Norway’s Socialist Left party (SV) is calling “all aboard” for its proposal to build a long-sought train line to Tromsø in Northern Norway. The country’s train service currently terminates in Bodø, but the state railroad directorate has just concluded a study on extending it to Tromsø via Narvik.
Called Nord-Norgebanen (NNB), the train line would be an extension of Nordlands-banen, which runs from Trondheim to Bodø. The idea is to build an additional line north from Fauske, located east of Bodø.
The study commissioned by the transport ministry updates cost estimates and economic analyses of previous feasibility reports for train service in Northern Norway. It was prompted by expectations for ongoing expansion of the seafood and tourism industries, and thus increased demand for transport capacity.
Jernbanedirektoratet, the state agency that delivered the study (utredning) earlier this month, determined that construction of Nord-Norgebanen would be “positive” in terms of transport- and logistics savings for cargo, and as an alternative to driving or even flying. “Other positive effects for society,” the report notes, would come in the form of “reduced CO2 emissions and fewer traffic accidents.”
The directorate plainly states, however, that the train line would not be profitable given the more than NOK 100 billion (USD 12 million) it would cost to build and then operate. A new train line from Fauske to Tromsø would run over 375 kilometers, plus an 80-kilometer spur to the major fishing and emerging oil port of Harstad. “Analyses show that a full Fauske-Tromsø extension would cost NOK 113 billion plus NOK billion for the spur west to Harstad,” wrote the directorate in its study.
The state directorate offered no recommendation to the politicians responsibile for making any decision to build the train line. SV politicians, not least in Northern Norway, are clearly recommending in favour of construction, and disappointed that there hasn’t been more attention given to the project on a national basis.
“The debte over NNB has been raging in the north, but in the south it’s quiet,” complained Christian Torset, leader of Nordland SV, in newspaper Helgelendingen after the report came out. He’s unhappy that hardly any media outlets in Oslo, for example, have reported or even mentioned the study.
“The line will cut large amounts of carbon emissions, but won’t be economically profitable,” Torset wrote, adding that hardly any major transport projects are profitable. “They’re built because they serve the national interest and create ripple effects,” he wrote. “It can also be wise to remember that a ferry-free Highway E39 (proposed for southwestern Norway) is priced at NOK 340 billion, just in case you think Nord-Norgebanen sounds expensive.”
‘Reasonable, fast, environmentally friendly’
Torset is far from alone in advocating construction of the line. “It may not be profitable, but it will be hugely useful,” claim Synne Bjørbekk and Per-Gunnar Skotåm of the Reds party in Nordland County. “It will cut carbon emissions from transport in Northern Norge alone by 20 percent, remove thousands of large trailer-trucks from the roads and improve traffic safety.”
They wrote in a commentary in newspaper Harstad Tidende that it also would “offer folks reasonable, fast and environmentally friendly transport.” Building the railroad would also “be like a vitamin injection for establishment of industry and other enterprise in the North, which could attract more population growth.” Bjørbekk and Skotåm further noted that Bergensbanen (the popular train line over the mountains between Bergen and Oslo) cost twice the total amount of the state budget in Norway when it was built, but was finished because it was viewed as an important infrastructure project for the future.
Train passenger Eskil Sørensen is also among those hoping the government and Parliament will finally approve the project that’s been studied several times before and shelved because of the costs involved. “”We’re the world’s richest country, and I think we can afford it,” Sørensen told state broadcaster NRK on Monday, after media reports that SV would take the issue to Parliament. “It would bind the country together and we’d get a lot of truck traffic off the roads.”
Opposition from those in control
Mona Faerås, a Member of Parliament for SV, noted that flying is currently the only alternative for many people and cargo. “It’s time for infrastructure improvements in the north,” she told NRK, but she’s already facing opposition, not least from the conservative Progress Party that currently holds political control of the transport ministry.
Progress, long an advocate of highway improvements, has warmed up to rail transport in recent years but still thinks Nord-Norgebanen is too expensive. Progress MP Dagfinn Olsen worries that the line would also face major geographic challenges that could increase the price. He also fears the project would come at the expense of others.
The Nord-Norgebanen study has been put out to hearing until October, after which Transport Minister Jon Georg Dale will decide whether to propose its construction to Parliament.