Train strike on track to spread again

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Tens of thousands of commuters in the Oslo area don’t look set to get any relief from a strike by locomotive engineers that has cancelled trains and left some lines all but shut down. Now the engineers’ union says they’re preparing to call even more of their members out on strike.

Norsk Lokomotivmannsforbund (NLF) reported Tuesday that it’s now considering pulling more than the 118 engineers already off the job. “We’ll see how the last expansion of the strike is functioning, and then we’ll evaluate another (expansion) at the end of the week,” union leader Rolf Ringdal told newspaper VG.

He claims spirits are high among the striking locomotive engineers, who aren’t seeking higher pay or better benefits but rather a national standard for how engineers are trained. The demand is believed to be tied to railway reform in Norway that’s set to leave train lines and their employees subject to foreign competition. The engineers want to insert Norwegian training demands into work contracts, which hasn’t been done before and is being resisted by railway employer NSB.

The strike that began on September 29 and has idled many trains in southeastern Norway is already affecting an estimated 20,000 commuters in the Oslo area alone, plus various departures in the Bergen area and some around Trondheim and Kristiansand. State railway NSB itself says it mostly is disrupting traffic in southeast Norway, with the Oslo area hit the hardest.

NSB claims it had no choice but to cancel even more trains on Wednesday, with as many as 300 departures on the heavily trafficked Østfoldbanen and other local lines unlikely to operate as normal. All local trains from Ski, Moss and Mysen, for example, have been halted, along with some regional trains to and from Halden.

NSB is distributing some strike and route information in English: For more details click here (external link to NSB’s website).

While some commuters in the Fredrikstad area claimed on local radio programs Monday  that they were coping as best they can, others were complaining bitterly about how the strike is seriously complicating their workdays. One woman who normally spends around a half-hour commuting between Ski and Oslo told state broadcaster NRK that the trip took more than an hour and a half on Monday, after the strike expanded during the weekend. She was among the lucky ones who got a seat on a packed bus from Drøbak to Oslo after getting to Winterbro and transferring there.

NSB claimed that it was still hoping “to find solutions with Norsk Lokomotivmannsforbund as soon as possible, so that the strike can be settled.” NSB has also stressed that it’s unable to provide alternative forms of transport for stranded passengers, like it does during times of technical trouble or weather-related problems, because that would be viewed as strike-busting.

The union, however, has continued to accuse NSB of cancelling more trains than necessary. At the same time, the union complained that NSB-owned bus line Nettbuss was engaging in strike-busting by allegedly expanding capacity. Nettbuss officials denied the charge, claiming that it wasn’t operating any other routes than it usually does. It admitted that some extra and bigger buses were added to existing routes, arguing that it was “normal to boost capacity when demand was high.” The expansion also was reportedly approved by Nettbuss’ employees’ union.

Labour experts don’t think state officials will step in and order an end to the strike, since it doesn’t affect life or health. “I think the authorities will be very reluctant to get involved in the locomotive engineers’ conflict,” Åsmund Arup Seip of the labour research institute Fafo told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund