Derailment aside, trains now on time

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The derailment of a cargo train over the weekend has disrupted a line over the mountains known as Dovrebanen, but otherwise there’s been a lot of good news for rail passengers this winter. For the first time in a long time, most trains are running on time and commuters are regaining confidence.

A derailment has disrupted the Dovrebanen line this week, but train service otherwise has improved in recent months, especially on commuter lines around Oslo. PHOTO: NSB

The derailment occurred in a snowstorm near Dombås on the western side of the Dovre mountains, and tracks were damaged. Officials at state railroad Jernbaneverket couldn’t say when they’d have the 20-kilometer stretch south of Dombås towards Brennhaug repaired, but in the meantime, all rail service between Otta and Dombås was halted.

State railway NSB was running the line from Oslo to Vinstra, then carrying passengers by bus from Vinstra to Dombås, then back on a train from Dombås over the mountains to Trondheim. A few trains were going beyond Vinstra to Otta, but then bus service was needed from Otta to Dombås.

The cause of the derailment, in which no one was hurt, was under investigation and believed tied to the heavy snowfall in the area. Rail service has often been disrupted by bad weather in the winter, but this year, a combination of little snow in NSB’s busiest areas around Oslo, major maintenance on key commuter lines and an increase in state funding has led to major improvements in service and reliability.

More than 90 percent punctuality
Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that 96 percent of NSB’s trains ran on time during the last week of 2011 on both the heavily trafficked Østfoldbanen south from Oslo and on the busy Drammensbanen commuter line between Oslo and Drammen. Punctuality was also high on the line north from Oslo, Hovedbanen to Eidsvoll, with 95 percent of trains running on time.

“I think this is really wonderful for all of those working to improve punctuality,” Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa told Aftenposten. “I must say, this is great for a transport minister, too!”

She said that in addition to the physical maintenance work being down on the lines, she thinks there’s been a “change in work culture” both within NSB and Jernbaneverket. “Instead of giving up, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and worked hard,” she said.

Jernbaneverket was often blamed for equipment breakdown and problems with the railroad infrastructure for which they’re responsible. Now they’re being praised for carrying out solid repairs and maintenance needed on key lines last summer. “It was well done and we’re seeing good results,” new NSB boss Geir Isaksen told Aftenposten. “For our part, we’re done maintenance on the trains themselves, upgraded local carriages and improved personnel management.”

Customers finally satisfied
The increase in punctuality and reliability is best for the customers of Jernbaneverket and NSB, many of whom lost confidence in the train system after repeated breakdowns, signal problems and other delays in recent years. “The trains are on time much more often now,” said Therese Eriksen, who commutes daily between Kolbotn and Oslo. “There were delays several times a week during the winter two years ago. Now we can rely on the train coming when it should.”

Flytoget, the express train between Drammen, Oslo and Norway’s main airport at Gardermoen, was also reporting as many as 99 percent of its trains on time and has since won an award for customer satisfaction. There’s been a recent string of complaints from Flytoget officials and politicians that a new agreement between NSB and the state will allow NSB to boost its own service to the airport, at lower fares, thereby giving new competition to Flytoget. NSB says it’s not trying to take passengers away Flytoget, but offer its own better service.

There have also been complaints about planned route changes later this year, which will increase the number of stops on trains between Heggedal and Oslo on the Spikkestad line, which will run further to Lillestøm instead of Moss. The new stops will make for a longer trip, to more than 40 minutes, from around 35 now and 25 in 1975.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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