Norway’s ailing rail network may be “approaching the end of its lifetime,” admits the director of state railroad Jernbaneverket. Railroad infrastructure “is deteriorating faster than we had expected,” she said at yet another crisis meeting this week.
Elisabeth Enger was called in to the office of Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa on Tuesday, after a series of accidents and disruptions before and during the Easter holidays. Enger had no comforting words to offer.
Instead, she indicated that the railroad is nearing the end of the line. Massive refurbishment is needed, and it’s clearly overwhelmed Enger and her staff. She suggested that repairs and renovation may come at the expense of planned capital improvements, like new train lines or double-track systems.
That set off noisy protests from a united opposition in Parliament. They don’t want to see projects like Follobanen (a proposed double-track south of Oslo that would serve commuters) put on ice, and in a rare burst of cooperation, members of the Progress Party, the Christian Democrats and the Conservatives agreed to allocate more funding so that both repairs and new improvements can be carried out.
Kleppa repeated early warnings that “we can’t just throw more money” at the railroad, noting that Enger and her staff “have all the money they need” and haven’t managed to use up their budgets. They don’t have the capacity to get all the work done.
Enger warned that passengers need to brace themselves for more train delays, cancellations and outright “collapse” as tracks, switching and signal systems stop working.
Enger’s admission of the railroad’s massive problems are spurring a new, thorough evaluation of the entire rail system. She no longer believes the conclusions of an evaluation carried out just four years ago by a German consulting firm.
Kleppa told newspaper Aftenposten that Enger used “very strong words,” but that “she knows what she’s talking about. We must determine how we can follow up.”