Transport projects get ‘historic’ boost

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Train service in Norway is now on track to receive its biggest funding boost and expansion since the country’s popular Bergen-Oslo line was launched more than 100 years ago. Billions of kroner will also be invested in new highways, airport expansion and urban mass-transit service as part of the government’s new National Transport Plan (NTP) for the next 12 years.

Train service in Norway is due for some major expansion and improvements in the years ahead. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It’s the train lines that will get the lion’s share (45 percent) of what Norway’s conservative government coalition claims will be “1,000 billion Norwegian kroner” in transport investments. Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Finance Minister Siv Jensen, the leaders of both of their coalition’s support parties and Transport Minister Kjetil Solvik-Olsen all trooped into Oslo’s central train station (Oslo S) on Thursday to outline their funding agreement.

“It’s a joy to be here today,” said Solberg at their unusual press conference at the train station. “There have been many battles between us, but now we agree on the framework for a new National Transport Plan.”

Double-tracks, new lines, new tunnels
Not all the details have been worked out yet, so the top state politicians said the plan itself wouldn’t be released for another few weeks. They were keen to present their agreed priorities, though, and they include several major projects that have been talked about for years.

Among them is construction of double-track train service connecting Oslo with Skien, Halden and Lillehammer, a long-awaited rail line from Oslo out to Fornebu west of the capital, and new tunnels under Oslo for both trains and the city’s metro line. The tunnels seem to have the highest priority, especially one for trains between Lysaker and Oslo S. It’s now due to be open by 2032.

The improved “Outer Intercity” service around Oslo will affect the Østfold-, Vestfold- and Dovre lines. In addition, the government will also launch construction of Ringerikesbanen, cutting travel time between Oslo and Hønefoss by half.

New tunnel for ships, and a new airport for Bodø
All told, the train investments will amount to at least NOK 52 billion kroner (USD 6.3 billion)  but there are many other projects in the works, too. They include, for example, construction of a tunnel for ships called the Stad skipstunnel that will allow vessels to avoid sailing around Norway’s often stormy West Cape between Bergen and Ålesund.

The airport at Bodø on Norway’s northern coast will receive NOK 2.4 billion to expand and move less than a kilometer from its current location to open up waterfront area for redevelopment. That project was given a green light after the state defense ministry opted to move its fighter jet base at Bodø to Ørland in Sør-Trøndelag. “Now we’re giving something back,” Solberg told news bureau NTB earlier this week as projects within the National Transport Plan started leaking out. “But it’s based on how local officials have developed a fantastic project … that will have massive positive ripple effects for Bodø.”

Solberg and her government colleagues were doing some of the leaking themselves, as they traveled around to areas of Norway that stand to gain from the transport projects. Critics called it the equivalent of “pork-barrel politics” in the run-up to the national election in September, and the government politicians were clearly countering claims that they haven’t been paying enough attention to Norway’s outlying areas. Now they clearly are, with Solberg also rolling out plans for major road improvements in and near her home district of Western Norway. Improvements to the E16 and E39 highways and a train line from Bergen to Stanghelle are in the works, reported newspaper Bergens Tidende, and road improvements are also planned farther south in Rogaland. In the far north, the city of Tromsø will get a new approach highway from the south.

Liberals in the limelight
Many of the new rail projects were initiated by the Liberal Party, one of the government’s two support parties in Parliament that finally has won support for them. “We have won approval for the biggest train boost since Bergensbanen,” claimed the Liberals’ leader Trine Skei Grande. “This is the greenest and most future-oriented National Transport Plan ever.”

It comes just as new statistics show that for the first time ever, more than a million people in the Oslo area used public transport on a daily basis last year. Oslo’s metro service registered the biggest growth, up 11.7 percent, according to the public transit agency Ruter. It registered growth on its bus, metro, train and ferry service in Oslo and Akershus. Ruter’s tram lines, meanwhile, are packed during the commuter rush hours and are also about to be dramatically improved and expanded.

The new numbers meant that more people used public transportation in Oslo than their own cars, and that’s a trend due to continue. City officials, meanwhile, have been on a campaign to discourage use of private vehicles in Oslo by removing parking places, raising tolls into the city, converting more streets to one-way traffic or closing them entirely.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund