Transport sector comes out well

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MORE BUDGET DETAILS: The Norwegian government has followed up on plans to boost funding for the country’s beleaguered railway and railroad system. State railroad Jernbaneverket is getting a double-digit boost in its budget allocation.

Norway's troubled train system is finally getting some attention. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that the railroad will get NOK 11.5 billion in next year’s state budget, an increase of 13.4 percent. Nearly NOK 5 billion of the proposed funding allocation will go towards operation and maintenance of the long-neglected railroad network and tracks themselves.

The government is putting its money where its mouth is after last winter’s crisis, when Norwegian trains were constantly delayed or outright cancelled because of infrastructure problems and inability to cope with winter weather. Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa was caught in the center of the controversy, admitted the train system was in crisis and promised help.

It now seems to be coming. “We want to stop the deterioration of both the railroad and the highway system,” Kleppa told news bureau NTB on Tuesday.

She claimed that the government is already spending NOK 18 billion more on the country’s road and rail systems than it did in 2005, when the current left-center coalition government took over.

“Work is starting now to make up for the neglect,” Kleppa said.

More money for roads, too
The state highway department (Statens vegvesen), meanwhile, has been allocated an extra NOK 1.5 billion for its budget next year, up 11.2 percent over this year. An extra NOK 1 billion will also be used on efforts to prevent rockslides along vulnerable highways.

Several hundred million kroner are also earmarked for improvements to public transit and efforts to limit use of private cars in urban areas.

Kleppa claimed there will be “a big lift” for the operation and maintenance of the highway system, meaning that around 1,000 kilometers of roadway will also get new asphalt. Opposition politicians seemed generally pleased with the boost in funding to the transport sector.

They weren’t so happy, though, with higher taxes on alcohol, which a wine and liquor trade association called “a gift to the smugglers” and immediately triggered claims that even more Norwegians will travel over the border to buy much cheaper alcohol and tobacco in Sweden.

More for the police and hospitals
In other areas, there were no changes to personal income and fortune taxes, and vehicle taxes saw few changes. The mandatory annual “license” fee (broadcasting tax) for NRK was raised NOK 40 to NOK 2,478 per year (around USD 400). That was less than NRK wanted, and may lead to cuts in programming.

Norway’s state police and prisons were also given increases, with enough funding to maintain a steady stream of new police officers form the state police academy. The government also allocated NOK 3.9 billion to combat poverty within Norway, including better rehab programs for drug addicts and more money to help with child support.

The government also boosted funding for Norwegian hospitals by NOK 970 million, reported NRK, to cover a general increase in funding for patient care and a pilot project for screening for colon cancer.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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