Just before train service between Kristiansand and Stavanger ground to a halt on Tuesday, because of communication problems, came confirmation that long-anticipated improvents in and around the Oslo area face lengthy delays. The state railroad directorate backs postponement of double-track construction despite angry reaction from commuters and local politicians.
No trains were running at all on the routes along Norway’s southwestern coast Tuesday morning. They stood still from 7:40am, reported state broadcaster NRK, because of technical problems that prevented traffic controllers overseeing the system from speaking with the engineers running the trains.
Trains were left standing where they were, for example Jærbanen between Stavanger and Eigersund. Neither regional nor local train could run because of the traffic communication disruption. “As long as we don’t have contact with the trains rolling out there, we can’t allow them to run for safety reasons,” Ragnhild Aagesen of the state agency Bane Nor told NRK. Bane Nor, formerly known as Jernbaneverket, is responsible for railroad infrastructure in Norway.
‘Intercity’ improvements delayed
As railway officials scrambled to come up with alternative bus service for stranded passengers, mayors and commuters all around the Oslo area were fuming over confirmation on Monday that the state railroad directorate supports Bane Nor’s plans to delay construction of dual-tracks for so-called “Intercity” service through and around Oslo. Railroad director Kirsti Slotsvik said she saw no reason to overrule evaluations from Bane Nor chief Gorm Frimannslund that it was “unrealistic” to build dual-track service between the major cities in southeastern Norway by 2024.
Members of Parliament approved exactly that less than a year ago, but now Bane Nor seems to be overruling Parliament. Its new plan, sent out to hearing this week, calls for at least a three-year postponement of expanded tracks between Oslo and Fredrikstad, a two-year delay on dual-track service between Oslo and Hamar and four years between Oslo and Hønefoss.
“I interpret the evaluation from Bane Nor as them saying ‘if you give us a bit more time, we can save lots of money,'” Slotsvik told news bureau NTB. “We go along with that. Bane Nor also wants to stack the various projects over time in order to generate the least amount of disruption for those taking the train. That’s an argument worth accommodating.”
She stressed that it remains unclear when the train improvements will finally be completed. “We first need to clarify what kind of budgets we’ll get from Parliament,” Slotsvik said at a press conference Monday. The railroad also needs 85 new trains for the expanded service, some of which will be longer and higher than those now running.
It’s a bitter disappointment to commuters and local politicians who’ve been trying to get more people to take the train to work instead of driving their cars. Slotsvik is aware of their frustration, adding that Bane Nor also intends to offer Internet service on all trains and make it easier to buy tickets: “We know all this is important for commuters and travelers. We’re working to do this right.”