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Trains halted all over Norway

Train passengers faced delays nationwide on Tuesday, after all lines were suddenly brought to a halt in Eastern-, Southern- and Western Norway. Officials initially blamed a signal error, then a major power failure, and it was all another example of how unreliable train travel in Norway can be.

One of the daily long-distance trains from Oslo finally arrived in Kristiansand on Tuesday, around 35 minutes late. The late arrival, along with hundreds of others around the country, threatened to cause more delays and cancellations after a power failure brought the entire train system to a halt. PHOTO: Møst

It was a beautiful day over most of the country, with no storms or snow or ice or floods or landslides that officials at state railroad operator BaneNor could blame for the disruption. Instead came the other most-common reason: signalfeil (signal error), a term used for various technical breakdowns.

It all started around 1:30pm when locomotive engineers were suddenly ordered to literally stop right in their tracks. Some were later told to slowly drive on to the next station and stay there.

Passengers waiting at stations, for example in Lillestrøm just northeast of Oslo, were told that there was full stans (full stop) in all train traffic and that officials had no idea how long it would take before trains could run again. BaneNor officials told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) and other media outlets that it was another “signal error,” but they’re normally relegated to a specific area, not the entire system nationwide.

Marit Rjaanes, press officer at BaneNor, later blamed “a power failure tied to our signal system,” which steers traffic for Vestlandet, Østlandet and Sørlandet. Passengers on board the trains were told it was a “nationwide stop,” but it hit Southern Norway hardest. When signal communications are out of order, she told NRK, all lines are shut down as a safety measure.

“It’s incredibly kinky and unfortunate that all train traffic could be hit in this manner,” Rjaanes said. “We have worked hard and fast to fix it.”

Passengers on board a train from Oslo to Kristiansand sat for around a half-hour in a forested area just outside Vennesla. The sudden halt was blamed first on a local signal error, then “a nationwide stop.” PHOTO: Møst

BaneNor could later report that the error had been corrected at around 2:15pm, and trains were running again within 10 minutes. Delays and cancellations were expected throughout the day and evening, though, as trains literally had to get back on track.

“We have a lot of trains that are out of place, and not where they’re supposed to be,” said Siv Egger Westin, communications chief at Oslo-based railway firm Vy. That was bound to cause problems for the afternoon commuter rush, since Vy doesn’t have enough buses to accommodate all commuters. Oda Berit Riska of Go Ahead Nordic, another railway firm that operates Sørlandsbanen, Jærbanen and Arendalsbanen, expected it would take “around two hours” to get trains on schedule again.

Tuesday’s national railroad shutdown is the latest example of decades of train trouble in Norway, where breakdowns are frequent and service unreliable. Shifting governments promise more funding for better infrastructure, but passengers are often left with train operators like Vy, Go Ahead and SJ blaming BaneNor for problems, or vice versa. There also are still no high-speed train connections between Oslo and Stockholm or Oslo and Gothenburg, much less farther south into Europe.

The current Labour-Center government vowed more funding for railway maintenance in its new National Transport Plan, to improve operations and boost renewal. Upgrades have been promised for the busy commuter lines between Oslo and Lillestrøm, Strømmen and Ski despite all the problems tied to the new Follobanen that continues to be plagued by construction errors.

The government opted against funding long-awaited improvements to train lines abroad, suspending plans once again for a night-train to Copenhagen or better connections to Gothenburg and Stockholm. When asked whether the government will make it easier for Norwegians to travel to the continent without having to fly, Transport Minister Jon-Ivar Nygård of the Labour Party told news bureau NTB “No,” adding that lines abroad are not a priority. Only some northern routes into Sweden are earmarked for improvement, but for defense reasons, since Sweden is now a member of NATO. Ofotbanen between Narvik and the Swedish border is due to receive NOK 400 million, and the line from Stjørdal in Trøndelag through Meråker to the Swedish border will also be upgraded. Berglund



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