Airport train under pressure

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The Airport Express Train (Flytoget) serving Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen is fighting hard to maintain its ticket prices and dominance on the line between the airport, Lillestrøm, downtown Oslo and Drammen. It reportedly admits that more competition can lead to major losses, even as it tries to railroad its way on to other lines dominated by state railway NSB.

Flytoget is popular but pricey, and seems to be resisting competition from NSB. PHOTO: Avinor/OSL

Both Flytoget and NSB are state-owned entities that, in practice, can wind up competing against each other for passengers. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that NSB wants to offer more routes to the airport at Gardermoen, but Flytoget is lobbying hard to prevent the competition.

The battle between Flytoget, controlled by the state business and trade ministry (Næringsdepartementet), and NSB, controlled by the state transport ministry (Samferdselsdepartementet), has become so bitter that government attorneys have been called in to mediate between the two ministries, reports Aftenposten.

At stake, claim both Flytoget and NSB, is nothing less than their overall economy and future. In a letter to several state ministries and state railroad Jernbaneverket, Flytoget leaders claim that if NSB is allowed to run more trains to Gardermoen, the airport express train could lose nearly a third of its passengers. That would lower the value of Flytoget by NOK 1.25 billion, prompt losses and likely lead to a need for state subsidy.

High-speed comfort at a price
Flytoget was Norway’s first high-speed train line, launched when the airport at Gardermoen opened in 1998, and it aimed at discouraging airline passengers from making the long drive to the airport. Its service is generally considered fairly luxurious on elegant trains with only one stop between downtown Oslo and the airport.

Its ticket prices, however, are high, even by Norwegian standards. With a round-trip adult ticket between Oslo and the airport costing NOK 340 (nearly USD 62), and more if it’s bought at the counter instead of a machine, it can make more sense for couples or families traveling together to splurge on a taxi. A roundtrip Flytog ticket can also, by comparison, cost as much as a cheap one-way airline ticket on a cut-rate carrier.

NSB clearly sees potential, therefore, for boosting business of its own on the line. NSB argues that it can make the trip to Gardermoen almost as quickly as the high-speed Flytoget and at lower fares. NSB’s existing service already is used by passengers willing to endure NSB’s more frequent stops in return for a lower fare.

Flytoget accuses NSB, however, of promoting its airport service with the advantage of state subsidy. If NSB succeeds in attracting more airport passengers, it will lead to overcapacity on Flytoget and packed trains on NSB, claims Flytoget.

Meanwhile, Flytoget is keen on challenging NSB on NSB’s most profitable train lines in Norway, the so-called “InterCity” service from Oslo to Halden, Skien and Lillehammer. NSB claims Flytoget itself is thus boosting competition between them by “expanding its geographical field,” and also by recently expanding its line to Drammen.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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