Railroad tries to end commuter chaos

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Construction work on train tracks south of Oslo has led to long and frustrating delays for commuters and other train passengers in recent days. With thousands of furious passengers left standing in more long lines at Oslo’s central station (Oslo S) on Tuesday, the railroad decided to end its construction work early, to try to get things back on track.

Construction work on rail lines south of Oslo has led to utter chaos for commuters. State railroad officials hoped the situation would improve starting Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Jernbaneverket

Construction work on rail lines south of Oslo has led to utter chaos for commuters. State railroad officials hoped the situation would improve starting Wednesday afternoon. PHOTO: Jernbaneverket

The state agency in charge of Norway’s railroad infrastructure, Jernbaneverket, was scrambling to fix the mess it created for railway NSB and its frustrated passengers. Jernbaneverket announced that the work on the rails from Oslo south to Kolbotn would now end 14 hours earlier than planned, to avoid more commuter chaos.

Both Jernbaneverket and NSB have been under fire for their highly unpopular decision shut down rail service on the busy train routes south of Oslo, and replace it with bus service, in order to upgrade rails, signal systems and start work on the new double-track Follobanen. The shutdown means commuters returning from summer holidays have been facing long delays and chaos at Oslo S because of bus congestion and confusion.

While passengers have been demanding improved train service for years, and most understand that delays can occur during major construction projects, even NSB has been questioning the timing of Jernbaneverket’s project. Plans laid by NSB to offer passengers alternative bus service have also been far from adequate.

The result has been huge crowds at Oslo S, especially on Monday. Passengers had to stand in lines that were an estimated eight meters wide and several hundred meters long as they inched their way forward to board the alternative buses leased in to replace the trains. Massive construction on other projects around Oslo S, including the new streets being laid through Bjørvika, meant that space was limited for the buses to even drive in to pick up passengers.

NSB was confident that it had leased enough buses to serve passengers, but the buses couldn’t get into the station and then had trouble getting out. Pressured NSB officials were trying to get the busstop moved to a less congested location, but passengers were warned the long lines and delays would continue.

On Tuesday Jernbaneverket announced that it would stop all its work on the Oslo S-Kolbotn line at 1pm on Wednesday, to allow the afternoon rush hour trains to run again, 14 hours earlier than planned. That, Jernbaneverket claimed, would allow NSB to run the local train two times an hour to Kolbotn, reducing the need for buses. “That should help relieve pressure on the bus terminal set up at Oslo S,” Jernbaneverket wrote in a press release. Its work has gone according to schedule so far, the railroad stated, so there was no need for extra time set into their construction schedule as a precautionary measure.

Given the chaos and frustration among passengers, Jernbaneverket also decided to postpone further maintenance work on the line, “in the hopes this will solve the problems that passengers have faced on Østfoldbanen.”

Passengers remained angry, calling Jernbaneverket’s and NSB’s planning everything from “terrible” to “unprofessional, hopeless and incredible,” reported newspaper Aftenposten. “This could have been planned a lot better,” fumed Vegard Birkelund, who commutes between Rosenholm and Skøyen. “This simply can’t continue for several more weeks. Then the only alternative will be to work from home.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund