Vandalism halts trains’ comeback

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Another summer of major train service disruption in the Oslo area ended on Monday, when the rails re-opened on schedule after six weeks of repairs and improvements. One of the main lines north of Oslo, however, came to a screeching halt almost immediately because of vandalism that could have led to a fatal derailment.

An early morning train bound for Oslo on the Gjøvik line through Hadeland narrowly avoided derailment after hitting a togsville (railroad cross-tie) that police think someone intentionally placed on the tracks just north of the Lunner station.

The train engineer managed to retain control, but damage was so severe that the entire train had to be taken out of service.

‘A very dangerous prank’
“We think it was a prank, a very dangerous prank,” Kjetil Myhre of state railroad Jernbaneverket told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Police in Vest Oppland were investigating.

Railroad and railway officials, meanwhile, were promising that this would be the last summer with major disruptions caused by pressing needs for refurbishment of tunnels, switching systems and other railroad infrastructure. The main tunnel through Oslo closed in late June, halting nearly all traffic through Oslo’s central station including the Airport Express Train to Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen.

Service has been curtailed or halted entirely for the last four summers, often for around six weeks during the height of the tourist season, but railroad officials promise that next year’s maintenance work won’t take more than nine days.

Doubts over government’s commitment
The long-overdue maintenance work has been part of the left-center government’s effort to improve rail service but now concerns are rising that their commitment is waning. Opposition politicians and newspaper commentators have been speculating that new Transport Minister Marit Arnstad of the rural-oriented Center Party (Sp) will cut back on the massive investment needed to improve commuter service in the greater Oslo metropolitan area, to shift more taxpayer money to road projects in outlying areas.

Both Arnstad and Sp boss Liv Signe Navarsete deny they’re plotting to move state funding from where it’s needed most in Norway’s most heavily populated areas, to where their constituents live, in rural areas. Navarsete said recently that she won’t support building the much-promoted “inter-city triangle” linking Skien, Oslo and Lillehammer at the expense of road projects.

Navarsete claims she’s been misunderstood and Arnstad denies she intends to sabotage the much-needed lift for commuter lines. She’s working on the government’s new National Transport Plan, to be delivered next spring.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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