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An oversized load like no other: transporting a town by truck in northern Sweden

| 4.5 minutes | 4.5 minutes
When mining work threatened the very foundations of Kiruna in northern Sweden, a drastic decision was made: to relocate the entire town. Special transporter Mikael Wallner has moved many oversized loads with his Volvo FH over the years, but not entire buildings.
A Volvo FH truck transports a building in Kiruna, northern Sweden, surrounded by mist

It’s not every day we carry something this precious!” shouts Mikael Wallner as he inches his Volvo FH truck forward as slowly as possible. Through the autumn mist, a highly unusual load is visible on the trailer. Part of a 120-year-old building that functions as a local museum is being transported five km to a new location in the fast-growing ‘new’ city of Kiruna. 

Around 20,000 people live in this atmospheric setting deep in northern Lapland, where the world’s largest iron ore tunnel mine was founded in 1900. For over a century, miners have tunnelled so deep that they have now literally undermined the town. The resulting subsidence, known as deformation, has weakened the structure of buildings and opened huge cracks in the earth itself, which grow wider and several metres closer to the city every year.

If a move did not take place now, it was feared that much of Kiruna would collapse into the earth over the next century.

This fear led Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB), the Swedish state-owned company that operates the mine, to make the momentous decision to move the parts of the city affected – houses and all – around four kilometres to the east.

While the majority of buildings have been demolished and rebuilt in the new location, many historical and culturally important structures have had to be relocated – carefully and gently, using trucks, trailers and power tractors, as well as equipment needed for precision lifting and placement.

The particularly significant object being safely transported to its new location on this day is Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården, a listed building that now serves as a local museum. Hjalmar Lundbohm was LKAB’s first manager in Kiruna, who made a major contribution to the design of the city.

We’ll move Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården in three installments, as the whole house is too big to move in one go.

“We will move some eight to ten houses in total,” says Mikael Wallner. “Some, such as this one, have to be moved in parts. We’ll move Hjamar Lundbohmsgården in three installments, as the whole building is too big to move in one go. We will transport it around four kilometres, a route that will take us about half a day to complete.”

As the historic buildings all weigh between 120 and 330 tonnes, all weights on the trucks must be calculated precisely so that balance is maintained. Apart from the physical challenges, the main logistical concern when moving buildings is keeping on schedule so that traffic on public roads is not delayed. The routes along which the structures travel must be closed off and strictly controlled. 

 

Cross section illustration of the mine that shows how it is undermining the town of Kiruna

Mikael Wallner explains that the roads have been well prepared for the big move. Building company PEAB, which has overall responsibility for this specific project, constructed special routes to and from the buildings, as many were remote and without roads leading all the way to the door. “They also had to move poles, bus stops and other obstacles to clear our route,” says Mikael, adding: “Permission was also needed from Kiruna municipality, to ensure carrying capacity for bridges and aqueducts.”

A heavy-duty project such as this naturally depends on tight teamwork between several parties. Firstly, PEAB exposes the foundations, then sub-contractor Veolia hoists the structures onto beams using hydraulic jacks. According to Mikael Wallner, the hardest part is lifting the buildings. “Veolia lifts the buildings from the ground, using Volvo wheel loaders and excavators to palletize them. My colleague Lars Alm, and I then load the houses from the beams. Like everything else, the more you prepare, the better. Preparation is absolutely key.”

 

Front view of the Volvo FH transporting the Kiruna museum surrounded by mist

Having spent 40 of his 60 years on the road, it is no understatement to say that Mikael Wallner is a hugely experienced driver. Born into an agricultural family, both his grandfather and father have owned haulage firms. When setting up himself, Mikael chose a different sector than his family when deciding to focus on special transports – hence the Kiruna assignment. “The job is different every day. I like it when there are challenges – that's when it becomes interesting!”

When out on site, Mikael normally works together with colleague Jan. The pair have been part of the same team for around 30 years and trust each other implicitly with all the logistics involved. 

“I feel secure when working with Jan. It’s vital to stay calm and take it easy. The toughest job we have is carried out by the person that goes alongside and manages the trailer – to keep track of slope, steering and level. The one who manages the trailer has greater responsibility than the driver.”

Hjalmar Lundbohmsgården is on the move. Mikael creeps forward as slowly as possible as the 30-metre-long structure sits securely on the trailer of his Volvo FH. Jan Alm stands at the side of the truck, guiding and making sure balance is maintained. Ahead through the mist, PEAB and Veolia employees form a guard-of-honour for the building, ensuring that the way ahead is kept clear.

The five-kilometre relocation takes in the exit at the city’s Bromsgatan before the truck negotiates a slow journey along a closed-off main road, the E10. The final destination is reached via a small single-track road at Luossavaara. There are several interested spectators as the historic building is lowered safely onto the site where it will shortly re-open as an intact local museum. 

Meanwhile, Mikael Wallner recalls that he has actually moved many large items that are hard to transport, including aeroplanes and boats. The only things left on his and Jan’s bucketlist are submarines and helicopters. “But at least now we’ve participated in moving a city!” he says.

Side view of the Kiruna museum being transported with windmills in the background


The Mine and Relocation Project
Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB) produces around 80 per cent of the iron ore for the EU. They employ around 4,000 workers and are 100 per cent owned by the Swedish state. LKAB is committed to creating a ‘green buffer zone’ between the mine and the remaining buildings on the original site in Kiruna. They have targeted a smooth transition, where dialogue with the community is open and constant and financial compensation has been offered to those affected. So far, around 650 million euros have been paid out to the community and property owners. Another one billion euros have been reserved for the ongoing project.

M wallners specialtransporter AB
Founded in: 2001.
Owner: Mikael Wallner
Number of employees: 10, of which 3 are trained road transport leaders.
Number of trucks: 8 of which 4 are Volvos.
Volvo truck models: 3 Volvo FH16, 1 Volvo FH12.
Big customers: Nordschakt, NCC och Skanska.
Loads: All types of special transport.