New rescue helicopters that no longer can land at hospitals, new trams that can’t run on an important suburban line, and construction of a new locker room for lifeguards at an Oslo beach, when the city has no budget for lifeguards: Norwegian politicians have recently been caught in an unusual string of expensive blunders.
The helicopter fiasco has been getting prominent coverage lately on state broadcaster NRK. The first of Norway’s new SAR Queen rescue helicopters was put into operation at the Sola rescue base south of Stavanger in early September. They’re meant to provide greater security and safety for people needing help at sea, along the coast and in remote areas around the entire country.
NRK has now revealed, however, that the powerful new rescue helicopters costing NOK 14 billion can only land safely at six of Norway’s 21 hospitals equipped with helipads and acute care facilities. They’re bigger, faster and in most ways better than Norway’s old Sea King rescue helicopters, but they’re so powerful that they stir up all kinds of nearby loose items when landing and have been deemed dangerous to people who may be in the vicinity.
“We will find solutions for how the helicopters can land as they’re phased in,” promised a somewhat defensive Lars Jacob Hiim, a state secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Preparedness that’s responsible for the helicopter acquisition. Even though Parliament wants the helicopters to be able to safely land at all hospital heliports, they may have to set down someplace nearby and transfer patients in conventional ambulances.
Meanwhile, in Oslo, city officials unveiled a NOK 35 million project to build a new café, lavatory and service building near the popular beach called Huk on Bygdøy. It’s also mean to serve as a locker room for lifeguards.
Critics quickly questioned why a run-down but historically important café building right on the water that’s been closed for years couldn’t simply be refurbished and reopened instead. Then newspaper Aftenposten pointed out that the Labour-led city government had cut the budget for lifeguards.
“It seems unintentionally comical when the city has budgeted for costly new facilities for lifeguards but not for the lifeguards themselves next summer,” City Council member Øystein Sundelin of the Conservatives told Aftenposten.
Lan Marie Berg, the city government official responsible for the project, retorted that the city “needs to think in the long term when we upgrade the city,” and called the new project “important.” She added that her Greens Party will “discuss priorities” with the city parks and recreation department, to see whether money can be found for lifeguards as well.
Then came news, meanwhile, that the new trams soon due to start being phased in for service in Oslo are too large and heavy to run on the city’s only line that extends across the border into suburban Bærum. That means there will no longer be tram service to Bærum after the city’s new trams are put into service, probably in 2024.
“It’s idiotic to buy new trams that can’t be operated in Bærum,” one frustrated commuter told Aftenposten. She and thousands of others will have to find an alternative to the venerable Line 13 that no longer will serve Bærum’s tram stops in the communities of Jar and Bekkestua.
Public transport agency Ruter admits the city chose “a new type of tram better-suited to city traffic than suburban lines.” Berg, the often-criticized city politician who had to answer for that decision too, claimed that the city “invested in many new trams to primarily run in Oslo.” She claimed Bærum “has a good metro system, and that’s more important than trams that could still serve the last two stops on the line.”