Train service improves, station declines

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State railway NSB could boast new figures this week showing a marked improvement in its on-time record and passenger satisfaction. The main station serving NSB commuters in the Oslo area, however, has some serious problems with violent youth gangs, with calls for help going out to police.

Norway’s biggest train station, known as Oslo S, has been undergoing a major upgrade in recent years. Its historic hall that once served eastbound lines (Østbanehallen) has been restored and now boasts a wide variety of rstaurants and a hotel. Other areas of the central station feature a shopping center, while outdoor areas have been cleaned up with more parks planned.

Magnet for troublemakers
But in the evenings and on the weekends, Oslo S has become a magnet for restless youth who take a train into town and cause trouble. Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that security guards are routinely kicked, spit upon and beaten. Surveillance cameras from April show young men openly fighting in public areas, with some being whipped with belts and others punched in the head. Another surveillance camera showed a young man being robbed in broad daylight.

The NSB company owning and operating the station area, Rom Eiendom, complains that the problems caused by mostly teenage boys have escalated in the past few years. Employees working at the station have considered quitting because of the rough clientele. “They’re afraid to walk alone to the subway,” one security guard’s log read last month.

Now police are promising to help, after repeated requests from station officials. “It’s intolerable that people are nervous about being at Oslo S, which serves more than 150,000 commuters and travelers every day,” Signe Horn, real estate director for NSB, told Aftenposten. “Our security guards (who by law are unarmed and have limited legal authority) are demanding faster response time from the police.”

Kåre Stølen, chief of the local police station, said that Oslo S “is one of the places where we have the most police on patrol. Last year we backed up security guards there more than 300 times. Even so, we still see a lot of unwanted activity and trouble.”

Commuters happier
Stølen said police will make Oslo S a priority but noted that the station poses a huge challenge. Meanwhile, at least commuters seem to be enjoying more reliable service from the trains running through the station and beyond. According to a new ridership survey, 60 percent had a “very good” or “quite good” impression of NSB’s service, after decades of complaints.

NSB’s punctuality on all its Norwegian lines has also improved, and its own responsibility for delays has declined. Most delay or service disruptions are generally caused by faults with railroad infrastructure, which are the responsibility of another state agency, Jernbaneverket.

The state has been investing heavily in the train lines after years of neglect, and the new carriages introduced in recent years have also been well-received.

“Folks think the trains are functioning better, and I think folks have noticed and like the new carriages,” NSB chief executive Geir Isaksen told Aftenposten. “It’s easier to get a seat and comfort has improved. Folks are actually cheering us on, and want us to keep improving.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund