SJ, Sweden’s state-owned railway, plans to nearly double its number of trains currently running between Stockholm and Oslo. The goal, backed by strong demand, is to attract more passengers who would otherwise fly between the two Scandinavian capitals.
It couldn’t hurt that popular Norwegian singer Lars Lillo-Stenberg, back performing after suffering a heart attack early last summer, was recently interviewed on board one of SJ’s trains as he headed off on a trip to Stockholm himself. Lillo-Stenberg, like many others, praised the relative ease and comfort of train travel as compared to flying, and how the trip doesn’t take all that much longer when factoring in the time needed to travel to airports, go through security and be at the departure gate well in advance.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported Wednesday that SJ has been enjoying strong passenger growth on its three existing daily departures from Oslo to Stockholm. In December the frequency will increase to five.
“We think that in the long term, we can get 35 percent of the (roughly 1.4 million) passengers traveling every year between Oslo and Stockholm to travel by train,” Crister Fritzson, chief executive of SJ, told Dagsavisen. He said SJ has already managed to do that on its lines between Stockholm and Malmö, where the travel time is comparable.
He said SJ has also captured around 10 percent of the Oslo-Stockholm market, and passenger counts were up 25 percent in July, August and September compared to the same period last year. Fritzson attributes the route’s popularity to the high-speed trains, the X 2000, that SJ put on the line last year.
“Now the trip takes around four hours instead of six earlier,” Fritzson said. That makes it even more competitive with airline service, although a Norwegian Air spokesman said his airline hadn’t noticed any competitive challenge.
SJ’s line has suffered some punctuality problems, mostly blamed on the single track that characterizes the railroad line between Karlstad and Oslo. “We’ll be reaching capacity soon, so we must get a double-track from Karstad to Oslo,” Fritzson said. He’s lobbying hard on both sides of the border for infrastructure improvements.