Would you, could you, on a train? The NKF-S investigation of heritage transport in Sweden

User menu

(Image credit: Figure 1: According to The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, better use of rail and maritime transport are, among others, required if Sweden is to reach the interim target by 2030. Photo of iron ore from LKAB, transported by train in Kiruna, Sweden. Photo credit: David Gubler. https://rail.pictures/picture/46775 licenced under CC BY-NC-SA)

By Lisa Swedberg

This article was previously published in Swedish in REALIA, the Journal of the Swedish section of the IIC Nordic Group, issue 2, 2022, p 18-21, available online at http://www.nkf-s.se/realia.

In 2021, members of the Swedish section of the IIC Nordic Group (NKF-S) initiated a Working Group on Transportation to ensure that art and cultural heritage are preserved and made accessible professionally and sustainably throughout Sweden. Sweden is a relatively long country measuring about 1,570 km from the very north to the very south. In addition, there are different climate zones causing variations in temperature and relative humidity (RH). Although there are cultural heritage institutions in all parts of Sweden, most are located in the south, which makes sense as the south of Sweden is more populated than the north. These factors, along with managing carbon emissions and accessibility throughout the country, can make transporting cultural heritage objects and collections challenging.

The Working Group started with looking into the possibility of transporting cultural heritage by train. The investigation was presented at The Swedish Museums Association Annual Meeting (2022) and the NKF-S Annual Meeting (2022).

Transportation within Sweden is responsible for 31% of Sweden's total greenhouse gas emissions, of which passenger cars account for 60% (Figure 3). According to Naturvårdsverket (The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency) in 2023, more efficient transportation logistics, increased use of biofuels, more energy-efficient vehicles as well as better use of rail and maritime transport are needed to achieve the Swedish interim target by 2030.


In order to discuss this question, the article “Features of Effective Packaging and Transport for Artwork”, found in the Technical Bulletin no 34 from the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) (Marcon 2020), was used as a foundation. The article suggests that risk analyses be divided into handling phases and transport phases. Between each transport phase, there are two handling phases (Figure 4).

According to Marcon, most risks occur during handling phases (loading, unloading or things getting lost), which are counteracted by procedures. Risks during the trans-port phases are vibrations, shocks and changes in temperature and RH, which can be minimised by proper packing, smooth and consistent transport, stable anchoring in the load compartment and temperature regulation.

Regarding the regulation of RH, the transport box plays the most important role, as it should be airtight and insulated to delay temperature changes. The literature studied (Marcon 2020) therefore focuses on regulating the environmental conditions of the cargo compartment. For both chemical and mechanical stability, Mecklenburg (2007:26 ff.; Marcon 2020) recommends a temperature between 12°C and 25°C. Since packing only delays, but cannot fully prevent, temperature change, heating and cooling systems are required for longer journeys when the exterior temperature is outside the suggested range. For buffering, Choi and Burgess (2007; Marcon 2020) recommend a large, cube-shaped sealed box containing several thin insulation layers which trap air between them providing additional insulation. Increasing the distance between the heritage object and the outer walls of the box during transport can provide an effective buffer (Marcon 2020:46). However, the best insulation for transporting objects seems to be achieved when outdoor temperatures are favourable, i.e. when the outdoor temperature is between 12°C and 25°C.

In terms of vibrations, truck transport and train transport seem to be highly comparable with the most distinctive difference being the impact that occurs when the train wagons are coupled (Marcon 2020). According to a railway transportation company in Sweden (Sandahls), this is counteracted mechanically by rolling the train wagon over a bump when coupling. As the rail network in Sweden mainly runs along the east coast and in southern Sweden, intermodal traffic is used to link rail with road transport. This means that goods are loaded into a container on a truck, which is then driven to one of Sweden's 17 intermodal train terminals. The container is then lifted from the truck by crane and placed on the train wagon (see Figure 5). A container, like a cargo compartment, can have anchorage points and be temperature controlled by diesel heaters/coolers. For extra safety, the working group has become aware that ISO-certified security containers (mobile safes corresponding to grade VI) used by the armed forces can be custom made and are available on the market in Sweden. Also, train terminals are generally well monitored in accordance with EU regulations.

Based on the evidence gathered, train transport of cultural heritage—with regard to security, vibrations and temperature—is theoretically a viable option. Unfortunately it is not possible in practice, because continuous transport of large volumes of industrial goods (such as the iron ore from LKAB as seen in Figure 1) are currently prioritised in Sweden; in other words, the rail network is already heavily used. The comparably smaller, more irregular transports of cultural heritage could not be successfully booked with any of the train transport companies (Collicare, Essingerail and Sandalsbolagen) that were contacted, nor with the state manager of the railway (Green Cargo). Trafikverket, the Swedish Transport Administration, is aware of this limitation and therefore suggests that the road transport side should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to more energy-efficient vehicles, increase their use of biofuels and plan routes that are energy efficient. This is also confirmed by The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (see the publication Modal shift for an environmental lift? 2021, ISBN 978-91-620-7003-8).

