Forest fires cause rail chaos in Norway

Train cancellations due to forest fire have caused major transport delays as Norwegian rail operator NSB struggles to find enough replacement buses.

Forest fires cause rail chaos in Norway
Helicopters take part in the firefighting operation over Nittedal. Photo: Tor Erik Schrøder / NTB scanpix

The state-owned rail operator advised commuters in the area served by the Gjøvikbanen line to work from home on Monday where possible, news agency NTB reports.

The fire, which broke out on the  line between Sandermosen in Oslo and Hakadal on Sunday, is now under control, but services were still suspended on Monday.

“In the area south of Oslo city limits, where we are working, things are under control. We have two fire engines at the scene in control of extinguishing the fire,” Oslo emergency services lead coordinator Hans Kristian Steen told NTB early Monday morning.

Also on Sunday, at around 8pm, fire began to spread further north, in the Nittedal municipality. After a considerable blaze in the region, the flames were reported as being under control again on Monday.

“We had an extensive operation in Nittedal. There were fires on the same route at the same time in Oslo, so we were unable to get much support,” emergency services operator Mads Østebøvik told NTB.

The fires caused infrastructure agency Bane Nor to announce on Sunday that the Gjøvikbanen line was closed. The closure remained in place on Monday afternoon with an update expected at 9pm, according to Bane Nor’s website.

Replacement bus services have been brought in to take over from trains in a number of areas, but NSB has admitted it is struggling to provide adequate cover.

“We are already using 300 buses due to other planned works. We have been making calls all night in order to reallocate, but have not been as successful as we would have liked,” NSB’s head press officer Åge-Christoffer Lundeby told Dagbladet.

Lundeby said that long delays and waiting times could be expected, but that the situation would improve during the course of Monday. Nevertheless, those able to work from home would be better off avoiding a commute along the affected line, he said.

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany