More trouble hits train system

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Train service for tens of thousands of passengers was disrupted once again on Wednesday, after fire broke out inside a key tunnel west of Oslo. It’s the latest in a long series of railroad trouble in Norway that has angered and frustrated passengers for years, and now is literally leaving them out in the cold.

Wednesday’s trouble forced cancellation and delays of all commuter lines through Oslo and the Airport Express Train (Flytoget) . It also disrupted service on all major long-distance lines west of the capital, to Vestfold, Sørlandet (Kristiansand and Stavanger) and Bergen.

It started with a fire and series of explosions inside the tunnel between Asker and Hvalstad around midnight, which forced immediate closure of the tunnel and later of the nearby station at Asker, which lost power.

Officials for state railroad Jernbaneverket , responsible for tracks and infrastructure, couldn’t say what caused the fire but reported severe damage to signal equipment and the power lines running the trains. They said it may take several days to make repairs.

As always it was state railway NSB that’s left with enormous challenges to deal with angry passengers and arrange alternate forms of transport. Norway’s train system is split into main two entities, Jernbaneverket and NSB, with NSB’s train service utterly dependent on Jernbaneverket’s ability to keep track infrastructure in working order.

That often doesn’t happen, with equipment breakdowns occurring far too often and leaving passengers with the feeling that they can’t rely on Norwegian train service. Politicians have promised help for the troubled train system for years, with few results.

Chronic delays

Wednesday’s trouble comes just a day after newspaper Aftenposten reported that only six of 10 train lines operated on schedule during the week before Christmas. There were problems inside the tunnel known as Romeriksporten, problems on the line to Trondheim known as Dovrebanen , work going on inside the Oslo Tunnel, cable failure on the Gjøvik Line and a minor accident on the Røros Line.

Many passengers traveling to Oslo from Trondheim had to wait for hours outside in the snow at the Selsbakk station because of trouble on their line. Hundreds of passengers experienced more delays this week after power failures on Dovrebanen and on the line to Kongsvinger. Two trains traveling between Oslo and Trondheim were stranded without power at Otta and Vinstra with temperatures dipping to minus-20C. Signal errors on the Kongsvinger line caused a three-hour delay for the evening train between Oslo and Stockholm.

“It’s a scandal when the government, after four years in power, hasn’t come up with alternatives to the same old medicine for the same old problems,” opposition politician Ingjerd Schou of the Conservative Party told Aftenposten . “I call this a lack of ability to tackle the problems.”

She’s a former government minister herself, though, and the train system has suffered for years, also when her party held government power. The current left-center government has earmarked more funding for Norway’s railroad, but has admitted that service may get worse before it gets better. Jernbaneverket has said it will take 15 years before a new signal system is in place.