Northern Cable

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Two cables, actually.

One was the tram line that claims to be the northernmost tram in the world. It’s the last remnant of what used to be a network of city trams established in the early 20th century.

I have a soft spot for trams – when I was a child in San Francisco, the cable car lines still covered much of the city, and hadn’t yet become short-distance rides for visitors. Trams are (compared to cars and buses) a fairly quiet and efficient way to manage public transportation. It’s too bad that in Trondheim, as in most other modern cities, tram lines were demolished in favor of buses during the car-happy 1950s and 1960s. The level of new investment and urban disruption necessary to re-establish these lines tends to be prohibitive.

The Trondheim Tram, known as the Gråkallbanen, runs 8.8 km, from St. Olav's Gate to Lian in Bymarka. Photo: PK Read

The Trondheim Tram, known as the Gråkallbanen, runs 8.8 km, from St. Olav’s Gate to Lian in Bymarka.
Photo: PK Read

The Gråkallbanen line, which was supposed to start just a couple of blocks from our hotel, is under renovation. After three-quarters of an hour languishing at a ghost tram stop featuring a plausible-looking schedule, a friendly local informed us and two other eager tram-takers that the closest working tram stop was a ten-minute walk away – also, that the next tram was due to arrive in eight minutes. Four of us sprinted, three of us just caught a tram that was leaving, and I still feel badly about leaving one of our fellow travelers behind (even if she did heroically wave me on towards the waiting tram).

Map of Trondheim seen in the window of a second-hand bookshop. The view from the tram line is the same perspective as seen in this map, just a few centuries later. Photo: PK Read

Map of Trondheim (dated 1674) seen in the window of a second-hand bookshop. The view from the tram line is the same perspective as seen in this map, just a few centuries later.
Photo: PK Read

The tram rattles along at an alarming pace, up through Trondheim suburbs of wood houses in cheerful colours, then sparsely populated outskirts, and finally into a nearby forested recreational area, the Bymarka Park. After congratulating ourselves on our safe arrival, we went for a long hike along one of the many pilgrimage paths that originally date from Norway’s Iron Age, and are noted from the 10th century onward as either the King’s Road or St. Olav’s Way .

Trail marker for St. Olav's path. Photo: PK Read

Trail marker for St. Olav’s path.
Photo: PK Read

Technically we were marching in the wrong direction, away from the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the  destination of pilgrims visiting the tomb of St. Olav.

Nidaros Cathedral Photo: PK Read

Nidaros Cathedral
Photo: PK Read

Reaching our own destination, a small lake marked on our map, we were greeted by something unexpected: A bus stop, as well as around 100 new university students celebrating the beginning of the school year with a weekend of camping. We decided to skip the return hike in order to see where the bus might take us, and ended up seeing several more lakes and a different side of Trondheim.

A lake of the Bymarka, Trondheim in the distance. Photo: PK Read

A lake of the Bymarka, Trondheim in the distance.
Photo: PK Read

The other northern cable is something completely new to me. The sign for the CycloCable, located at the bottom of Brubakken hill, claims that it’s the only ‘Bike Lift’ in the world. It’s a contraption that pushes bike riders up the steep hill that leads to a part of Trondheim that includes the city’s old fortress, the university, and some very nice neigborhoods.

Bike lift track. A small support that looks a bit like a shark fin emerges, and can be used as a support for the right foot to push a bike rider (and bike) up the hill. Photo: PK Read

CycloCable bike lift track. A small support that looks a bit like a shark fin emerges, and can be used as a support for the right foot to push a bike rider (and bike) up the hill.
Photo: PK Read

The lift, which is free of charge, is intended to inspire those who would like to ride bikes but are intimidated by that particular hill. The initial version, Trampe, was in operation for almost twenty years before being updated last year by the CycloCable. There were a lot of takers – but we watched at least half the aspiring lift-takers give up and push rather than figure out how to use the device.

A bicyclist takes the easy way up. Photo: PK Read

A bicyclist takes the easy way up.
Photo: PK Read

I’m not sure how popular bike lifts might be elsewhere, but they do seem to be making a huge effort to encourage bicycle use here.

Bicycle helmets line a fence along a hiking path. No cycles or cyclists in sight.  Photo: PK Read

Bicycle helmets line a fence along a Trondheim hiking path. Strangely, there were no cycles or cyclists in sight.
Photo: PK Read

More:

Trampe (CycloCable) website

Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) – A thorough article by an Australian group that discusses the efficiency of tram use versus cars, trains and buses.

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