The Working Group's study has shown that passenger travel by train reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions because it replaces passenger cars and air travel; but transporting cultural heritage does not currently (in Sweden) reduce greenhouse gas emissions because those transports then take place instead for recurring, heavy and high volume industrial and goods transport: for example, iron ore from LKAB (Figure 1). The exception is the transport of cultural heritage by train as hand luggage during courier journeys which, according to the Swedish Institute for Standards (SS-EN 16648:2015), is approved if undertaken by two people (one is considered sufficient for flights).


As the rail study showed that road transport currently seems to be the most suitable for cultural heritage within Sweden, the Working Group examined a selection of common road transport methods from an environmental, economic and social perspective. A survey was done consisting of interviews and study visits to three transport companies in Sweden.

Table I presents three different transportation methods using a fictitious example involving the round trip of an EU pallet between two cities, Halmstad and Kiruna, totalling around 3,500 km. For the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions, a tool in Excel from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was used. Economic perspective was based on loading metres (LDM), i.e. the space that the goods take up in the truck, as this is a common way for transport companies to calculate the cost of freight. Social perspective is defined as frequency of transport, i.e. availability.

The example in Table I showed that transport using the Requirement Specification - Physical Protection, in order to receive a National Indemnity by Kammarkollegiet (The Swedish Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency) produced the most emissions and was the most costly. This is not surprising, since these guidelines specify one EU pallet to travel in a completely separate truck that (in this example) drives back empty because the transport is not in regular traffic. Co-transports were less costly because they only charge for the LDM that the EU pallet takes up in the cargo compartment, and in addition, driving the truck closer to full capacity than outlined by the National Indemnity causes fewer emissions. The Working Group's survey also showed that transport companies primarily used by museums mainly use transport routes between the larger cities, as that is where most museums are located. On other, less frequented routes, it was found that the transport companies co-operate with each other when necessary, which is positive from an economic (cost reduction), environmental (fewer emissions), and social (covers the whole of Sweden) perspective.

Based on this survey, the Working Group designed a transportation box containing two levels, resulting in better insulation over long distances and thus fewer CO2 emissions (Figure 6). Also, as this double-compartment box replaces two smaller boxes, it reduced the cost by half as it takes up less LDM in the cargo department.

With regard to ordering transport for heritage objects, the Working Group found that it can be difficult to know what requirement specification to give when commissioning transportation services from a transporting company.

This may be why those who commission transport in Sweden are sometimes inspired by the Requirement Specification - Physical Protection, in order to receive a National Indemnity (2018:2 p.16). One problem that the Working Group noted with this, which is also confirmed in conversations with Kammarkollegiet, is that their Requirements Specification is not designed to be used generally (i.e. by those outside of Kammarkollegiet) when commissioning transport services. For example, in conversations with the Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE), it has emerged that “Mechanical Protection class 3” (which is a requirement in Kammarkollegiet´s Requirement Specification) refers to Resistance Class 3 (RC3), which is a European standard designed for buildings which is therefore not applicable to vehicles. Therefore as a profession, we may need to improve understanding of what a transport order should contain, preferably by developing proposals for specifications with different levels of appropriate transport.

The Working Group will investigate this further in 2023 with the aim to produce such a proposal within a Swedish context. Anyone wishing to participate in the work is welcome to write to the Working Group's contact, Lisa Swedberg: lisa.swedberg@sfmv.se.

The reference list can be found in REALIA, Journal of the Swedish section of the IIC Nordic Group, issue 2 2022, p 21.


Lisa Swedberg holds an MSc with a major in conservation from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She is the head of the Department for Paper Conservation at the Kiruna Centre for Conservation of Cultural Property.

Co-authors and members of the NKF-S Working Group on Transportation are the conservators: Eva Ahlström (Ájtte Museum in Jokkmokk- the Sami Centre); Cecilia Isaksson (The Swedish National Library); Idha Holmlund (Lund University Libraries); Elisabeth Geijer, (MTAB Sweden AB).

(This full article and all the fantastic images can be found in the June-July 2023 "News in Conservation" Issue 96, p. 12-18. Links are on the IIC homepage: iiconservation.org)

Home Page Intro: 
Although there are cultural heritage institutions in all parts of Sweden, most are located in the south, which makes sense as the south of Sweden is more populated than the north. These factors, along with managing carbon emissions and accessibility throughout the country, can make transporting cultural heritage objects and collections challenging.
Home Page Suppress Text: