It didn’t take long for environmental activists, who normally hail new railway projects, to bash the government’s recently announced plans to improve the train line between Oslo and Bergen and build a new highway parallel to it, to speed regional vehicular traffic northwest of Oslo. Those objecting claim the plans will rip into local forests and negate any carbon emission cuts.
“This is a train project without the tiniest bit of environmental gain,” Gaute Eiterjord, deputy leader of Natur og Ungdom, told news bureau NTB after Prime Minister Erna Solberg, two of her cabinet ministers and the leaders of both government support parties announced they intended to finally follow through on long-held plans for Ringeriksbanen, which is to run between Oslo and Hønefoss and then hook up with the line to Bergen.
The project “has been talked about for many years,” Solberg claimed when unveiling the plans at Sundvollen, midway between Oslo-Sandvika and Hønefoss. “Now we’re doing something about it. That means we are launching plans that may allow construction to start in 2019.”
Solberg and her colleagues are basically going along with plans earlier recommended by both state railroad Jernbaneverket and state highway department Statens vegvesen. They call for having the Ringeriksbanen train line running mostly in a tunnel between Sandvika, west of Oslo, and Sundvollen, where a new station is planned. Then the train line would cross the adjacent Kroksund (a sound between the Steinsfjord and Tyrifjord) and run parallel to a newly expanded E16 highway towards Hønefoss. At that point, the train line would connect to Bergensbanen over the mountains to Bergen.
For an animated video of the project, click here.
According to the most ambitious plans, the project would be finished by 2024 and cost around NOK 26 billion (USD 3 billion at current exchange rates). Transport Minister Ketil Solvik Olsen wants the project built as a joint venture between the railroad and the highway department, in line with how he’s trying to streamline transport projects and get them built more quickly and effectively.
“We need to expand the Oslo region with more housing area,” Solberg said. “Those who live in Ringerike (the area around Hønefoss) would be able to get into the city more quickly. This would yield entirely new regional development.” The rail improvements, meanwhile, would cut the train trip from Oslo to Bergen by an hour.
The plans are supported by both Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats and Trine Skei Grande of the Liberals, with Solberg claiming the train line would help Norway meet it goals in cutting emissions. The Socialist Left party (SV) also said it supported the train line but doesn’t want to build a new motorway at the same time, fearing that will only prompt Norwegians to keep driving instead of switching over to public transport.
That’s what angered the environmental groups as well, as they claimed that a parallel highway plan negates any emission cuts from the train project. They also worried about the damage the entire project would create during the massive construction of tunnels through the forest known as Krokskogen and the western edge of Nordmarka. The entire area is now free of roads open for public use, and a popular recreation area with hiking and skiing trails.
“This is very worrisome, and just more proof that preservation of the nature is overruled once again,” Lars Haltbrekken of the Norwegian chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) told NTB.
Last week, Eiterjord of the youth environmentalist group was even more angry. “We completely oppose this,” he told Dagsavisen. “If they had found a train line that wouldn’t destroy so much nature and agricultural land we would have supported it. We need more train lines in Norway, but with this project, the government is thumbing its nose at the nature and agriculture.” He’s also dead-set against building an expanded highway for cars at the same time.
Eiterjord thinks alternative routes through Nittedal, where the Gjøvik train line already runs, would be much better. One thing is sure: Solberg’s minority coalition government still faces roadblocks of opposition, especially if the Liberals and Christian Democrats can be persuaded to drop their support.