A fire that broke out in one of the Oslo metro system’s main tunnels during the night set off explosions that also caused damage at the public transport hub at Helsfyr on the city’s east side. Metro (T-bane) stations at Helsfyr, Ensjø and Løren were all closed Monday morning, making it difficult for tens of thousands of people to get to work, to school or other destinations in the final week of the Christmas rush.
There was no metro service at all between Brynseng and Tøyen, a stretch of the metro system that serves several lines. Officials at Sporveien, the public transit service that runs the metro and tram system in the Oslo metropolitan area, were scrambling to add bus service but that was proving difficult, while snow and slippery streets were also slowing traffic and making it challenging for commuters to cycle or walk long distances.
Fire sparked during mainenance work
“We’re trying to offer alternative bus service, but this will clearly have consequences for commuters,” Sporveien spokesman Cato Asperud told state broadcaster NRK. Attempts were also being made to re-route metro lines around the closed tunnel and stations.
Glass doors and windows were blown out at the Helsfyr station, which also serves as a busy bus hub and transfer point. It was cordoned off by police Monday morning. “There’s a major security operation at the station now and the tunnel will probably be closed for several days,” Thomas Broberg of the Oslo Police District told NRK.
The fire began in a maintenance carriage that was doing some welding work inside the tunnel in the middle of the night. The carriage was carrying several gas cannisters and that’s what exploded. Workers had managed to evacuate just after 3am and there were no injuries.
Drone, geologists assess damage
Firefighters arrived quickly to battle the blaze, but it was considered too dangerous to send them into the tunnel. “There was more danger of explosions (because of cannisters containing propane, acetylen and oxygen) and fire was raging,” police operations leader Kristian Krohn Engeset told NRK.
Emergency crews ended up using a drone that was sent into the tunnel around 4:30am, when the smoke began to disperse. By 6:40am, police could confirm that the fire was out and they could begin to evaluate the damage.
Sporveien has called in geologists to check for damage to the bedrock surrounding the tunnel. Other metro lines were running on either side of the tunnel, with Line 1 to Frognerseteren, for example, running only back and forth to the Majorstuen hub, and Line 3 running from Kolsås in suburban Bærum to Veitvet. They were running every 15 minutes.