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Monday, March 4, 2024

Tunnel fire disrupts train schedules

Tens of thousands of Oslo-area commuters had to find alternative ways of getting to work on Monday after a fire in the main railroad tunnel under Oslo forced its closure on Sunday. The fire also halted all train traffic through Oslo, disrupting service on both local and long-distance routes.

Repair crews for state railroad Jernbaneverket worked through the night to replace cables damaged during a fire in the main tunnel running under Oslo over the weekend. PHOTO: Jernbaneverket/Ragnhild Aagesen

“The consequences are quite dramatic because we can’t get trains through the tunnel,” Håkon Myhre of state railway NSB told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). That means trains approaching Oslo had to simply turn around and return to, for example, Skien or Lillehammer, and couldn’t complete their through-service.

Some lines, already disrupted by heavy snowfall over the weekend, were further knocked off any form of regular service. Trains coming into Oslo from the east and north could still arrive at Oslo’s Central Station but then had to turn around. Trains coming from the west were forced to turn around at either Skøyen in Oslo (just west of the closed tunnel) or as far west as Drammen and Kongsberg.

Passengers were then to be transferred over to bus service, but NSB had trouble providing enough alternative bus service for all who needed it. The Airport Express Train (Flytoget) was also affected, and passengers were told to expect that it would take at least 20 minutes longer to get to Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen.

Trains running between Oslo and Bergen switched over to tracks through Roa, north and east of the forest area known as Nordmarka.

The cause of the fire, which also closed the main National Theater station in Oslo on Sunday because of thick smoke, was still unclear but it caused major damage to signal equipment and cables. A spokeswoman for Jernbaneverket, the state agency responsible for railroad infrastructure,  said massive repairs were needed and underway but it was unclear how long they would take.

The railroad officials hoped they could allow NSB to resume at least some train service through the tunnel by midday. That didn’t occur until mid-afternoon, and service remained erratic into Tuesday.

The fire not only caused major delays and frustration for passengers during the last work-week before Norway’s traditional Christmas holidays. It was also a huge setback and disappointment to both railway and railroad officials who had proudly rolled out the system’s most comprehensive route changes and improvements in decades just last week. It all had gone surprisingly well, only to be disrupted by the tunnel closure.

“It just shows how vulnerable we still are,” Ragnhild Aagesen, spokesperson for the railroad, told NRK. The tunnel remains the only one under downtown Oslo, and calls have long gone out for construction of a second tunnel, to improve capacity in the rapidly growing Norwegian capital. It would cost billions, though, on top of what’s already being invested in the infrastructure improvements, so its future is unclear.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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