestone ropeway connecting the pit in Forsby with the cement factory at Köping opened in 1941. A spectacular installation that is still intact, yet abandoned. Some pictures at http://www.pbase.com/jakobe/limestone_cableway
However, the Boliden-Kristineberg ropeway was more than double the length and the challenges were an order of magnitude tougher. Just getting the 95,000 metric tons of building material out through the forests and over the swamps is a truly amazing achievement. Some 514 all-concrete reinforced pylons were built, varying in height between 8 and 38 meters. Eight driving stations, each having a 135hp electric motor provided the driving power. An additional 25 tension stations were spread over the line.
Nevertheless, the installation proved to be a true success, just like the shorter sibling down in Köping. The rated transport capacity of 40 metric tons per hour was a result of 915 trolleys, each capable of taking a 1.2 ton payload. With a speed of approx 10 km/h, the trolleys are spread approximately 1.5 minutes apart.
A capacity of 40 metric tons per hour was surely satisfying back in 1943 when a standard 6x6 heavy-duty ore truck, powered with a wartime wood gas generator, could take some 6-8 tons of ore payload. The all-automatic cableway could run 24x7 all year around, where at the same time even the toughest trucks sank in the autumn and spring mud. Even though the trucks were specially designed for their purpose, they were beyond repair after just a few years of service.
However, over the years the roads and bridges improved and so did the trucks and their load capacity. The weakness of the ropeway system is its inflexibility in terms of capacity, it tends to be too high or too low and there is not very much that can be done about it. Together with changing mining- and processing operations in the area and an increasing running cost finally brought the ropeway operation to an end in 1986. After some years of abandonment, the line was dismantled and all fixed installations except the concrete pylons were demolished and scrapped. A short segment has been preserved and is now open for tourist traffic during summer time.