Oslo rolled out plans for its next generation of trams this week, amidst claims that trams are part of the city’s identity. The electrified system of getting around is driven, claims one economist, by pure city patriotism.
Oslo has had electric trollies since they were invented as a replacement for the old horse-drawn carriages that plied local streets when the city was still called “Kristiania.” The trams are fondly referred to as the trikk, an abbreviation for elektrikk (electric), in a country where electricity rates are relatively reasonable because of hydro-electric power.
The first of the 87 trams ordered from Spanish producer Construcciones y Auixiliar de Ferrocarriles SA (CAF) will replace and add to the 72 trams that currently roll through Oslo. Even though many are fond of the smaller version of trikken that’s been around since the late 1980s, they’re reaching the end of their expected lifespans and are becoming more expensive to maintain.
The new trams are not cheap either: Oslo is paying around NOK 4 billion (USD 500 million) for the trams themselves and investing another NOK 3 billion in upgrading and “adjusting” tracks to accommodate them. A city official fended off criticism that the city recently laid new tracks for the old trams that require a different width, claiming wear and tear made it necessary regardless of the pending new order. Now, when streets need to be torn up all over again, new water and sewer lines will also be upgraded at the same time. The NOK 3 billion for track adjustments is also expected to cover the costs of upgrading tram bases in Oslo at Grefsen and Holtet and other infrastructure.
Winter testing in 2020-2021
The first sets of the 87 new trams are due to be delivered in the autumn of 2020, not least so they can be tested in wintry conditions. City officials seemed confident the trams will operate well despite Oslo’s sometimes-rough winters, claiming they’ve chosen a “well-proven concept” that’s been a success in cities in Germany, Hungary and the UK.
“The trams CAF is offering score highest on technical solutions and were best on price,” said Marianne Vik, leader of tram acquisitions and director of finance for Sporveien, the public transit authority that runs the city’s tram system. They’ll also be quieter than Oslo’s current trams and weigh much less. “Now we’ve laid the foundation that we’ll have trams in the city for another 40 years,” said Sporveien’s chief executive Cato Hellesjo. “They’re environmentally friendly and have high capacity.” Each set of trams can carry 220 people, with the entire system able to carry around 100 million passengers when all are delivered by the end of 2024.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported that CAF beat out Alstom Transport, Skoda, Stadler Pankow, Siemens and a consortium formed by Bombardier Transportation Norway AS and Vossloh Kiepe GmbH. Sporveien officials are convinced CAF’s trams will run best on Oslo’s streets without the problems posed by some of the larger trams now running that were delivered by an Italian firm in the mid-1990s. They did not perform as expected and were often pulled out of service.
“We have to accept that it’s demanding to deliver trans to a city that can be as cold as Oslo,” said Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, leader of Oslo’s city government. “My impression is that Sporveien and the other public transport firm have learned a lot from earlier tram acquisitions.” Norwegian media noted, meanwhile, that both Johansen and the city government politician in charge of transport and the environment, Lan Nguyen Berg, arrived at a press briefing on the new trams in separate limousines. Berg has been campaigning to rid downtown Oslo of private cars, but defended her own car use as a matter of security.