Regulators blast Bergen line’s safety

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UPDATED: State railroad regulators had already harshly criticized safety measures on the main train line known as Bergensbanen even before a major fire struck the line last week. An Oslo-bound passenger train from Bergen was evacuated before it was engulfed in flames and the line was likely to remain closed until at least Thursday evening.

No one was killed or injured in the fire, but state railway NSB lost an entire train set of eight carriages and state railroad Jernbaneverket faced a huge repair job to damaged tracks, equipment and the snow shelter where the fire began.

Railroad officials reported Tuesday that the damage was worse than they had feared, requiring more extensive repairs than expected. They told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the line would remain closed through Wednesday, but they hoped to re-open the stretch of affected track between Finse and Myrdal “maybe Thursday evening.”

No warning system
The cause of the fire remained unclear, but regulators and railroad officials confirmed to NRK that there are no fire alarms or warning systems inside the snow shelters called a snøoverbygg in Norwegian. The shelters were built at various places along the line that runs over the mountains between Oslo and Bergen to keep snow off the tracks and thus keep the line running in winter.

On Thursday, however, the structure at the remote stop of Hallingskeid caught fire and the Oslo-bound train drove into it, not knowing it was ablaze at the other end. The train’s engineer managed to stop the train and get all passengers and crew off it, before it was engulfed in flames.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that a lack of emergency preparation is among 62 points of safety deficiency listed in a 19-page report delivered to Jernbaneverket last spring by regulators at Statens jernbanetilsyn, SJT. They claimed that the railroad couldn’t show that preparations were adequate in emergency situations. The railroad was given until October 1 to respond to its alleged shortcomings.

Unclear when service would resume
Meanwhile work was underway on repairs to the site of the fire at Hallingskeid and an investigation into the cause of the fire accident was ongoing. It was unclear when operations could resume as normal, causing serious disruption at the height of the summer tourist season. Trains were running between Oslo and Ål on the eastern side of the fire site and between Bergen and Voss on the western side, with passengers carried by bus between Ål and Voss. Normal service wasn’t expected until Wednesday at the earliest.

The fire also has disrupted the popular “Norway in a Nutshell” tours that offer visitors a round trip through the mountains and fjords between Oslo and Bergen. Some tours had to be cancelled while others were still running, and information could be found here (external link).

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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