hidden europe 10

Muscle power: draisine travel

by Nicky Gardner


Draisines are the stuff of slapstick scenes in old movies. But this eccentric mode of transport is bringing new life to old railway tracks.

A couple of decades ago there used be to an advertising slogan in Britain that ran "let the train take the strain!" Wandering through Scandinavia earlier this year, we crossed the invisible border from Norway to Sweden and alighted from a bus at Årjäng, from where we thought we might be able to hop on a train for the fifty kilometre journey south to Bengtsfors. It turned out that, in this instance, our normally comprehensive understanding of European rail timetables had let us down, for, on arrival at Årjäng railway station, which was well signed, we were informed, wiath that subtle lilt that contrives to make many native speakers of Swedish sound enviably happy, that the last train had left Årjäng twenty years ago - on 31 August 1986 to be precise. "But," said the lady at the station, "would you like to rent a draisine, then you can make your own way down to Bengtsfors?"

This was our introduction to a mode of transport which we had hitherto believed to be reserved for slapstick scenes in old movies.